Use the traffic light to reduce stress and it may help your MS

Could you help MS and reduce stress with this easy tool? [infographic]

If someone were to ask: what can make MS worse? I am sure quite a lot of people would report stress to be one of the factors. Stress and MS can for some people be a bad combination and you may be wondering, how can I reduce stress to help MS. What does stress do to someone with MS? Some people find that it makes their MS symptoms worse.

If someone is feeling stressed, this can at times lead to the feeling of “there is nothing I can do about it”. This way we move from taking action to being passive. In this post, I will talk about the model of the traffic light, which I recently was taught in a course about stress management. This post is not intended to act as individual advice regarding your mental health. You should never avoid seeking individual advice from your health professional when it comes to your health whether this is physical or mental. The traffic light is merely a little tool, which you may get inspired by if you want to help MS – but are feeling overwhelmed. Even if the tool is just a step forward to help you seek advice from your health professional – that is also a bonus and may help MS.

What is stress?

There are lots of different ways to describe stress. The following is just an example that I have translated into English.

Stress can be defined as a state of strain. In this state of strain or imbalance, you find that the external demands from the surroundings and/or internal demands from within yourself outgrow your resources.

In other words, there is an imbalance between demands and resources. The symptoms can be physical, mental, or cognitive.

The 2 types of stress

We can all find ourselves battling with stress at some point in our life. But it is important to distinguish between short-term and long-term stress.

Short-term stress is not dangerous in itself. But if we continuously go through stress in life (with external and/or internal demands/expectations being higher than we can manage with our resources) we might enter the long-term stress.

Stress is a reaction to the imbalance between the external/internal expectations/demands and our resources at a given time, which could be a short or long period.

Stress creates different reactions in the body.

  • Your memory lets you down
  • You sweat
  • Your heart beats faster
  • Your blood pressure rises
  • Your hands shake
  • Your bowels are affected
  • You release stress hormones
  • Your muscles tighten up
  • Your breath faster

Short-term stress contra long-term stress

The heart beats faster as the body wants to send blood to the big muscle groups in your body – preparing you to fight. We enter a state of alarm, as we perceive the situation as dangerous – just as if we were standing in front of a big tiger.

Stress is symbolized by using a tiger. Avoiding stress may help MS

The point about the tiger is that the situation is short-term. It is actually beneficial that we can enter this state when we meet the tiger or if we have to do something big in life. The response of our body is designed to solve the short-term situation or acute situation.

But if this situation is no longer short-term, it can have consequences both mentally, cognitively, and physically. The risks of long-term stress can be e.g. cardiovascular disease, depression, and deterioration of chronic diseases such as Diabetes 2.

Can having MS in itself cause stress?

You probably know a lot of the scenarios from your everyday life with MS and how it can cause stress for some. We discussed them in the post about music and coping strategies.

But if we return to the definition of stress – we talked about an imbalance between external/internal demands/expectations compared to our resources available. If we then add MS to the mix, it is understandable that you can feel this imbalance between your own resources and the demands/expectations. MS can affect someone in so many different ways and be as unpredictable and variable as the weather. One minute the symptoms are well-behaved or might even not be present – the next minute they strike hard.

You know more than anyone, that the smallest thing can have a huge and sometimes unpredictable impact on your symptoms and your resources. Sometimes we don’t even know what the “small thing” is – and we say “that is just the nature of MS”. Unfortunately the external/internal demands/expectations do not align themselves according to the unpredictability of MS and your resources at a given time. This causes a huge source of imbalance.

What does stress do to someone with MS?

I think most will agree that having MS can be a stress factor.

But can stress actually make MS worse? The connection between stress and MS has been researched with mixed results. But I have often heard people with MS say that stress makes their symptoms worse.

How do you advise your best friend?

Fortunately, there are some things that we can do to help the situation, which may help MS. You probably have plenty of good advice if one of your friends encountered stress. This could be for instance meditation, going for a walk, creating good sleeping habits, etc.

But which advice do you give yourself?

Oops…. what happens if it is you who is feeling stressed?

Sometimes we can enter this state of “blindness”.


I am not talking about blindness in a literal way. I am also not referring to the kind of “blindness” that makes us not see that bit of missing skirting board we didn’t put up for years in the house. I am talking about how we can become “blind” to our own emotional needs.

Perhaps this is how to describe it:

”When we adhere to daily routines and contexts to such a high degree, that we no longer see what is good for us and what is not…”

In a busy everyday life, it is easy to go “blind” and forget to look after your own mental health. The hamster wheel is running fast and we don’t stop to analyze what is good for us and what is not. Our own well-being is forgotten or unaddressed. We skip meditation, good sleeping habits and a healthy diet. We don’t follow the health advice we may give to our friends.

The traffic light may help stress and may help MS

If the situation carries on, you might feel overwhelmed and not know where to start or what to do to change the situation. You might feel like a passive bystander.

This is where the traffic light comes in handy. It may help you to take action rather than be passive.

Red – here you find the things or circumstances that you can not change

Yellow– here you find the things or circumstances that you can change/influence with time

Green – here you find the things or circumstances you can change/influence here and now

It is preferable to move mostly in the lower parts of the traffic light. But of course in life, there will be things and circumstances, that you can not change. This is when we talk about compromise and change of perspective. You can try to adapt or change your perspective on certain things or circumstances, you can accept or you can let go.

Moving from passiveness to action to help MS

  • Did you check out your traffic light?
  • Maybe you were inspired to change something here and now or with time?
  • Which feelings are you left with when you look at your traffic light?

“But surely MS is within the red area?”

Yes, you can look at it like that. You can not delete the diagnosis. But I hope that you (with child-like curiosity) can analyze the yellow and green areas and this way find ways and methods to help MS and live better with it.

Have you got a great piece of advice for someone who experiences stress in their life with MS?

P.S. Once again I can not highlight enough the importance of seeking professional advice from your healthcare professional when it comes to both your physical and mental health.

Infographic illustrates the imbalance that happens during stress via a scale, the dangerous situation via the tiger and the traffic light the areas we can or can not take action towards.
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