I’m delighted to share this guest post from Abigail Budd, a writer and blogger who also works part-time in the criminal justice system in the UK. She was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2008 and is now secondary progressive, but tries to see the funny side wherever possible. Abi lives in Brighton with her family and plays an active role in the global MS community. You can find more of her writing on NewLifeOutlook. – Suzanne Robins
One of the ways multiple sclerosis (MS) has changed me over the years is how often I feel anxious and stressed about everyday situations.
I used to be so carefree and confident, to the point of arrogance at times. I thrived in new situations and relished the unknown.
MS has gradually eroded this self-belief though, and there are times when I feel anxiety creeping in and spoiling everything. Anxiety is linked to the fear I’ve written so much about over the years — it’s an omnipresent black cloud that follows me around.
What is anxiety?
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of anxiety is: “A feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.”
That uncertainty is what makes me feel anxious all the time. Before I had MS, there was very little uncertainty surrounding a new situation. But now, new situations are fraught with terrifying possibilities.
What if I fall over? What if I can’t get up again? What if I the restroom isn’t nearby? What if I don’t make it to the restroom in time? What if there are stairs? What if the restroom is upstairs?
With all this to worry about, it’s amazing people with MS ever leave the house. I’ve spent hours on the phone before going to a new place, planning every last detail. It’s exhausting.
Physical symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety isn’t all in our heads. I’ve experienced physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, sweaty palms and my legs turning to jelly. With my mobility being shaky at the best of times, I could do without jelly legs as well!
I end up feeling anxious about feeling anxious, as I know it’s going to make everything worse. And so a cycle of misery emerges and conspires to keep me from doing anything new!
These physical symptoms are a natural, “fight or flight” response to fear, left over from when humans used to hunt and be hunted. It was extremely useful to be able to identify fear quickly and respond when being chased by a woolly mammoth, but it’s not so useful when trying to negotiate stairs with MS.
Anxiety about the future
As well as fear and anxiety over new situations and places, there is also the terror of what the future might bring. With a potentially progressive condition like MS, where no two people experience the illness the same way, it’s no wonder our imaginations run away with us at times. I often get the horrors during early, sleepless hours, imagining worsening MS symptoms and disability, and decreasing quality of life. Luckily, my busy life takes over during waking hours and dominates my thoughts, or I’d be terrified all the time.
Is there anything we can do about all this anxiety? How can we improve it so it doesn’t take over and steal what’s left of our independence?
Be prepared – This sounds simple, but it helps me reduce how anxious I feel. For example, phone ahead and ask lots of questions about a place you’ve never been to, so you can be as prepared as possible. I always look venues up online too, and wonder how anyone with disabilities managed before the internet!
Breathing – Many people find deep-breathing exercises can help calm racing thoughts and relax their bodies to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Herbal remedies – If I have anything I need to do, such as giving a talk or a going to a job interview, I take herbal tablets to reduce anxiety. I find they help enormously with sleep the night before, which is also beneficial, and they take the edge off the feelings of anxiety, helping me to do what I need to do.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – The aim of CBT is to help people think differently about the situation they’re in by introducing strategies such as positive self-talk to retrain their brains into thinking more positively. I know I’m guilty of talking myself out of trying new things or going to new places, so I can see where CBT could benefit me. Other counselling may also help, as talking about our anxiety can help to calm it.
Meditation – Like breathing, meditation can be beneficial in reducing symptoms of anxiety.
Medication – In severe cases, it may be necessary to talk to your health care professionals about medication to help relieve symptoms.
Exercise – Yoga, Pilates and other exercise may reduce symptoms of MS and help to dampen the anxiety produced by those symptoms. It also releases endorphins into our bodies, which helps to relieve stress and anxiety.
Trying some of the above strategies and techniques may alleviate your anxiety and will ultimately help you feel more in control. It’s impossible to reduce anxiety altogether due to that ingrained fight or flight response, but it is possible to minimize its impact.
Many thanks to NewLifeOutlook for providing this post!