Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Coping with a crisis when you have multiple sclerosis

Writer, ms.about.com

I used to think that I was pretty good in a crisis. I could calmly and quickly assess a situation and come up with a mental flowchart of what had to be done, complete with alternate plans in case one of my steps didn't work out. More than once, someone would say to me that they wish they could be as logical and composed as I was when things needed to get done quickly and decisively. Of course, that was the old me, the person without multiple sclerosis.

These days, I am no longer the paragon of composure during times of stress. Quite the opposite –if more than one thing requiring my attention is happening at one time, I freeze, my circuits overloaded. I would never want to see a video of myself during these times – it would undoubtedly show someone who is so confused that she becomes dysfunctional, a person prone to lock herself out of the house or unable to find her car keys when they are most needed.

Recently, I had to run the dog to the vet on an emergency basis, make a call before I left, wrangle my young twins into clothes and then into the car, and get all of this done within an hour, as someone was coming by the house to fix something. These "normal" tasks had me standing in the middle of my kitchen, holding keys to the wrong car, rotating in slow circles and rubbing my forehead. Eventually, I was able to mobilize myself, but I had wasted valuable minutes trying to figure out what to do first. If this had been a true crisis, it would have undoubtedly taken much longer, with more mistakes along the way.

Undoubtedly, this inability to multitask in an urgent situation is related in part to cognitive dysfunction, which makes it difficult to hold onto more than one thought at a time or process things quickly.  There are a couple of tips that I have come up with to help "unstick" myself and get moving under stress:

Take a minute and assess the situation. In the vast majority of situations, taking 30 to 60 seconds to think things through will actually save time. Take a deep breath and mentally go through all of the steps that you will need to take and jot them down. Picture yourself doing the things in your plan, including making necessary calls, locating destinations on the map, bringing particular items along.  Think through what you are going to say to people whom you need to call. A quick mental run-through will make you more efficient when time is of the essence.

Make it quiet. Turn off all music, turn off the television. Tell people to stop talking to you. Go in another room, if necessary. This will greatly help you figure out what you need to do.

Ask for help when possible. There have been many times when I told a friend or my husband about a seemingly impossible situation and they said, "Why didn't you call me? I could have helped." It helps just to talk through something with someone as you are forming your strategy for addressing your problem. Often, others who are not wrapped up in the situation at hand can offer very simple suggestions that will reduce stress and effort.

Stay as calm as you can. I know that my MS symptoms become much more noticeable when I get worked up. Increased tingling, tremor, spasticity or headache is not what anyone needs when they are trying to act under pressure. While it is easier said than done, staying calm in a crisis will improve your chances for success in taking care of the problem.

Bottom line: These tips do not just apply to people with MS, as I think many people tend to "short-circuit" when things become urgent. However, for people with MS, the extra challenges of cognitive dysfunction and impact of stress on symptoms can make crisis situations even more difficult. By approaching a situation calmly and strategically, you can build confidence that you can handle things that life throws at you, despite your MS.

What about you? How do you handle stressful situations? Is there a particular instant (that you handled well or poorly) that sticks out in your mind? Share your stories and tips with us.

17 comments:

  1. Everything you've said I can relate to. Your suggestions are the same type of points I also follow.

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  2. Thanks for these suggestions, it seems to me you're still very logical. I've found myself in that situation of turning in circles, hand to head, but have been unable to move except to sit down. Stress just wipes me out. You have given me a point to strive for.

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  3. I have related to all these problems. Stress is very difficult when you are a mother of three little kids and have MS. Sometimes it feels like I just shut down.

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    1. Suzette I have three children also two girls 4 and 5 and a baby boy 9 months! I'd love to know how u do it! I'm struggling silently I break down but my husband travels and it's just me I was dx April 2010 my first relapse is now and I just don't know what to do

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  4. "I know that my MS symptoms become much more noticeable when I get worked up."

    This is so true. For me the biggest key to managing my MS is staying calm and mostly avoiding situations that are highly stressful. Meditation is very helpful.

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  5. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and I think your tips are just as applicable to that as to your MS. Nice tips!

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  6. Most recently while driving alone after dropping someone off at Ohare in Chicago, I stopped at a rest area. I had put my walker in the car "just in case"...it was a 'long' walk to the bathroom and I was glad I had the walker. It was 98 degrees, humid and very windy. I got back to the car exhausted, put the walker in the back (my husband's suv), then attempted to get in the driver seat but my right leg decided not to work. I was stranded and very hot. I thought through the situaion and decided there was no choice but to wait for a strong looking man to come by and ask for help. A couple was walking by and I asked if he would help and he said "of course"...I told him where to position himself, lift my leg and put it in the car, that worked except the rest of my body did not cooperate, so, we were actually laughing by this time as he had to grab my bottom and shove that in. I made a choice to wait for help and look at the humor, but normally I would have been in tears.

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    1. Yofee, very good thinking on your part. Difficult situation that you seemed to handle well. My strong independant personallity may not allow me to be so patient. The best to you, Scott

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  7. I have just finished this while lying on the sofa and recovering from a stress filled,overwhelming day. I thank you and agree with all you have said. I wish I had read your post this morning.

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  8. I was diagnosed with MS only a few weeks ago. And I recently had my first true moment of stress, which caused my feet to go numb nearly instantly. It was then that I knew I needed to load up on new tools to handle stress. Thank you for your wise words!

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    1. Scary stuff...this website is wonderful, keep checking it!

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  9. I was diagnosed with MS only a few weeks ago. And I recently had my first true moment of stress, which caused my feet to go numb nearly instantly. It was then that I knew I needed to load up on new tools to handle stress. Thank you for your wise words!

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  10. Great discussion! Julie, this is a subject that is always relevant to everyone, how much more so for us MSers and people with other chronic conditions.

    My worst moments have been when I was preparing a dinner for our whole family (incl. grandkids) and in airports and flights when the workers there had no sensitivity for a person walking with a rollator and waiting for or using wheelchair assistance. The impatience of those people to deal with services that we had paid for set me off on mini-relapses that took days, at least, to pass. My first response to these situations, despite the incredible support my DH always gives me, I found myself literally choking on my nerves, crying, screaming at the small-minded people involved, shaking, going numb all over, heating up, going into an anxiety attack; what no?

    Since that last time, we've been lucky enough to have great flights. I simply go into a low gear of apathy and just sit it the chair and smile. As far as dinners WE prepare, it's the same - low gear, one thing at a time, and breaks as often as possible.

    I guess it's all a matter of experience.

    Feel good and relax!

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    1. I'm travelling alone Friday, Detroit-Nashville, have ordered a wheelchair and paid for the bulkhead, keeping fingers crossed. Airport in Grand Rapids MI usially fine, Detroit much larger and busier.

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  11. Thank you for writing about this. I used to be wonderful in stressful situations. Just before my diagnosis, I noticed that I had a feeling of not being able to deal. I'd much rather crawl in bed & pull the covers over my head. Now that I have been diagnosed, I wondered if it was related. Your post helped me to better understand what I have been going through!

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  12. wow tought it was just me chalking it up to my disease as an excuse.

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  13. Thank you for sharing this story, and it's great to read the replies too. I have had many occasions where I have wanted to crawl into a hole, because of sensory overload. I can't handle large crowds anymore or when there is more than one conversation going on around me. I feel horrible when it comes to family get togethers, Birthday parties...etc.

    I think the best advice here is to take that step back. Get away from the commotion and take a minute or two to evaluate the situation without any distractions.

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