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13 December 2023

HeartMath and MS

In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of HeartMath techniques for people living with MS and how these methods can provide a path to better stress management and improved quality of life. This has been written by facilitator, Yasmin Neves, who has MS and follows the Overcoming MS Program.

Stress caused by living with MS

Living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can be a challenging journey, marked by unpredictable symptoms and the need for constant adaptation. Additionally, if you have embarked on a journey of lifestyle changes such as the Overcoming MS Program, trying to follow the pillars can be stressful for some people, especially at the start of their journey. On top of this, everyday life pressures can add to our stress levels. It is important to learn to manage these stress levels.

The impact of stress on everyone

Living in a constant state of stress can have significant and wide-ranging effects on our bodies, both in the short- and long-term. Stress is a natural response to perceived threats or challenges, and in small doses, it can be beneficial, helping us stay alert and focused. However, when stress becomes chronic and persistent, it can take a toll on our physical and mental health.

Understanding the impact of stress on Multiple Sclerosis

Stress can also exacerbate MS symptoms and negatively impact overall well-being, which is why managing stress is one of the pillars of the Overcoming MS Program.

Multiple Sclerosis is a complex condition that affects the central nervous system, leading to a wide range of symptoms, including fatigue, muscle weakness, cognitive difficulties, and more. The daily challenges of managing these symptoms can cause stress to build up, which, in turn, can worsen MS symptoms and create a vicious cycle. It’s essential for individuals with MS to find ways to reduce stress and improve their overall well-being.

Meet HeartMath: a tool to help with stress management

Fortunately, there are tools and techniques available that can help manage stress effectively, and one tool that I have been using for a number of years is HeartMath.

The Power of HeartMath

HeartMath is a scientifically backed approach to stress management and emotional regulation focusing on the connection between the heart and the brain. This technique recognises that the heart is more than just a pump; it plays a vital role in our emotional and physical well-being.

HeartMath techniques, such as one called ‘Heart Coherence’, help individuals shift from a state of stress to a state of calm. By practicing techniques that focus on regulating heart rhythms and breathing patterns, individuals can lower their stress levels, leading to a sense of relaxation and ease.

Here are some of the benefits of HeartMath:

  • HeartMath for managing stressors – Living with a chronic illness like MS can be emotionally taxing. HeartMath equips individuals with tools to manage their emotional responses to stressors better, helping them build emotional resilience and cope with the challenges they face.
  • HeartMath for cognitive function – MS can affect cognitive function, leading to issues with memory and concentration. HeartMath practices which involve mindfulness and controlled breathing can help improve cognitive function by reducing mental clutter and enhancing clarity of thought.
  • HeartMath can promote sleep – Sleep disturbances are common among people with MS, and stress can exacerbate these issues. HeartMath techniques promote relaxation, making it easier for individuals to fall asleep and enjoy more restful sleep.
  • HeartMath for understanding stress triggers – HeartMath encourages individuals to become more in tune with their bodies and emotions. This increased self-awareness can help people with MS better understand their triggers for stress and develop strategies to manage them.

HeartMath techniques can be seamlessly integrated into daily routines, providing ongoing support for overall well-being. Regular practice can lead to long-term benefits for individuals living with MS.

HeartMath and the parasympathetic nervous system

HeartMath can help you to become more aware of your emotional states throughout the day and provide you with the techniques to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system helps maintain a balanced physiological state by countering the effects of stress and promoting bodily functions that are essential for recovery and overall well-being during rest periods. The balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems is crucial for maintaining overall health and homeostasis in the body.

The difference between HeartMath and meditation

HeartMath is a technique that focuses on regulating emotions and physiological responses using specific breathing and mental techniques. While HeartMath and meditation are both valuable tools for managing stress and improving emotional well-being, they have different approaches and may be better suited to different individuals or situations. It’s important to note that what works best can vary from person to person, so find what works best for you.

Combining HeartMath with other meditation practices

I personally practice both for their different benefits. I meditate every morning to set my up for the day. I then use HeartMath techniques throughout the day to manage by reactions to everyday stressors and life.

Getting Started with HeartMath

To get started with HeartMath techniques for managing stress with MS, consider the following steps:

  • Learn the Basics: Familiarise yourself with HeartMath techniques and principles by reading books, watching videos, or working with a trained Coach. The HeartMath Institute offer some free resources on their website and YouTube channel.
  • Increase your self-awareness: Become aware of what emotions are present throughout your day and what triggers each emotion. By becoming more aware of your emotional and physical state, you can begin to regulate your state with tools to bring you back into balance.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Set achievable goals for incorporating HeartMath techniques into your life. Start with a few minutes of practice each day and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable.
  • Stay Consistent: Consistency is key to reaping the benefits of HeartMath. Make it a habit to practice these techniques regularly, especially during times of increased stress.

Remember, find the practices that work best for you.