Stress Is Bad, but Most Stress Management Is Absurd

Maybe forget about meditation and instead address the condition's causes

Jennifer van Amerom avatar

by Jennifer van Amerom |

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Nothing irks me more than when a medical specialist tells me to “reduce the stress” in my life. It’s as if stress is the same as a few extra pounds of weight we can cut out with some habit changes. It imagines we can take medication for stress the same as we might manage our blood pressure. I find myself rolling my eyes every time a doctor gives me this absurd recommendation.

Stress is a factor in life. There are bills to pay, children to raise, relationships to manage, and health challenges to navigate. Stress has become such a normal part of life that a hashtag about it (#adulting) has started to trend on social media, serving as a way for people to vent about the daily challenges they face.

Yet we can’t just be defeated by stress, especially when we have a neurological disorder like neuromyelitis optica (NMO). Patients know that stress can often exacerbate symptoms.

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The impact of stress

As human beings, we’re conditioned to adjust to our environment and circumstances, but how much can one individual handle? In 1984, a nursing scholar, S.E. Pollock, proposed the Health-Related Hardiness Scale (HRHS) to assess the psychological features of self-adjustment in people encountering health problems. While the HRHS is still in use today, some scholars have attempted to adjust the scale, as in the Dispositional Resilience Scale, which defines hardiness as a personality trait influencing how people cope with stressful circumstances.

A 2020 study in Iran from the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders demonstrated the association of some stressful life events, including death of relatives, joblessness, and divorce, in developing NMO. I’m conflicted about this study because of its bold statement. On one hand, I don’t think it’s fair to blame life and its stressful events as the cause of NMO. From my own experience leading up to my diagnosis, I didn’t have anything stressful to deal with and yet NMO appeared in my life. I believe if you’re destined to have NMO, then so be it.

On the other hand, I know that stress plays a role in our well-being. After my first two major episodes with NMO, I was attack-free for over 10 years. Then, after losing several close family members in the same year, I experienced my third major attack. I don’t think stress develops NMO, but it certainly doesn’t help it.

However, medical researchers don’t know what causes NMO — yet.

I am not a robot

The wellness industry caters to those who are seeking healthy outlets for stress. The industry is full of tips and tricks, usually at a monthly subscription price. I’ve tried all the free suggestions.

We know that sleep helps rejuvenate our mind and body, but I’m not the type of person who has an off switch at bedtime. I’m envious of those who operate like robots. Several of my friends have a daily practice of meditation. I’ve tried it and even invested in a specific pillow to sit on, but if I’m being honest, I think the practice lacks merit.

Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, but these outlets aren’t working.

Perhaps you’re able to find inner peace for the duration of your meditation, but when you return to reality your bills still need to be paid. Your relationships might still be toxic. And did one of your kids just hit another one while you were in your moment of Zen? I find the jarring return to reality even more stressful than staying present.

I don’t believe there’s a way to reduce stress, not without reducing those challenges. People get divorced over it, criminals steal when they are desperate for means, and ultimately, some people even lose their lives over their inability to “reduce stress.”

The real pandemic

As a society, we need to address the real underlying challenges:

  • Patients with disabilities shouldn’t have to decide between crippling debt and healthcare. Even if a patient has worked to earn a healthy salary, when you’re diagnosed with a disease that likely requires hundreds of thousands of dollars for treatment, there’s no real way to sustain that long-term.
  • There’s an old proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but in a major metropolitan city it can be difficult for families to find that village. In my small hometown, we could call on most of our neighbors for help if it was needed. But in Toronto, we wave at our neighbors, and that’s about it. It’s not that these families don’t want to connect, but the cost of living is too high, so there isn’t time to do it. We need to make childcare more affordable.
  • If you’ve ever tried to work with a psychologist or family therapist, you know how expensive they are. Some benefit packages only cover two to three visits a year. I don’t know of an issue that can be resolved in that few visits. There shouldn’t be such a high cost to speak to someone.

I’ll admit that some of us manage stress a lot better than others, and if meditation gives you that advantage, more power to you, but I see great stress hardiness the same as if someone has better genes than others. Some of us are supermodels, for instance, but most of us are not.

Stress management is always a hot topic. Please share your insights with our patient community in the comments below.

Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).


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