However, there are other studies that indicate it’s
possible that stress could have some influence on
the course of the disease.
A longitudinal study of 36 people with MS
completed in 2000 by Dr. Mohr found a correlation between stressful events and the subsequent
development of new brain lesions. A “
meta-analy-sis” that Dr. Mohr conducted in 2004, analyzing
14 studies, showed a significant increase in MS
exacerbations after stressful life events. These findings, along with the knowledge that stress is one
of the most potent risk factors for clinical depression (see sidebar), are enough to convince people
that stress plus MS could be a risky combination.
Clearly, stress is of major importance.
Changing the stress process
Stress is not only caused by external events, but
also by our own thoughts and behaviors. Health-care professionals have found certain strategies,
such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), can
be extremely effective in changing stress-prone
mindsets. For more on CBT, see page 23.
“Stress is a process,” said Dr. Mohr. “Yes, it
starts with an event in the environment. But stress
Stress and depression
Stress is a risk factor for clinical depression,
which can be a life-threatening condition
if it includes suicidal feelings. Five or more
symptoms of clinical depression (below)
every day for two weeks signal the need for
a health-care professional without delay.
n Sadness and/or irritability
n Loss of interest or pleasure in everyday
n Loss of or increase in appetite
n Sleep disturbances—either insomnia or
n Restlessness or sluggishness
n Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
n Problems with thinking or concentration
n Persistent thoughts of death or suicide
for more information.
responses like irritability, anger, anxiety and
sadness occur when the person believes that events
That was certainly how Leah Daniels, who was
diagnosed in 1987, felt. When Daniels’ husband
died four years ago, Daniels, devastated, was diag-
nosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I loved my husband and was grieving,” said
Daniels, now 67. “He had done everything for
me. Without him, I felt so disabled. I was afraid
I would not be able to take care of myself.”
For Daniels, exercise played a big part in
helping her break her cycle of negativity.
“My therapist told me to get moving because
movement has a positive effect on the brain,” said
Daniels, who started off with yoga. “Then I started
swimming. Participating in physical activities