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Five Tips For Managing Anxiety With MS

By Matt Cavallo
joggers.pngThe older I get, the more anxious I become. I think it is MS-related because I don’t trust my memory. My anxiety always arises from fear of forgetting. Did I leave the oven on? Did I shut the garage door? We have even turned the car around a half hour into a road trip because I couldn’t shake the fear inside my mind that I hadn’t locked the front door.

Before I had MS, this anxiety didn’t exist. Now anxiety paralyzes every decision I make. I don’t feel confident picking out the right brand of tooth paste unless it is on a list. I ask my wife to validate every little minor decision I make, sometimes three or four times. Even then, I am still hesitant.

While my anxiety isn’t solely caused by my MS, it is most definitely a side effect of MS symptoms. Because of the unpredictability of the disease, every little decision that I make in life is complicated by fear. In other words, I don’t want to commit to a decision, especially a long-term one, because I can’t plan for unpredictability and it makes me anxious.

It is not surprising that the older I get, the more anxiety I have as the result of the increased physical and mental loss and side-effects associated with my MS. My anxiety can last for a moment or two or it can spiral out-of-control into full blow panic attacks. While there isn’t a magic remedy to make it go away, I have developed some coping strategies to help me deal with my anxiety. Here are some tips that might help you, too, if you are suffering from anxiety.

Tips for managing anxiety

1. Accept the things you can’t control. Plans can always be changed, but not the unpredictability of MS. Don’t give up on plans because you can’t control what your MS will be doing. Instead, make the plans with the caveat that things might change if your health does. 

2. Keep lists. Making a checklist to ease the anxiety of remembering what you did or didn’t do is a game changer. For example, make a checklist that says “closed the garage,” “locked the doors,” and “checked the oven.” Before you leave the house, complete the checklist, sign, and date it. Then, when you start to become anxious about your memory, check the list.

3. Know your triggers. Are there certain things that trigger your anxiety? If so, write them down. If you see a pattern make slight changes to overcome the triggers. For example, maybe a trigger is too much caffeine. Keep a journal of which cup pushed you over the edge into anxiety. The next day drink one cup less and see if that helps.

4. Sleep, eat, and exercise well. While easy to say, it is hard to practice. You may have some limitations in terms of mobility or other, but healthy diet, exercise, and sleep patterns can influence how anxious you become.

5. De-escalate. If all else fails and you find yourself in an anxious spiral, practice some de-escalation techniques like deep breaths, counting to ten or walking away. If all else fails, find someone to talk to. Let your neurologist know that you struggle with anxiety and it has to do with your MS symptoms. They may refer you to a mental healthcare professional who specialized in anxiety. Just don’t let these feelings out without sharing them. I was anxious about writing this because I didn’t know what you’d think, but I feel a lot better now sharing with you.