When it is very hot, I struggle. I live in a part of Australia that is very hot and humid in summer and that’s great when you are on the beach and can enjoy the breezes and jump into the ocean, but not so great when you are walking from your car to the supermarket or even down the garden path from your kitchen to get to the recycling bin.
Most people with MS will know what I’m talking about. Heat sensitivity is a recognised symptom of our condition. Insufferable heat can cause misery to anyone, but for us it can mean the difference between clear or blurred eyesight, cognitive function or brain fog, good balance or unsteadiness and falling, muscle and limb weakness and so on. The good news of course is it is avoidable and manageable.
I wouldn’t trade my constant IV of natural vitamin D here for anything, but to enjoy the benefits of the sunshine, I also need strategies for cooling. I have fans and air conditioning, I wear cool, breathable fabrics, I use a cold shower or head to the pool to cool off and yes, I am lucky enough every so often to get to a nearby beach and enjoy some refreshing salty healing from the ocean.
Stress-related inflammation in the body
We know how to cool the outside. But what about cooling the inside of ourselves, where the inflammation happens? I’m not talking about the food we bring into our systems, though I, like so many others have benefited hugely from an anti-inflammatory diet.
I’m talking about stress-related inflammation, especially the effect of chronically high levels of stress. How do we reduce, manage or even eradicate the excessive heat this causes in our bodies?
Everyone deals with some stress in their life and a little stress isn’t harmful, indeed is necessary to motivate us towards action and protect us from potential threat. Sometimes however, we can experience a stress overload and experience it on a regular basis.
Prolonged high level stress levels are the enemy of vitality, sapping our energy, disrupting sleep and substantially increasing inflammation in our nervous systems. The good news is that we can take charge here.
There are some proven, effective practices we can bring into our daily lives to ensure we are looking after ourselves at an emotional level as much as we are at the physical and keeping ourselves cool on the inside.
Here is a selection of just four tools from a kit I have developed for myself, which I find invaluable and that I share with coaching clients who suffer from high levels of stress and inflammation.
1. Soak In Good Thoughts and Moments
It is a fact that our brains are tilted more towards the negative than the positive, what neuroscientists call “the design flaw of the 21st century brain.” The reason for this is that we still have the same brain structure as our early ancestors who were wired to see danger and threat everywhere as a survival mechanism. They were probably chronically stressed, agitated and nervous, but they didn’t need to worry about the dangerous impact of long term stress on health and longevity because they didn’t live long enough to experience them.
"It is important to remember that as much as we should give credit to all our feelings, focusing or ruminating on the ones that make us feel bad will only continue to make us feel worse."
The good news is that this is a design flaw we can overcome and reverse. Due to the revelations of neuroscience in recent years, we now know we have 'plasticine brains' that we can take charge of.
Simply thinking about, and lingering with thoughts that make you feel good builds and strengthens the neural pathways responsible for us feeling well-resourced with a variety of inner strengths, including confidence and serenity.
Doing this daily, or even several times a day, has the incredible effect of re-orientating us from 'stress brain' into 'happy, peaceful brain.' If you can take a few minutes at a time daily, to remember a good fact about your life and revisit it with your whole body – really feel it and receive it as well as think about it – you will be installing in yourself an effective, continually active new cooling-system.
This is a physical effect, not an imaginary one. It is important to remember that as much as we should give credit to all our feelings, focusing or ruminating on the ones that make us feel bad will only continue to make us feel worse. Give at least as much time lingering with good thoughts – and see what magic happens!
2. Relieve Yourself From Obligations
Put simply, this means making clear spaces in your diary. In my early years with MS (I have had it for 23 years now), I used to become terrified by the thought that my MS would mean letting people down, not delivering what was required of me or losing friendships.
Instead of doing the sensible thing and giving myself time to rest and recover, I felt an overwhelming obligation to show up to the outside world whenever it called me. When I finally discovered the liberating and life-enhancing word “no” and began creating healthy boundaries around my time and energy, everything changed.
I only have to look at my diary and see those healthy spaces, that aura of protection around things, to feel grounded and relaxed. Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed, I look to what I might cancel or postpone or simply don’t need to worry about.
It is important to remember that your real friends and allies want you to be healthy and happy and would hate you to sacrifice your wellbeing for them. Having clear priorities is a habit of highly effective people, whether they have illnesses or not. It is a good skill to pass onto our children and model for our friends in these over-busy, time-poor times.
3. Give Yourself Pleasure – Lots of It
How often do you think about pleasure and giving yourself pleasure? Not just as reward or as something to be earned, but in the same way you seek to give yourself enough rest, supplements and healthy food?
Convincing, robust science suggests we should be prescribing ourselves large doses of pleasure daily. Though recognizing and managing stress is a good thing, that alone does not produce the optimal health and vibrancy we need to reduce or neutralise the negative impacts of MS.
"It can be tempting to look towards our losses, but our mind-body-system craves feelings of appreciation and savouring and there is always, always, something in life to love."
The healing power of pleasure is an area that has attracted a great deal of scientific attention. Studies show an ample supply of enjoyable, positive experiences is imperative to health.
Think about things – even simple things – that bring you a sense of enthusiasm, sensory and emotional gratification and even joy. If you love music – then make yourself a playlist of the most beautiful music you know and listen to it often.
Maybe there are particular people – friends, children, grandchildren or even celebrities – who when you think about them fill you with joy. Perhaps you love sitting in your garden and enjoying the colours and scents of the flowers, a delicious cup of tea, taking a long bath, writing a letter, painting, laughing at a TV show or film.
It can be tempting to look towards our losses, but our mind-body-system craves feelings of appreciation and savouring and there is always, always, something in life to love. Keep looking and discovering and filling yourself with those things.
4. Learn How To Self-Soothe
The skill of self-soothing is golden. It means you have within you a portable stress reduction and 'cooling' technique you can bring out at any time and in any place, whenever you feel heat rising in your body.
We have right at our fingertips two valuable 'switches' we can initiate to turn off the emergency button – our breathing and our thoughts. A great self-soothing technique is to offer oneself a special phrase, that when uttered, we know makes us feel more grounded, reassured and encouraged.
The affirmation I use is "It’s Okay”. We add to this the magic anti-inflammatory breath where we make our exhale several seconds longer and slower than our inhale, and in doing so, stimulate the vagus nerve which is responsible for switching off inflammation in our body.
This practice becomes more valuable when done daily as we begin to build new neurons which tilt us away from “fear brain” and more towards “relaxed brain”. This guided self-soothing meditation may give you an idea of how this might feel in your own body. One important final note. “Cooling the inside” does not mean supressing or ignoring real feelings you are experiencing.
It is important to listen to ourselves with loving awareness and be there for all our ups and downs. What it means is noticing what is there and finding ways to make the parts of you that don’t feel so good feel much better. And we all deserve that kind of attention, don’t we?
For more information on the topic, try watching the video below: