Exclusive Content

Are Your Expectations Helping or Hurting You?

By Gay Falkowski

When you first learned you have multiple sclerosis, you probably didn’t know what to expect. Many newly diagnosed people don’t know much, if anything, about MS. You may have worried about how the disease would affect you, envisioning a future of worst-case scenarios. In reality, life with MS has highs and lows, twists and turns — even smooth sailing at times. The course is never predictable; but you can take some steps to prepare for the unknown. One way to prepare is to keep your expectations realistic. 

The Oxford Dictionary defines “expectation” as:
  • A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future; or
  • A belief that someone will or should achieve something

Sometimes hopes or fears can lead to very high expectations or, on the flip side, very low ones. Either extreme can be unhealthy emotionally and psychologically. Realistic expectations, on the other hand, are healthy. They balance thoughts about what is possible with what is probable based on current knowledge. The following 12 tips may help you keep your expectations realistic as you navigate life with MS:

1. Learn all you can about MS. While there’s a lot we don’t know about MS, there’s a lot we do know. By focusing on facts, you’re less likely to let myths and misconceptions influence your expectations. Check out MSFocus.com to find no-cost resources on all topics related to MS. 

2. Be skeptical. Read news that claims “cure” or “miracle treatment” with a critical eye. Many times drugs and therapies in early phase clinical trials show promise but fail in later phases. Ask yourself: Is the news coming from a valid source? 

3. Consult members of your healthcare team for opinions about new treatments and therapies. They have access to the latest MS medical developments so you can be confident you’re getting the most accurate information from them. Most importantly, they can advise you on what’s best for your MS.

4. Don’t compare yourself to others with MS because the disease experience is different for everyone. Online or in person support groups can be very helpful for motivation and encouragement. Celebrate others’ successes with their treatments and therapies but know what worked for them may not work for you. 

5. Be wary of advice and opinions from well-meaning friends. Appreciate their good intentions but be aware that most of them don’t have the expertise or experience to know what’s really best for your situation.

6. Communicate regularly with your loved ones about how you’re feeling. They may have their own expectations of what you can and can’t do, and may be happy to adjust those expectations if you keep them informed. 

7. Pay attention to your self-talk. Avoid ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements. (e.g.: At my age I should be able to climb these stairs. I must get all this work done today just like I used to.) Expecting too much of yourself can create stress, frustration, and hopelessness.

8. Set goals based on your current abilities. Small steps can take you farther than you think. Have a plan but be flexible.

9. Celebrate your victories! When positive things happen, focus on living in the moment. Soak up the joy. Making good memories to recall in troubled times is important. Plus, it allows you to see the potential for more positive moments in the future. 

10. Don’t expect the worst. Use hopeful statements when possible. Treat yourself with kindness and encouragement. Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

11. Accept that no matter how well you take care of yourself, some things will be out of your control. Feeling discouraged is normal. But, when you hit an obstacle, remind yourself of what you can do. Consider how you might be able to complete a task or activity by doing it differently. 

12. Seek professional counseling if you experience constant feelings of sadness and hopelessness. With guidance, you can break the cycle of negative thinking and restore a balanced perspective on life.