Ways To Manage the Stress of MG

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2021

Treating the physical symptoms of myasthenia gravis (MG) is not enough to control the disease. Focusing on mental health and reducing stress plays an important role in helping you manage symptoms and live better with MG.1-3

Mental health and MG symptoms

People with chronic autoimmune diseases often have depression and anxiety too. It is no different with myasthenia gravis. Up to 1 out of every 5 people with MG also have depression, which is significantly higher than the general population.1

A Canadian study found that people who had more flares and myasthenic crises scored higher for rates of stress and depression. In turn, depression, anxiety, and stress can make it much harder for a person to manage their MG symptoms.1

No one can completely eliminate stress from their life. Plus, depression and anxiety can be hard to fight if your self-esteem has taken a hit due to frequent MG flares, weight gain, isolation, or challenges at work related to your MG. That said, the benefits to a person with MG finding positive ways to manage stress and depression are clear. Here are some options.

Types of stress management

The types of stress management fall into 2 main categories:

  • Ways to manage weakness, fatigue, or anxiety without the use of drugs or with fewer drugs
  • Ways to streamline your life so you have less stress that may trigger flares or make managing flares harder

No stress management technique works for everyone all the time. You may have to try several methods before finding the right combination for you. Some of the most common ways people with myasthenia gravis reduce stress include:1-3

  • Relaxation
  • Exercise
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Biofeedback
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Good sleep habits

What are mindfulness and meditation?

Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the world around you and how you feel in that moment. It is easy to stop noticing the world around you or your own emotions. Stopping to notice a child’s joy or a pretty fall day can bring you joy. Learning to tap into your feelings helps you understand yourself better, which can help you manage stress.

Meditation is very similar to mindfulness. With meditation, you focus on a certain thought or object to clear your mind and calm your emotions.

What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a technique you can learn to better control some of your body functions. A simple example is when you breathe deeply and slowly to calm yourself or slow your heart rate. More advanced biofeedback techniques require training and practice.4

Biofeedback helps people deal with many physical and mental issues, such as pain, headache, anxiety, and high blood pressure. It sometimes helps people reduce the need for drugs.4

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of short-term therapy focused on practical problem-solving. CBT encourages a person to understand and change the way they think about issues in order to improve their life. An example would be thinking about what you can still do rather than how MG limits you.5

Tips for reducing everyday stress

You can help yourself stay as healthy as possible by learning to practice self-care. Like stress-reduction techniques, no one method works for everyone. Here are some ways to manage your life with myasthenia gravis:1-3

  • Learn to say no to certain commitments so you do not overspend your energy
  • Prioritize what is most important, and do those things first
  • Ask for help at home and accommodations at work
  • Prepare for major activities ahead of time
  • Schedule enough time for sleep
  • Exercise as much as possible
  • Join an MG support group
  • If you are isolated, volunteer
  • If you are tired, find a quiet activity that you enjoy, such as listening to music or reading
  • Find an outlet for your anger and frustration, such as counseling, a hobby, or a sport
  • Educate yourself about MG so you understand your symptoms and triggers

No one can get rid of all the stress in their life. You can, however, find ways to reduce some of it and handle life’s ups and downs better.

It is also important to talk to your doctor or social worker if you are feeling depressed or anxious. They can help you find a mental health professional to add to your treatment team. There are many options to treat depression and anxiety, including talk therapy, group therapy, support groups, and sometimes prescription drugs.

Many people with MG say they get flares during stressful times. It does not matter if this stress is caused by a major event like divorce or minor everyday hassles. By teaching yourself techniques to limit and manage stress, you can better cope with muscle weakness and other symptoms you may face.

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