Simplify for Your Best Health

If you are sick and tired ...

How many times have you thought, “This flu/migraine/virus is my body’s way of letting me know I need to slow down?”

If you ever wake up exhausted, feel rundown or are frequently sick and think, “I need to take better care of myself.” you understand first hand how the stress of busyness can wear you out. I used to be proud of my busyness. Knowing that I was in demand made me feel important. Exhausted and stressed, but important.

I don’t think busyness was the actual cause of my MS, but I am sure that MS was my body’s way of rejecting my lifestyle. Working more, spending more, having more, eating more and doing more wore me down and literally broke my body. It wasn’t until I intentionally began to slow down and live with less that I began to heal.

I believe I had MS for 10 years before I was diagnosed in 2006, but I was too busy to notice the symptoms and connect the dots. I was too busy to pay attention to the small signals that something was wrong. Even after I was diagnosed, I didn’t stop. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to prove that I was fine.

I wasn’t fine. I was … 

  • Terrified. I thought I would wake up blind or not be able to feel my feet hit the floor when I got out of bed.
  • Tired. Months of tests and worrying were completely exhausting.
  • Apprehensive. I didn’t want to tell anyone, especially my family. I didn’t want to worry them.
  • Devastated. I especially didn’t want to tell my daughter that I was sick. I knew she would be scared.
  • Confused. I didn’t know enough to take action.
  • Sad. I didn’t want things to change.

I was all of those things, but it didn’t take long to move out of the negative. It took me time to figure things out and make big changes in my life, but within a few weeks a shift in attitude changed everything.

I became …

  • Grateful. I knew it could have been so much worse.
  • Faithful. I was confident that God had my back.
  • Determined. If there was a way to reverse this irreversible disease, I would figure it out.
  • Supported. My family let me know that they were there for me every step of the way.
  • Empowered. I learned quickly that I know my body best and that I could hire and fire doctors.
  • Focused. My health became the most important thing and nothing else mattered much.

I stopped worrying about the what ifs and started thinking about how to be healthy. I had to recognize that I had contributed to my poor health and believe that I could turn things around and then admit that I didn’t know what I was doing and would need help. With that I learned that admitting weakness can be the greatest sign of strength.

There is speculation on how stress impacts disease, but here are some examples:

Chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Common physical signs of stress include dizziness, general aches and pains, grinding teeth, clenched jaws, headaches, indigestion, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, racing heart, ringing in the ears, stooped posture, sweaty palms, tiredness, exhaustion, trembling, weight gain or loss, and upset stomach. – Web MD

Stress alone does not cause diabetes, although it may be a trigger for autoimmune disease as in type 1 diabetes. There is also evidence that chronic stress increases the risk of the development of a complex condition known as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome includes features such as abdominal obesity, abnormal blood fat levels , high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. – BBC Health

Stress can trigger both migraine and tension-type headache. Events like getting married, moving to a new home, or having a baby can cause stress. But studies show that everyday stresses — not major life changes — cause most headaches. – Womenshealth.gov

A Study done by Carnegie Mellon scientists demonstrated that subjects who had been through stressful experiences were more likely to develop colds.

Speculation or not, it is crystal clear to me that stress makes you sick. Stress comes from food, fear, worry, busyness, bad relationships, debt, drama, clutter, and a host of other internal and external factors.

Simplifying your life will reduce stress and make room for your best health.

  • Declutter. Literally make space by getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t matter.
  • Say no. Every day you have hundreds of chances to say yes or no, and every time you say yes when you want to say no, you cheat yourself and the project, or person you said yes to.
  • Eat Awesome. Food will make the biggest difference in how you feel. It can change your body on a cellular level.
  • Visit your doctor. Have regular check-ups and form a relationship with a doctor you trust.
  • Talk a walk. Give yourself time to move and breathe and think aside from your usual hustle and bustle.
  • Start a morning routine. Dedicating a block of time before your day really starts to actions that heal, calm, energize and/or inspire will change your life.
  • Disconnect. You have to unplug and disconnect from phones and computers so you can fully connect to what means most in your life.

While busyness may not have been the direct cause of my MS, I do know that reducing my stress/stuff/busyness has absolutely contributed to my good health. I feel better and MRI scans show no new lesions, no active demyelination and actual improvement (a.k.a. reversal) in previously demonstrated white matter volume loss. It’s remarkable, and according to my neurologist, not a result of drug therapy alone, but a combination of diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

When I talk to newly diagnosed MS patients or people who reach out with other conditions, I tell them that what will make the biggest difference in the course of their disease is an awesome medical and support team, improved diet, and simplifying every part of their life.

I don’t miss eating animals. Slowing down didn’t make me irrelevant. Quitting my job didn’t make me broke. Keeping my computer closed over the weekend doesn’t make me unpopular. MS changed my life in the best possible way.

Get out of your busy addiction. Slow down and listen and instead of being overwhelmed with options, decisions, drama and worry, simplify your life and make your best health matter.

Have you noticed that simplicity has improved your health?

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to Be More with Less and connect with me.

P.S. A “results may vary” disclaimer: This post is about my experience and how stress affects health. That will look different for each of us, but there is information here that can help you or someone you know if you are open to it.

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Comments

  1. heather says

    I couldn’t agree more. We are looking at downsizing the house because I cannot keep up with it all and my arthritis. I also have decluttered to the point of just having the beautiful because the beautiful makes me happy and happy makes me feel better.
    Having less stuff means less time cleaning/organizing/worrying and more time with my family which equals HAPPY!!!

    I also set out my clothes for a week of work on Sunday afternoon, along with jewelry, shoes, coats, etc. If I have a bad morning, I can take my time and know everything is ready to go.

  2. says

    Courtney, first of all – Yahoo for YOU! I am near tears because you said, “Reversal!” I am so happy for you.

    This may be, for me, the BEST POST EVER. I lived almost every word of it (minus the MS diagnosis). Many years of overworking myself, saying yes, not exercising much or eating for my health, contributed to a condition that still has no name.

    The best part? I too chose simplicity and reversed much of it.By leaving my job and starting a business, exercising every day, and eating for my health, I am healthier and happier than I was 20 years ago. I decreased and discontinued two medications – Neurontin and Klonopin. While I know that some medications are necessary, it was relying on antibiotics to get rid of a simple sinus infection that got me into my “medical mess” all so I could work more, stress more, and live less. But, like you, I took it as a wake up call and now say that it was the best thing that ever happened to me (besides CJ!).

    I wish everyone would read these wise, wise words you have so beautifully crafted. I hope many people see this and take action! Thank you.

  3. says

    It’s amazing, the bad things that stress can do to our bodies. I remember, when I was finishing up my student teaching, I ended up with shingles in my throat, from the stress. Definitely NOT an experience I would wish upon anyone!

    It’s completely awesome, that you were able to reverse some of the damage from your condition. Lifestyle is more important than people think.

  4. says

    “Slowing down didn’t make me irrelevant. Quitting my job didn’t make me broke. Keeping my computer closed over the weekend doesn’t make me unpopular.” I love this.

    And yes, slowing down has helped me manage my depression. I used to constantly be telling people how busy I was, and now when I feel that temptation I bite my tongue and cancel a few plans.

  5. says

    Smart ideas, Courtney. I passed on your post to a friend of mine who was diagnosed with MS a few years back–she is very inspiring as well!

    I wholeheartedly agree with the “Say No” idea. Next year (when some of my professional commitments are ending), it’s my “Year of Saying No” so I can spend more time doing what I REALLY want to do on a personal level. I over-committed myself this year and now I’m paying the price for it.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Hi Joy,

      I know right where you are. I can’t wait to hear more about your year of saying no! Sounds awesome.

  6. says

    That’s amazing! I’m glad you figured things out before they got even worse. I totally agree with the fact that your body is more intelligent than you might think. When it is sending you signals through pain or fatigue, it means that there is something wrong, that you should be dealing with. Covering it up with painkillers or worse ignoring it, is definitely not the way to be going about it.

  7. Jen says

    Absolutely fantastic post. I completely agree. I suffered with ME for 10 years and have only recently got a handle on it in the past 12-18 months. I no longer over commit myself, and on paper my life is a lot emptier, but I FEEL the most fulfilled I have ever been.

    Thank you Courtney for writing this.

  8. says

    For the past two years I have been experimenting with working three-quarter time to see if that would help my health. Not only has it helped me cope better with my Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but I believe I am further along my journey to wellness. Next step is to really tackle the food thing. But the concept of simplicity gave me the means to do something about my life, I was so stuck and only just coping and had no idea how to fix it.

  9. says

    A resounding YES to this. When I taught music in the schools I had stress headaches weekly, moth ulcers, tiredness, colds, indigestion, difficulty sleeping and much, much more!!!

    I quit teaching 8 years ago and have none of these health concerns. I also lowered my cholesterol dozens of points. Now I have time to do what I love and spend time with my wife.

  10. says

    This is a beautiful post, Courtney. Thanks so much for writing it. Life is a balance between passion and stress. Battling stress and making sure we’re living a healthy life is just as important as working and doing what we love. Thanks again.

  11. says

    Hi! I’m a fellow MS fighter. While I love the tone of your post, I think it oversimplifies the issues that many MS’ers face. I’m glad that simplifying your life has helped your overall health—for the most part I agree. It sounds like you have RRMS which is the less nasty of the MS types. I have Primary Progressive MS—which 10% of the MS population has. Take a walk? Not possible w/o much assistance and pain. If you can still walk, you are blessed. Eat awesome? If I had the energy to make more meals, I certainly could eat awesome. If I could get out to the grocery store more, I would have more “awesome” fresh foods. Right now, I’m eating what’s easy and available. My last MRI showed an increase in lesions which is the nature of PPMS. Exercise, MS drugs, and food isn’t going to change this {and it hasn’t} b/c that’s the nature of PPMS. While I love your attitude, please keep in mind that there are MS’ers {like myself} who struggle everyday just to get out of bed and yes, worry about the what-if’s. Morning routine? The fatigue is so bad that I’m lucky to even see a morning!

    Your results are certainly not typical. I have been in the MS community a long time and I seldom hear someone say that MS has changed their life for the better. MS sucks so please don’t minimize the impacts of the disease or indicate that improving one’s MS is as simple as simplifying.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Hi Kim, Thanks so much for this really important feedback. I can only speak from my experience, but fully understand that some conditions and degrees of diseases take much more attention and energy. I know that MS is different for everyone and that Primary Progressive MS is much more severe.

      I also agree with you that MS does suck. Most patients experience a different course of treatment/severity and other circumstances just like different forms of cancers and other conditions. I can’t address every situation and wasn’t suggesting that simplifying is all that it takes in your case or mine.

      There have been plenty of days where doing anything I mentioned was a real challenge or completely impossible, but overall, my health continues to improve.

      Dr. Terry Wahls is making great strides in the MS world. She was diagnosed with MS in 2000, and by 2003 was severely disabled. http://www.thewahlsfoundation.com/dr-wahls-gives-tedx-talk-on-overcoming-multiple-sclerosis/ – While her condition was very different than mine, I’ve used some of her diet suggestions (not all).

      I know that MS doesn’t preclude us from a host of other diseases too, so I aim to be as healthy as possible. (that looks different for everyone)

      My intention with this post was not to dismiss the impact of MS or any other disease, only to suggest that in many cases, by reducing stress, we can improve health. I know for me, hearing stories of how other people manage disease is always inspiring even when it doesn’t look identical to my path.

      I also added a PS in the post to make sure everyone understands that stress/health and the results will not be identical to mine.

      • says

        Thanks for the link Courtney and the PS is greatly appreciated!
        I’m truly happy that you are having improvements and that your lesion load has not increased.
        I ate a “clean diet” for about 6 months last year and there was no improvement in my symptoms. I have looked at everything from stem cells to CCSVI to LDN. The odds aren’t great for persons with PPMS but that doesn’t mean I have given up :) Still hoping for a cure. Heck, I’d settle for a “band-aid” at this point ;)
        Thanks for helping spread awareness!

    • Maria says

      I can sympathize with this. I have ME/CFS, but not in a way that could be managed by working 50 % and eating better. Although my goal is certainly to recover as much as possible, hopefully completely! As a student in my twenties I was forced to leave my studies, my job, karate training and so on 100%, anything else just wasn’t feasable (I tried, believe me). In a way, the illness has been a great blessing in my life, I appreciate the little things so much more now, and I’m more open to life. I’m slowly starting to love and accept myself which is wonderful. But still, always feeling ill and in pain, not being able to work or study or experience the great joy of a healthy body running or dancing or whatever, is a huge loss. I completly agree that when we get sick our bodies are trying to tell us something and we need to take notes! But I appreciate what Kimberly D says about people with health challenges who are still pretty functional, maybe could keep in mind that unfortunatly they’re not representative for everyone.

      I live in a fairly small apartment with my boyfriend (463 square feet), and I’ve never had credit card debt or liked shopping. But decluttering, which I’m totally into, still takes SO LONG because I’m so limited physically. If I have “extra” energy one day, I usually need to use it on something else, like grocery shopping or some long overdue house work. Exercise only makes the condition worse, which I’m so sad about, as I was always athletic. But I know a lot of other people consider me to be the lucky one, since most days I’m able to cook and take a shower, and every now and then get out of the house to meet a friend.

      I feel you Kimberly D, and I appreciate you voicing something I’ve thought about many times!

      • says

        Thank you so much Maria! I have double trouble–fibro and MS :( I had to leave my job as well–in 2008. I was a mental health therapist for over a decade and leaving this “identity” behind was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I totally feel your pain about your losses. After I left my career, and was diagnosed, I struggled with depression and adjustment issues for a year {yes, even with having the mental health treatment tools I had access to}.
        Decluttering?? Just the thought makes me tired, lol.

        I think what I’ve been trying to say (in my comments here) and to others is that no matter what precautions one takes regarding stress, simplifying, etc., the disease process is different in everyone and the most optimistic, healthy eating, stress free person can still be chewed up and spit out over and over again by MS, fibro, etc.,

        • Maria says

          Thank you Courtney and Kimberly!

          I wish that everyone could reduce their stress and live a more healthy life, BEFORE they get sick! I know for sure that I was way too stressed, and maybe the illness could have been less serious, or maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all, had I been living a more balanced life beforehand. I don’t know. And I notice now that my symptoms are much worse when I’m stressed. But as of now, even with a healthy lifestyle and mindset, I can’t get them to go away, or at least I haven’t figured out how yet. You’re so right Kimberly D, disease can strike anyone, even if they’re slim and fit and happy and meditating and so on.

          Believe it or not, I usually try to avoid talking about my illness, just because I’m so fed up about it. It just makes me sad to think about how much I’ve lost, and I would rather talk about something more fun! But every now and then I need a good rant – so thank you for letting me! :)

  12. says

    Oh, I could write a novel on this topic. For years, I suffered with debilitating migraines and horrible food allergies. I still have both conditions, but have learned how to control them with diet, exercise and a much, MUCH less stressful lifestyle.

    At first, I saw my health conditions as some sort of cosmic punishment – something that just wasn’t fair. But over the years I’ve come to see it as an enormous gift. It taught me lessons I never would have learned otherwise, and my life is so much richer and happier because of the changes I was forced to make.

    One other thought on stress. I suffered from horrible nosebleeds for most of my early life. As a small child I would have terrible fits of rage and panic (I’ll spare you the rant about my mother’s parenting style,) and while nobody around me ever made the connection, these were highly correlated with my nosebleeds.

    It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I figured it out. I was working for a non-profit and had a run-in with a real jerk who was on our board of directors. I got sooooo mad, but, of course, couldn’t express it. But within a few minutes blood was literally pouring from my nose. I suddenly recognized that I had a pattern of holding in my anger – and when I did that my blood pressure would go through the ceiling causing the nosebleeds as well as heaven knows what other damage.

    That was a real eye opener, and caused me to make some big changes that have totally changed my life.

    Thanks so much for this post… and sorry for the lengthy comment, you really stuck a chord with this one!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Cat, I so appreciate your contribution. As always … it adds so much to the conversation. xo

  13. Jeni says

    I loved your post. I have experienced the exact same rollercoaster ride since my MS diagnosis 18 years ago. It may sound crazy, but I look at it as a gift. I have a warning system that healthier people do not. If I’m pushing it too much, not taking care of myself, I will get a little signal from my body to SLOW DOWN.

    Since I was diagnosed so young (19, I’m 37 now), I have tried to live a clean, healthy life. However, as a mother of 2 young children it is not always easy to say “no”, and take it easy. Thanks for the great blog. I love knowing that there’s someone out there who KNOWS what I’m going through.

    P.S. My mom told me about your blog. She didn’t mention your MS. I think she did that on purpose, thinking that I wouldn’t look at it if I knew. I don’t usually think about my MS, or want to talk about it because I don’t want it to run my life. I am very lucky to have a very benign MS, so I can easily forget. I too had that fantastic visit with the Neuro when he said my lesion has shrunk and almost disappeared. I must be doing something right?!?!?

    Looking forward to more great posts!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Yippee Jeni! I’m so glad your mom introduced us. I don’t talk about MS that much so she may not have known, but if she did, I love that she didn’t mention it to you. It sounds like you are doing plenty right and you are so right about the warning system.

      When I say that MS changed my life in the best possible way, I don’t want to come off as if it is all sunshine and rainbows, but it really has helped to me to prioritize health and relationships. That in itself is a huge gift.

  14. says

    What an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing. I always knew there is no such thing as an incurable disease. You can always get better. It’s really so sad how stressful our lives have become. Thanks for sending out a reminder to everyone to slow down. You’re awesome! (-:

    • Courtney Carver says

      You are awesome too! There are plenty of diseases without a cure including MS, but there are always changes we can make to try and feel better and be better.

  15. says

    This was nice. I wish our old would stop glorifying busy stressed burned out people. In many societies people who believe in slowing down are looked down upon as lazy and losers. Our society is addicted to adrenaline and cortisol high.

  16. says

    This post just made my day. I am so happy for you, Courtney! I can imagine how amazing it must have felt to hear you are reversing this awful disease. Huzzah!

    By the way, I’m still going strong with my lifestyle & diet changes and the side effects have been amazing. I’m more patient, a better listener, a better friend, and MUCH happier. Oh, and I haven’t had a relapse since my diagnosis.

    You continue to inspire me to work for my best health every day.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Genesis, I thought of you when I was working on this post and am so glad to hear that you are doing great!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Slowing down is definitely part of the equation! We can’t get it all done and that is fine with me.

  17. Stephanie says

    Courtney, thank you for such an inspiring post. I am so happy for you that you had such positive results from your doctor.

  18. says

    I first came to know about MS when I read Cami Walker’s book ’29 gifts’ in which she has written about how she was diagnosed with MS and how her life changed by giving small gifts daily for 29 days.
    Stress is the root cause of so many diseases and you are so true in saying that by slowing down & reducing the busyness of our lives, we can counter stress. Through my personal experience, I can say that just 15-20 minutes of meditation can work wonders for your over-all well being!
    Also an amazing breathing technique called ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ which I learnt in Art of Living is very helpful in combating stress. To know more about Sudarshan Kriya, visit artofliving.org

  19. says

    So glad to hear that you are having good results with your lifestyle changes!

    I quit my job last year, after a decade of working too hard and doing too much came crashing down on me. But the first thing I did was make my life just as busy as when I was working! It has taken some soul-searching to change. Every day I become aware of something else I am doing to add stress to my life, and bit by bit, I am trying to change my thinking.

    While my health is still not where I want it to be, I am much healthier now and take less medicine than before.

    • Courtney Carver says

      That’s awesome Christina. It can be a real challenge not to fill every waking hour with stuff/work/chores … it seems so natural and I think we can feel guilty when we don’t. Keep working at letting go and feeling good about giving yourself time and space to heal and thrive.

  20. says

    Thank you for getting the word out. Stress is absolutely a health disaster. Whether it’s lots of little stresses or a big one for too long, it can cause serious damage. Adrenal problems being a big one directly caused by stress. I know from experience! As I slowly recover, I am considering what else I need to do different in the future to handle stress (I already was eating healthy, exercising, etc.) so I don’t go there again. I think a lot of it is a change of attitude when faced with a large external stress, and learning to ignore (or better, eliminate) the “shoulds” that often come from within myself. People need permission to live better without being thought of as lazy, preferably before it ruins their health! Certainly living simpler lives, changing the priorities we work for, spending time on things that are truly important, and making our homes more peaceful and easy to clean, are helpful!

  21. says

    Courtney, thank you for telling your story. It must be difficult (this is the first I have learned of your health), but you have the opportunity to teach through your experience. What a beautiful thing for all of is. As for the food…I need to do way better. Thanks for your inspiration!

  22. says

    I am currently in the process of planning for a wedding with my beautiful fiance right now. It can be a stressful time and she does get more stress out than I do at times. The one thing that we do together to make sure we keep things in check is to do yoga together at least 3 times a week, meditate together at least 2 times a week, and have at LEAST one night a week where we sit down and devote the whole evening to each other to just talk, vent or practice dancing together. That has helped us keep each other in check to make sure we have healthy bodies and a healthy relationship.
    I enjoyed this post! It is a healthy reminder.

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