Chill Seeker: Tips for Reducing MS Anxiety

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by Mike Knight |

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A whopping 43 percent of all people with MS have some type of anxiety disorder. Worse, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, “Anxiety is perhaps the most taxing and under-treated psychological effect of living with MS.” 

Which makes sense. The unpredictability of the disease and its progression may make planning your life hard and living it even harder. Emotional changes, says the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, are part and parcel of the disease itself.

For starters, most of us don’t know much about the disease when we learn that we have it, and fear of the unknown is at the top of the anxiety list. Nerve damage in the brain along with some MS medications can also lead to emotional changes. Yet according to the Society, “In the face of MS, people may tend to focus primarily on their physical health and neglect their emotional health — which is an essential component of overall health and wellness.”

Though no single approach works for everyone, here are some simple tips you can use to get started.

Better sleep. Solving a sleep disturbance may not be simple or easy, but assessing your sleep with this one-page sleep assessment tool is. Understanding the problem is the first step in solving it, and solving it — especially for those with MS — is critical.

Sleep disturbance in people with MS can lead to a long list of physical, chemical and emotional changes and can worsen anxiety, irritability and depression. For an equally long list of reasons, people with MS are prone to sleep disturbance.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “Studies suggest that people with MS may be up to three times more likely to experience sleep disturbances than the general population, and about two times as likely to experience a reduced quality of sleep.”

Some of that is the result of lesions and damage to the brain caused by MS which is believed to disrupt our body clocks and sleep-wake cycles. Add that to restless legs, pain, spasms and spasticity.

And some of it can be attributed to the uncertainty that living life with MS creates.

Yet, like anxiety, sleep disturbance, says the Society, is a “very common, yet under-diagnosed, problem.”

Get out more. Evidence shows that being close to green space reduces stress and lowers symptoms of anxiety and depression, actually getting out and interacting with nature lowers them even more. And just getting some fresh air — green space or not — can be helpful, too.

Can’t readily get close to nature? According to the Attention Restoration Theory, manmade structures and environments — museums, art galleries, even monasteries and such — can have restorative properties to them, too.

Catch your breath. Deep-breathing techniques can help people with MS get more out of it. Deep breathing, says the American Institute of Stress, can help you relax, slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and reduce anxiety and stress. Find out how to do it here or here.

Take three for yourself. Three minutes that is. That’s about how long it takes to go through the first meditation you’ll find out (also available as an app for tablets and phones). Some of their content must be purchased, but the site also offers some free, easy and guided meditation exercises. There are also multiple other apps available that may help you unwind.

Give yourself a break. According to Psychology Today, you can help yourself. Self-compassion — being kind to yourself and acknowledging you’re doing “your absolute best to cope” — can help you deal with negative emotions and allow you to address other types of psychological stress that are. Research suggests it can also promote physical activity which can further reduce stress.

Get social. Try to keep up with friends and family if you can. Sometimes sharing your problems with someone who cares about you — and you about them — can put things in a different perspective according to Britain’s Multiple Sclerosis Trust. As can learning about the problems he or she is dealing with. Schedule a coffee, grab some lunch, go to a movie (a comedy if you can…humor is another tool for combating anxiety and stress in MS) or just ask him or her to drop by. If you can’t get out, MS Connection lets you join more than 25,000 others in a peer volunteer group that can provide the “emotional support for the challenges that MS throws at you.” 

MORE: Three tips for newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis patients

Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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