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MS and Anxiety

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), its unpredictability can make you anxious. Learn how to control your worries and manage anxiety.

More than a third of people with MS experience anxiety disorders. Discover strategies to reduce anxiety and calm your worries.

The unpredictable nature of multiple sclerosis (MS) and the range of its symptoms make the disease challenging to deal with on many levels. Because you don’t know when you might experience a relapse or how severe it may be, you might worry all the time about whether you’ll be able to go to work, pick up your kids after school, or just make it to the bathroom when a flare occurs.

People with MS must deal with the not knowing, and that uncertainty can produce a general feeling of anxiety, says Rosalind Kalb, PhD, vice president of the Professional Resource Center at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in New York City.

More than a third of people with MS will experience anxiety disorders, according to the American Academy of Neurology. And that can have a snowball effect. “When people with MS are anxious, they can’t sleep well or carry out activities at home or work because they’re preoccupied with worrisome thoughts that their MS may get in their way,” Dr. Kalb says. Anxiety and depression aren’t the same, she says, but often people with MS who have anxiety are prone to depression — a feeling of hopelessness or lacking joy in life.

Managing MS-Induced Anxiety

Here are ways to help calm your anxiety and change your mindset when the challenges of living with MS get too worrisome:

  • Have a plan B. For example, have a backup plan for the morning when you’ll wake up in the midst of a flare and can’t get breakfast on the table or prep your kids for school. Arrange for a friend, neighbor, or grandparents who live nearby to fill in. Knowing you have a system in place can make everyday life less stressful.
  • Let yourself be distracted. If you find yourself getting anxious, de-stress with an activity you like, such as watching a movie, listening to music, or reading a book, or call a friend to keep you from dwelling on worrisome what-if thoughts. Some people find that word or number games distract them from their anxious thoughts, Kalb says. For help focusing, consider meditation and mindfulness training.
  • Get educated. The more you know about MS, the less you’ll fear what’s next. “When you understand the disease, you feel more prepared for its challenges and not as much of a victim,” Kalb says. Education includes being part of supportive group therapy where you can ask any questions you want and have someone help you work through the answers, she says.
  • Write it down. Keeping a journal is a good way to clear your head and manage your anxiety. “If you have anxious thoughts that you can’t get over, write them down,” Kalb says. “Once you’ve captured them on paper or on the computer, you’re more likely to stop thinking about them and get on with other activities and thoughts.” A diary can also help you identify sources of stress, and once you know your trigger situations, you may be able to find ways to avoid them.
  • Get physical. Exercise releases endorphins — the “happiness” hormones known to relieve stress. Do whatever forms of exercise you like and that your level of ability allows in order to be active every day.
  • Set limits on your worries. The Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends devoting up to five minutes of each morning and evening to wallowing. Mark the time on your schedule and give yourself those five minutes — no more. If you find your mind wandering to negative thoughts at any other time, tell yourself you’ll deal with it at your next “appointment with worry.”

Your Stress Management Plan

No one strategy works for everyone, Kalb says. Experiment, find what works for you, and then just do it, she says. Some people are able to conquer the stress of having MS on their own. Others need professional help. It doesn’t matter which type of person you are, only that you do what it takes to manage stress and anxiety along with your MS.

“If what you’re doing to deal with anxiety isn’t working, call in the troops and get some help,” Kalb says. “Don’t look at calling on others as a failure. It just means your anxiety needs more attention than you’re able to give it yourself.”

Source: MS and Anxiety | Everyday Health

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