Thinking About Emotional Wellness

Last week, I attended the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Los Angeles. There were several studies presented on aspects of emotional health, and it got me thinking about how important it is to remember that our emotional health can affect many aspects of living with MS.

Research has shown that anxiety and depression can occur as MS symptoms, not just as reactions to having the disease. One poster presentation I saw was by Canadian researchers, who generally do a good job tracking people with MS because of their unified health systems and electronic records. They reported that anxiety (and diabetes) could have a negative impact on a person’s cognition. The researchers commented that it’s possible that treating diabetes or anxiety could improve cognitive problems for people with MS.

The idea that anxiety might interfere with thinking makes sense to me. If I was anxious when I was taking a test in school, I didn’t do as well as times when I was calm. My brain works much better without the interference of fear or worry.

In the long haul, anxiety and mood can affect lots of things. Researchers from Argentina looked at factors that interfere with the ability of people with MS to stay employed. They reported that people with anxiety, depression and insomnia were much less likely to stay employed. This supports the idea that anxiety, depression and insomnia can have a profound impact on quality of life and livelihood.
On the flip side, I was intrigued by a study that looked at how people with MS in Austria and the U.S. feel about their lives. While Austrians reported higher social quality of life than Americans, Americans reported a higher sense of self-esteem. And regardless of whether they were men or women, or where they lived, many of the study participants said that MS had provided benefits like better compassion, mindfulness, improved family relationships and gains in lifestyle (read about the study here).

The investigators also found that Americans employed more strategies for coping with MS. And that takes me back to the beginning. How well people feel isn’t only dependent on their medical conditions. How people approach their life, in its current stage, has a big influence on quality of life.

That’s why I think it’s important to try different strategies to address symptoms that come with MS. It’s worth talking about concerns related to anxiety or depression with your health care provider or a mental health professional. Sometimes medications help, but there are additional approaches that might help, too. For example, I have found that staying active helps tremendously with anxiety. You can participate in yoga, tai chi, stretching or a walk around the block. There are other things that don’t require a lot of mobility, like controlled breathing, meditation and visualization that can be done while seated, and can often change one’s perspective on issues that are causing anxiety.

If you think anxiety and/or depression is getting you down, there are steps you can take to address these symptoms. The Society provides resources, like MS Navigators, to get started. Addressing things like anxiety and depression really might turn things around in other areas of life.

You can start by visiting this web page, or calling an MS Navigator at 1-800-344-4867. You can also learn more about MS-related mood changes and access programs to address them here. as well, click here for a full summary of progress reported at the AAN.
Tags Healthy Living, Research, Symptoms, Treatment      4 Appreciate this

Kathleen Zackowski

Dr. Kathleen Zackowski has conducted research on rehabilitation approaches for MS and other disorders for more than 15 years. She just joined the Society’s research team as senior director of patient management, care and rehabilitation research after working as a clinician and researcher at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is working to grow the Society’s research focused on clinical care and rehabilitation, and wellness strategies.