Staying Well With Multiple Sclerosis (MS) (cont.)
Managing Stress and Emotions
Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, as with any chronic illness, is difficult. You may experience the following emotions, which may vary at different points of the disease:
- Fear: Fear of disability, pain, the unknown, and losing control
- Denial: Thoughts of "this can't be happening" or "it's not possible"
- Grief: Grief over what you think you may lose and how that loss may affect your life
- Depression: Loss of interest in what you used to enjoy, depression is present in about half of people with multiple sclerosis
- Guilt: Feelings of guilt because of the inability to perform usual tasks and do all that you were once able to do
Multiple sclerosis has aspects that are particularly stressful:
- Unpredictability of the disease: Multiple sclerosis is challenging to diagnose because of the variability of symptoms and the absence of a conclusive blood test that can establish the diagnosis. Then, once multiple sclerosis is diagnosed, no doctor can predict its course. Doctors will likely know statistics of the disease and give general predictions, but cannot predict with certainty in an individual case whether symptoms will get better or worse, change in nature, or reappear in other parts of the body.
- Invisible symptoms: Some symptoms of multiple sclerosis, such as mild weakness and fatigue, are invisible. You can have these symptoms, and others would not know that you are experiencing them.
- Mental ability: Almost half of people with multiple sclerosis have changes in their mental function. They may have trouble remembering things, processing information quickly, or solving problems that involve sequential tasks.
- Mood swings: Almost all people with multiple sclerosis occasionally experience mood swings, periods in which emotions, such as crying or laughter, are exaggerated or reappear with little notice.
Managing your emotions and the extra stress brought on by multiple sclerosis may mean making a few adjustments in your life, but stress can be managed.
- Understand that you may not be able to do all the things you once did, or at least not as well. Perhaps it is possible to find new activities that are more feasible for you. In the early stages, however, it is possible for many multiple sclerosis patients to lead a normal life.
- Maintain your relationship with loved ones. It may be hard for your loved ones to talk with you about the disease, but opening up with them and staying close to them will help both you and them to adjust to the changes multiple sclerosis brings. When you need their support, being specific about what you need will help them to assist you.
- If you cannot talk with loved ones about some things, find someone you trust and can talk with. This may be a counselor, a spiritual advisor, or someone else with multiple sclerosis.
- Keep healthy. Exercise and diet benefit your mental health as they do your physical health.
- Find a doctor you are comfortable with. This should be someone who knows about multiple sclerosis and who is able to encourage and educate you. Also, follow your doctor's suggestions about diet, medications, and activities.
- Relax. Meditation, yoga, massage, and other relaxation techniques can help reduce the tension you face every day. Simplify your life by cutting out activities you really do not need to do.
- Participate in fun activities. Social activities can reduce stress by making you laugh and by helping you "let off steam." If you enjoy yourself, you are likely to feel better about yourself and more in charge of your life.
- Help yourself. Carry a notebook to remind yourself of meetings and other things you need to do or go to. Feel free to say no to someone if you are feeling too tired or weak to do something. Try out a walking aid if you think that may help. Take several naps during the day if you are experiencing extreme fatigue.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/4/2014
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