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Stress: It's Good for You?

posted by Diane Holmes on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Heightened levels of stress-related hormones produced during a crisis have been blamed for problems with physical and emotional health. New research has found, however that stress hormones are not always detrimental. In fact, those same hormones have been administered to help people recover from Post Traumatic Stress and resulted in better outcomes following surgery.  

When people are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), they often experience a stress response. Commonly the initial shock and confusion are followed by searching for information to improve their understanding, as well as talking with someone who has experience with MS. In her book entitled, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a health psychologist, points out that stress also motivates people to connect with other people. That desire for connection is driven by the hormone produced in the pituitary gland, Oxytocin, which is designed to “build and strengthen social bonds.” Oxytocin increases the ability to understand what other people are thinking and feeling, enhances empathy and intuition, and increases trust, the desire to help, and increases courage, which dampens the fear response.

At a recent MS Services Support Group meeting, those attending identified what motivates them to come month after month. They value being able to talk about very personal concerns knowing their confidentiality will be respected.  Because of their common experience - MS - they feel understood. The group provides a safety net in which members give and receive support, share information, and use each other as a sounding board. They describe the environment as accepting and respectful despite diverse perspectives. Some, who have been attending the group meetings for more than 25 years, laughingly described themselves as the “elders” who feel a sense of wisdom because sharing their experiences have helped others.
But, it is not just people who attend the group meetings who see the benefits. Family members, most of whom have not come to a meeting, see the improved mood, enjoyment of connecting with other people, and the knowledge gained at the meetings. Some have seen such improvement in their family member who has MS that, even after they are no longer able to drive themselves to a meeting, the family member will rearrange their schedules to take them. Recently the minister at the church where one group meeting is held told me he enjoys having the group there. He sees the personal connections and most of all, loves to hear the laughter coming from the room where we meet, quite contrary to what one would expect from discussing a topic so serious as Multiple Sclerosis.

Special thanks to the people attending the Bremer/Butler MS Support Group who contributed to this article.

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