The National Institutes of Health define Emotional Wellness as “the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.”
When living with MS, there’s no shortage of factors that can impact your emotional well-being. Patients report mood disorders and depression as two of the more common symptoms of MS, and any number of factors can contribute the frequency and severity of emotional problems.
We know how important it is to maintain physical health when living with MS, but it’s also critical to manage our mental state in healthy ways. Below are just a few ways to help maintain, protect and boost your mental health.
Although stress management always makes the list of wellness “must do’s,” for most of us stress is an unavoidable fact of everyday life that we mostly manage by trying to ignore it. Until 50 years ago, no one even paid much attention to stress as a health issue, although some people with MS have long insisted it makes them worse and contributes to exacerbations. Today we recognize that chronic stress – whether someone has MS or not – is a risk factor for all kinds of medical problems and learning how to manage it is important for our overall wellness.
Chronic stress is hard on our bodies. From a physiological standpoint, we call on stress when we are in trouble and need help fast. Our stress response floods our system with hormones – primarily cortisol and adrenaline – that alter metabolism and provide us with the metabolic resources to flee danger and get to safety. But then the stress response is supposed to shut off and allow our metabolism to return to normal. The problem with chronic stress is that the system never gets to shut down, and this causes elevated levels of stress hormones, especially cortisol.
Elevated levels of cortisol are implicated in all sorts of health problems – from altered thyroid function to heart disease. Chronic stress is also bad for the brain. It can alter our neurochemistry in ways that contribute to depression and can also interfere with the process of making new brain connections.
Fortunately, there are strategies to learn how to manage your stress more effectively in your daily life. As Wellness Pilot Program participants, you will be taking part in a Stress Management Webinar on October 10th with Pat Daily to learn more about stress, wellness, and one technique to help you effectively manage stress. The educational webinar will be followed by a small group session to reflect on the webinar and how you’ve applied the techniques and knowledge into your lifestyle.
Meditation is a way of producing the “relaxation response,” which has been described extensively by Dr. Herbert Benson at the Harvard Medical School and The Mind/Body Medical Institute. The relaxation response is a state of relaxation that is associated with decreased anxiety, muscle relaxation, and lowering of blood pressure. It is believed to be the opposite of the physiologic response known as the “fight-or-flight response,” characterized by the activation or stimulation of multiple body processes, such as increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
Shakespeare referred to sleep as the “balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, and the chief nourisher in life’s feast.” Although he was clearly a big fan of sleep, for most of us it is the first corner that gets cut when we have to cut corners. Unfortunately, doing so has a lot of health consequences.
When we don’t get enough sleep, we upset the balance of hormones that help regulate appetite, energy metabolism, stress responses, and insulin secretion. Epidemiological studies report that adults who usually sleep less than five hours per night have a greatly increased risk of developing diabetes.
Sleep disturbances are more common in MS that in other chronic illnesses and in the general population as well. More than half the people with MS report having chronic sleep problems. Pain, spasticity, bladder problems, depression, medication side-effects, anxiety, and the disease itself can all contribute to problems sleeping. Diet or lack of exercise can also interfere with sleep.
MS patients and their loved ones are often presented with a host of difficult transitions and emotional issues. Mental health issues are varied and wide-ranging, but can include depression, anger issues, stress, and anxiety. Seeking the help of a professional counselor can be an important step toward addressing any mental health or emotional issues you’re facing.
Through individual and family counseling, and seminars, the MS Center offers a range of resources to assist each individual, as well as families and friends. We work closely with Elissa Berlinger, LCSW, a licensed counselor and MS Educator. You can reach Berlinger at her offices in Denver and Boulder by calling 720-309-7779 or visiting https://www.enbcollective.com/.<< Back to Brain Health and Well-being