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?
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.