Research suggests at least half of people with MS will experience mental health symptoms at some point.
In the first couple of years after a diagnosis of MS, experiencing low mood or anxiety is common. A diagnosis of MS introduces uncertainty about the future. People often experience feelings of loss and grief about losing the life they had planned.
Feelings might include sadness, tearfulness, disappointment, anger and even guilt. It is not surprising to feel like this at times and for many these feelings may come and go as life moves forward. For some people, these feelings can persist and become a constant state of low mood or depression. It helps to acknowledge and express these feelings, especially if they interfere with daily life.
The good news is there are things you can do to improve your mental health and to stay mentally well whatever your situation or diagnosis.
Your mind needs care in the same way as your body. If you eat unhealthy foods, smoke and don’t take any exercise, there is a good chance that by next year you will be less physically healthy than you are now. This principle is the same for your mental health.
If you feel low or anxious most of the time, have trouble sleeping and have little or no interest in life, speak to your GP.
Let your MS team know if you are concerned about your mental health. You don't have to struggle alone.
From changing your internal soundtrack to focusing on the here and now, here are five ways you can maintain your mental wellbeing.
1. Manage your thoughts
Everyone experiences thoughts that are unhelpful or upsetting from time to time. Be aware of these thoughts and their impact on mental health. Imagine your thoughts are being played on imaginary headphones. Notice how often they are playing unhelpful tunes. These could be to do with your MS or may be about other issues in your life. Playing those tunes over and over will make you feel sad, upset and fearful, and make it harder to feel mentally well. Managing your thoughts takes practice.
TRY THIS - Notice when you are listening to unhelpful thoughts and then imagine tugging out your mental headphones as if they were playing music you hate.
2. Learn to live in the now
Research shows that staying in the present moment helps mental health. Some people call this mindfulness. It just means concentrating on what is right in front of you instead of being on automatic pilot. Most of us spend a lot of time caught up in our heads – regretting the past, fearing the future or just trying to manage the challenges of the day. This causes stress but can also mean that moments of pleasure pass by unnoticed because we aren’t paying attention.
TRY THIS - Take a moment to focus on what is happening in the here and now. What can you smell or see? Are you hot or cold? Tense or relaxed?
3. Notice the positives
When life is tough it’s easy to lose sight of the good things. Research shows that practice strengthens your brain's ability to focus on positive things.
TRY THIS - At the end of each day, write down five things that have gone well or for which you are grateful.
4. Treat yourself with compassion
When you feel low, do you treat yourself like you would treat a friend? Do you offer yourself support and understanding? Or do you tend to become harsh and critical? People who can show themselves kindness feel mentally better.
TRY THIS - Be aware of what you say to yourself and try to be more friendly.
5. Think about food and exercise
There is good evidence that a diet containing high sugar, fat and alcohol makes people more depressed and anxious. A little regular exercise can be better than anti-depressant medication for lots of people. Often people set themselves up to fail by setting unrealistic goals around food and exercise.
TRY THIS - Try making small, achievable changes that are more likely to succeed. For instance, give up butter on a Tuesday, park the car slightly further from your destination and walk the last bit or swap one sugary drink per day for water. If you can make even tiny changes but keep them up you will notice benefits to your body and your mind.