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Multiple Sclerosis and Mental Health

Multiple Sclerosis and Mental Health

Understanding the Connection

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, leading to a range of debilitating symptoms. Living with MS can present various challenges that impact not just physical health, but mental well-being as well. The connection between MS and mental health is rather complex. Studies indicate the presence of MS symptoms can exacerbate mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. This comprehensive guide elucidates the complexities between MS and mental health. We will explore the symptoms, challenges, and coping strategies for managing mental health while living with MS.

Understanding the Impact of MS on Mental Health

Let’s take a look at the physical symptoms of MS to better understand the impact the condition has on our mental health.

  • Fatigue (read about fatigue in MS here)
  • Mobility challenges –  weakness, stiffness, tremors, and trouble with balance and coordination
  • As the disease advances, some individuals may need mobility aids such as canes, walkers, or wheelchairs.
  • Sensory disturbances – numbness, tingling, burning sensations, or hypersensitivity
  • Vision problem – blurred vision, double vision, optic neuritis, and difficulty with eye movements (read about MS-related vision problems here)
  • Spasticity
  • Pain – headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, or neuropathic pain
  • Bladder and bowel dysfunction
  • Sexual dysfunction

Chronic pain, mobility limitations, and cognitive difficulties can significantly impact one’s quality of life and lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, and hopelessness.

Some of the most common MS-related mental health issues include anxiety, mood swings, and cognitive dysfunction. These can arise due to the stress of managing a chronic condition like, its debilitating physical symptoms, or as side-effects from medication. Let’s take a closer look below:

  • Cognitive dysfunction: It is one of the hallmark symptoms of MS. It can appear as difficulties with memory, attention,decision making, problem solving,  information processing, and executive functioning. These cognitive challenges have been known to significantly impact mental health causing frustration, anxiety, and even cognitive overload.
  • Depression: It often stems from the challenges of living with MS, its physical symptoms, and the multitude of changes in lifestyle and functioning. Symptoms of MS-related depression may include:
    • Persistent sadness
    • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
    • Appetite changes
    • Sleep issues
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
    • Frequent thoughts of death, suicide, self-harm, etc.
  • Anxiety: This is another common mental health issue associated with MS. It is characterized by excessive worry, nervousness, restlessness, and tension. MS-related anxiety typically arises due to the uncertainty of living with a chronic condition like MS, fear of disease progression, and concerns about the future.
  • Mood swings: These can occur due to changes in brain chemistry, hormonal fluctuations, and the stress of managing the condition. Patients may experience mood fluctuations between periods of elevated mood (hypomania or mania) and periods of low mood (depression).
  • Emotional lability: This refers to sudden and uncontrollable changes in emotions. One moment the individual may be laughing and the next they may burst into tears, both without apparent cause. Emotional lability is often disruptive and difficult to manage. It can impact relationships and social interactions.

Coping Strategies

Although MS comes with its own set of challenges, it is important to keep in mind that you are not alone on this journey. Today, we have access to numerous resources and strategies that can help us navigate this intersection of MS and mental health challenges with courage and resilience.

At Plexus, we offer coping strategies that are tailored to the individual’s symptoms as well as counseling support to caregivers and loved ones. 

Here’s what we recommend to our patients who are battling with MS-related anxiety and/or depression:

  • Understand your condition: Knowledge is power. Learn as much as you can about MS, including its symptoms, treatment options, and prognosis. The more knowledge you have about your condition the higher your chances of alleviating some of the fear and uncertainty associated with it.
  • Surround yourself with an empathetic support network: Family, friends, and doctors who understand what you’re going through can help provide validation and reassurance. Online support groups will also introduce you to other individuals experiencing similar challenges. This can also go a long way in helping you come to terms with your diagnosis.
  • Practice relaxation and mindfulness techniques: Deep breathing exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation should be incorporated into your daily routine. These help calm your mind and significantly reduce anxiety and stress levels. Additionally, these practices also help you stay more present and grounded, rather than worry about disease progression and worsening of symptoms.
  • Be active: Regular exercise or physical activity, such as yoga, walking, or swimming can help reduce stress and anxiety. Physical activity releases endorphins, your body’s natural mood lifters. Being active also improves overall physical well-being.

Note: Endorphins and dopamine can also be released when engaged in pleasurable activities like gardening, listening to music, reading, pursuing a hobby, etc.

Read about exercises for multiple sclerosis here.

  • Stay away from stressful situations and triggers: Identifying your sources of stress can help you minimize them too. Delegate tasks, set realistic goals, and say NO whenever necessary. Declutter your desk, break tasks down into smaller and more manageable steps, keep a planner – stay organized. Do not stretch yourself and stress yourself. 
  • Maintain a routine: Structure and predictability, especially when it comes to your daily life, provides a sense of stability and control. Stick to your regular routine as much as you can.
  • Avoid stimulants: Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can seriously exacerbate your anxiety. Choose herbal teas, hydrating beverages like coconut water, lemonade, etc. 
  • Stay positive: Focus less on the limitations and challenges that your condition has brought into your life. Instead try and practice gratitude, as well as focus on the positive aspects of your life, no matter how small. We recommend keeping a gratitude journal or simply reflecting on the little things you’ve accomplished at the end of every day. This can help shift your perspective.
  • Prioritize self-care: Taking care of your physical well-being can have a positive impact on your mental health. Make sure you get adequate sleep, eat balanced meals, exercise regularly, and practice relaxation techniques.
  • Limit Isolation: Although social interactions may be challenging at times, avoid isolating yourself as much as possible. Reach out to your loved ones every now and then. Try to attend social events and gatherings. 
  • Seek professional help: If your anxiety is coming in the way of you performing simple everyday tasks, we urge you to seek help! Plexus offers cognitive-behavioral therapy through which we teach you coping skills to manage your anxiety and/or depression effectively.

Remember, you are not alone. An MS diagnosis, or even a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, doesn’t mean it is the end of the road. Think of it as a detour. There’s a lot for you to experience and enjoy even on this new route.

If you wish to know about Plexus’ MS Rehabilitation programme, or about our CBT program, please reach out to Team Plexus today.

WhatsApp +91 89048 42087

Call +91 78159 64668 (Hyderabad) | +91 82299 99888 (Bangalore)


How does multiple sclerosis impact daily life?

Multiple sclerosis can significantly impact daily life. It is characterized by physical symptoms such as fatigue, mobility issues, pain, as well as cognitive dysfunction. These symptoms can negatively impact work, relationships, and daily activities, leading to challenges with mobility, energy levels, and overall functioning.

Can MS affect your mental health?

Living with the physical symptoms of MS (fatigue, pain, mobility issues) has been known to lead to depression, anxiety, mood swings, emotional lability, as well as cognitive dysfunction.

Can multiple sclerosis affect behavior?

MS can affect behavior by causing changes in mood, personality, and emotional regulation. Individuals with MS may experience mood swings, irritability, and disinhibition. This can affect relationships, social interactions, and overall functioning.

What are the psychiatric symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

Psychiatric symptoms of multiple sclerosis include depression, anxiety, mood swings, emotional lability, and cognitive dysfunction. These symptoms vary in intensity and may require different coping interventions, such as medications, and psychotherapy.

What are 4 common symptoms of MS?

The four common symptoms of MS are:

  • Fatigue
  • Mobility issues (weakness, stiffness, or difficulty with balance and coordination)
  • Sensory challenges (numbness, tingling, or hypersensitivity)
  • Cognitive dysfunction (memory problems, difficulty with concentration, information processing)
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