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Making a list, checking it twice - how to stay calm and Christmasing on, when you have MS

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Stress and Christmas

Christmas can be a very stressful time for many people - and when you have MS, it can effect your daily life and symptoms. Here Helena from the MS Trust Information and Engagement team explores some ideas on how to reduce Christmas stress.

Do you have any tips for getting through the festive season? Share them in the comments below.

Every year it seems to be the same, November sneaks up on you and before you know it the shops and streets are filled with Christmas decorations and the TV is blaring out adverts on how to have the perfect Christmas.  The pressure is on to "Out-Christmas" last year's efforts, and with that the ever rising stress about sorting everything out in time.

MS and stress - the science bit

Stress causes changes in blood pressure, heart rate and metabolism. In the short-term, these responses can improve physical and mental performance to cope with immediate crises - the 'fight or flight' response that we would feel when exposed to danger. Once we believe the danger is over, our body returns to normal but, if the threat is longer term, our mental and physical health may suffer. 

Over the long term, stress can lead to a wide range of physical and psychological health problems ranging from fatigueinsomniaanxiety and depression.  

A link between psychological stress and MS symptoms was first made in 1868. Over the last few years there have been several studies that have found a relationship between stressful life events and both the onset of MS and relapses. So I think we can all agree that MS + Stress = Not a good thing. But what can we do about it? We can remove some stress from our lives, but for most people it will be impossible to remove all causes of stress.

MS and stress management

There are three stages in stress management.

  1. Recognising the effect stress is having on health.
  2. Identifying what is causing stress.
  3. Taking action to remove or reduce the cause of stress.

If we to try to apply this to Christmas stress, and pick out some of the common elements that are causing stress it might look something like this;

"Getting stressed already thinking about Christmas. Best way not to get stressed is plan well ahead and enjoy Christmas"

Steve MS Trust Facebook Group

Cause of stress - Christmas presents

Ahh nothing like the joy in children's eyes on Christmas morning when they get to open their gifts, right? Its been a stressful year to get to the point where you can buy your frields and family lots of lovely presents. But do you really need more stress by Christmas shopping? There could always be a danger in overdoing it and making Christmas all about the presents. Have a think about this before you spend your life-savings, haven't we all got a spot in our homes that is filled with unwanted presents?

Once you have really had a think about what your children/partner/friends/parents want, how about making a list and checking it twice? When you actually see it written down, you might reduce the risk of overbuying. Show the list to other family members and friends and they might come up with ideas, and you won't be in risk of duplicating gifts that they might buy.  

Then to the actual buying. Some people do enjoy going to the shops for Christmas, it gets them in the mood. But it is fair to say that all the people, queues and carrying around bags is not good for stress or fatigue. So online shopping is probably your best bet for doing it in the least stressful way. Remember that a lot of local and independent retailers will have their business online too. There are of course all the big shops too. If you are shopping through John Lewis, M&S or several of the other big shops you can actually help us at the MS Trust too, as we have affiliate shopping schemes with them. As you shop, the MS Trust gets a percentage of the shop without any extra cost to you! How is that for the Christmas giving spirit! 

Some of these shops, also offer to wrap the items for you, which will be another worry gone. 

"Buy online in sales as and when you see something good. Keep in a special drawer.
Mail merge labels for Christmas cards. First year setup is where the hard work is."

Rebecca MS Trust Facebook Group

Cause of stress  - Christmas events

When we asked how people with MS planned for Christmas in our Facebook group, a few people said they always tried to have all their shopping done by the end of November, because December always seems to be so filled with events. It could be work do's, school events and Christmas parties, they all seem to add up in December.

To cope with all of these can be tricky, it is human nature to want to say yes to everything and spread yourself too thin. But remember to listen to your body and be open to people over the fact that you might not be able to stay long or attend at all, but that this is not due to them but to your health. If you do go out here are some tips for your outings

  • Rest up before and after. Take a catnap before venturing out and see if you can perhaps take the day off afterwards. 
  • Don't drink too much caffeine or alcohol, yes I know this might be a tricky one, both these have a tendency to mess with the bladder. Do however drink plenty of water!
  • Try some relaxing exercises, perhaps yoga or mindfulness

"Yoga and sherry! (Maybe not at the same time but hey...)"

Jo MS Trust Facebook Group

Cause of stress - Christmas dinners

There's nothing like Christmas dinner to get the stress levels rising. Where to get the food, who doesn't like sprouts and do we eat before or after the Queens' speech? The top tips for dealing with this particular stress starter were

  • Go out for dinner, no cooking and no dishes
  • Get your partner/parents/kids/friends to cook
  • Get the already prepared food online and just shove it in the oven on the day
  • Get your guests to bring food, so you don't have to provide it all
  • Order some food in, who says you can't have a curry for Christmas! 

"Egg and chips for Xmas dinner..... Perfect"

Debbie MS Trust Facebook Group

When approaching our MS Trust Facebook group about writing this blog I had a lot of feedback, and the one thing I really took away from it was that the pressure on creating the perfect Christmas is huge, but when you have MS you are in a way forced to re-evaluate what is important about the holiday and what isn't. So whatever Christmas you are having; a full on busy one with big meals with family and friends or a quiet time with a take-away. Do make sure that you try to take the time to enjoy it!

 "I forget all the commercial nonsense. Presents only for close family and a couple of good friends. Xmas cards the same. 
Xmas lunch is just a roast dinner with pigs in blankets and bread sauce. 

Janet MS Trust Facebook Group

Merry Christmas


MS Trust Information and Engagement team 

MS is complex, life-long and unpredictable, without a known cause or cure. Our Information Team take away some of the uncertainty such a diagnosis can bring and help people living with MS to see a way forward.
They provide bespoke, practical, evidence-based information, receiving over 3,000 enquiries and sending out over 60,000 publications, researched and written by the team, every year.
The MS Trust receives no government funding and relies solely on the generosity of its supporters in order to continue to offer this lifeline for the 100,000 people living with MS in the UK. If you would like to support our Information team please donate now. 
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