Emotional Well-Being and Multiple Sclerosis
Whether you have multiple sclerosis or not, emotional well-being is an important component of overall wellness. For instance, emotions influence:
- How you feel physically
- Your motivation to care for your health
- How much and what you eat
- How much you exercise
- How you relate to other people and to the world in general
- How intensely and joyfully you engage in your chosen roles
Like other aspects of wellness, emotional well-being can be nurtured and enhanced, even in the face of changes and challenges.
Focus on the Positive
The field of positive psychology emphasizes personal growth and well-being, based on the core belief that all people want and look for happiness in their lives. Although happiness is defined in different ways, it involves focusing on your own unique goals and criteria for success and well-being. Happiness allows us to thrive, solve the problems we confront in our lives and maintain a strong sense of hope. Read more in the article "The Resilience Factor" and watch the video below.
The diagnosis of a chronic illness can be overwhelming. You will experience many emotions. Staying connected to your feelings, priorities and values can help calm emotional turmoil. Find personal meaning through spiritual practices or religious beliefs. For a secular option, access recordings of guided relaxation sessions in My MSToolkit from the University of Michigan.
Stress is part of everyday life. The diagnosis of MS can sometimes make the stress of daily life feel overwhelming. Many people with MS say that during stressful times, they experience more or worse symptoms. When the stress decreases, their symptoms seem less troubling or less severe.
Learning to eliminate unnecessary stressors — and manage the ones that are here to stay — is essential for emotional balance.
It’s important to find an activity that helps you reduce stress. Some possibilities include:
- Deep breathing
- Individual or team sports
- Tai chi
- Time with family and friends
- Traditional exercise
For more on reducing stress, see “26 Stress-Reducing Strategies You Can Practice Today.”
Practice Solution-Focused Problem-Solving
Life’s challenges and problems can mount quickly and sometimes feel too big to handle. Challenges can also be viewed as opportunities for creative problem-solving. This mindset can increase coping strategies and lead to enhanced resilience. With each success, feelings of competence, pride and self-confidence grow stronger and contribute to emotional well-being.
Pay Attention to Your Mood
Depression, anxiety and other mood changes are more common in people with MS than in others. This is in part a reaction to the challenges of a chronic illness and in part due to the changes caused by MS in the brain and the immune system.
Depression is a serious yet treatable symptom of MS. It needs careful assessment and treatment, just like other MS symptoms. If, during the past 2 weeks, you have 1) often felt down, depressed or hopeless and 2) had little interest or pleasure in doing things, it is important to seek professional help. Describe your symptoms to your healthcare provider. Get advice on locating a good provider in “What to Expect from Mental Healthcare: A Guide for People with MS.”
Build and Nurture Relationships
Meaningful relationships can provide connection, intimacy, support and opportunities for shared goals and problem-solving. Positive relationships reduce feelings of isolation and promote a sense of stability in everyday life.
Recognize Family Needs
When someone is diagnosed with MS, it affects the entire family. Everyone will experience a variety of emotions with the changes in roles and responsibilities and in shared hopes and dreams.
- Feelings of grief and loss are common among family members.
- Anxiety is a fairly common response to the unknown, and anger and frustration can build up when answers and solutions seem out of reach.
- Depression is common in caregivers, those who provide hands-on care for a loved one.
- Children who have a parent with MS may have questions they do not know how to ask, as well as feelings they cannot put into words. “Keep S’myelin”/“Sigue sonriendo,” an activity book for children ages 6-12, provides information about MS. These parenting and family pages offer many additional resources.
Spouses and partners, parents and other family members can benefit from the same tips and strategies as their loved ones with MS. Family members should report mood changes to their healthcare provider as well.
Find an MS Care Provider
The National MS Society’s Partners in MS Care program connects you to local healthcare providers and medical facilities that have shown exceptional care, knowledge and expertise in treating patients with MS. All partners, whether they are a neurologist or social worker, have a strong relationship with the Society and connect their patients to the information, resources and support they need to live their best lives with MS. Find a Partners in MS Care provider.
The resources below provide more information on emotional well-being, tips on maintaining good mental health and advice for seeking help when you need it.
- “What to Expect from Mental Healthcare: A Guide for People with MS” provides basic information on mental health and options for seeking providers, including ones covered by insurance.
- In the MS Society webinar Learning to be Resilient in the World of MS, learn what resilience is and what influences it, as well as simple strategies you can use right now to help you cope.
- The Momentum Magazine article “Sense of Self” offers insight into how MS can alter your identity, and “Talking the Talk” provides advice on finding the right therapist.
- My MSToolkit is a web-based, symptom self-management program developed by clinical psychologists at the University of Michigan specifically for people living with MS.
Information and resources provided by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.