Anxiety and Multiple Sclerosis: Seek Help!
From where I live on the globe, the earth is spinning at approximately 800 miles per hour. However, it feels like life is traveling at the speed of light at approximately 700 million miles per hour. In other words, life needs to SLOW DOWN!!
Earlier this month, I wrote about the stress and anxiety I have been experiencing lately. It's hard to believe that it was almost three weeks ago I wrote that post. I blinked and here we are at the end of April.
Before my appointment with the nurse practitioner at the neurology clinic, I filled out the symptom checklist (found on page 3 of the returning MS patient forms). The checklist is very helpful. Along the left side of the page are symptoms such as loss of vision, vertigo, weakness (arms/hands - left/right), trouble walking/falling, memory loss/cognitive problems, bowel problems, etc. For each symptom, you are asked to indicate on a scale of 0 to 5 the severity of each symptom (0=absent, 1=mild, 3=moderate, 5=severe).
For the symptom “depression/anxiety,” I went for the maximum and indicated a “5.” When my nurse came into the room and quickly glanced at the checklist, she was able to zero in on my current, most disabling symptom. No beating around the bush. We got down to business and talked about the state of my mental health.
…and by the way, I cried. A perfectly understandable reaction to talking to your nurse. Doesn’t everybody cry at the neurology clinic?
I talked about how very busy I’m been and about some of the major changes which have occurred in my home life in the past five months. I talked about all of the performances which students and I have been preparing for this month and the unexpected plumbing emergencies at home (which required the digging up of our driveway).
We discussed how I understand, intellectually, that I am busy and should feel a bit stressed. But understanding the situation doesn’t negate the raw anxiety and depression which have emerged. That part, I have little control over and THAT’s why I needed to discuss it with a health professional.
Since graduate school, I have been on anti-depressants most of the time. As medications became less effective, or my body just became less responsive to them, we have made adjustments. A few times we increased dosage and one time we switched medications completely. This time, my nurse practitioner suggested that we increase the dosage of my current anti-depressant (rather than adding a different one).
She prescribed a low-dose anti-anxiety medication. She also “gave me permission” to use it!! Yes, intellectually I understand that it is NOT a sign of weakness to need a medication to help calm the nerves (and improve my mood and/or response in certain situations). But it is not easy to feel weak or needy.
One thing I’d like to suggest to anybody who is feeling more overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious is to mention it to your doctor or health care professional. There are things which you can do. Johns Hopkins offers some non-drug strategies to help manage anxiety:
- Acknowledge the anxiety and identify your specific triggers.
- Write down your concerns and develop a plan to tackle one at a time in a task-oriented manner. This will help you feel more in control.
- Exercise. Aerobic exercise has been shown effective in helping to reduce anxiety and depression (Conn, 2010). According to Johns Hopkins, even just getting up and walking around for five minutes can help.
- Breathe deeply. Shallow breathing can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as the release of stress hormones.
- Try meditation or prayer to help calm the mind and body.
- Turn your negative internal chatter to more constructive and rational thoughts.
- Limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine.
- Share your worries with someone you trust—a friend, family member, or counsellor.
If you are experiencing stress, depression, anxiety, or mood swings, please see your doctor.
Johns Hopkins. Managing Anxiety Without Drugs. Depression and Anxiety Special Report. Accessed online April 30, 2012.
Conn VS. Anxiety outcomes after physical activity interventions: meta-analysis findings. Nursing research. 2010;59(3):224-31.