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New study shows positive stress helpful, negative stress harmful for PwMS

17th May 2013
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New study shows positive stress helpful, negative stress harmful for PwMS Scientists in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago have published important new research for people with MS. In an elegant study of 121 PwMS recruited to the study over three years, the researchers asked the participants to record stressful life events (such as moving house, separation or divorce, miscarriage, major business loss, and so on) using the Life Events List (LEL). The LEL is somewhat unique in that it seeks to determine whether a particular stress such as marriage breakdown, usually assumed to be very traumatic by researchers, is actually positive or negative for the individual by asking whether it was initiated by them and whether it was a good or bad experience. Some people of course feel much better off removing themselves from a very stressful marriage, or moving house from an area where burglaries were very common or there was a lot of violence. The researchers then examined the MRIs of these people regularly to determine whether they developed new lesions. Interestingly, positive stressful events conferred significant protection against the development of new MRI lesions, by a factor of around 25-50%, whereas major negative stressful life events increased the risk of new lesions by about 50-75%.
The term 'stress' is often thrown around indiscriminately, but this study reminds us that we can live life to the fullest extent, and go through significant personal crises, but that the quality of the stress and its meaning to us are the important factors in determining whether the stress is helpful or harmful to our health. It reinforces the notion that for people overcoming MS, it is important to change jobs, relationships, circumstances, if these are proving negative in our lives. While changing these things can be perceived as stressful, and cause concern about possible health consequences, in fact, these changes can be very helpful and improve our chances of staying well or recovering.