Anxiety is a common symptom for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). It’s also one of the most common mental health conditions for Australians, with or without MS, with up to one-third of women and one-fifth of men experiencing anxiety. Anxiety in MS can happen at any stage, but is common to see after diagnosis, with a relapse, with disease progression or with changes to treatment. About half of people living with MS will experience some form of anxiety at some time.
With the right information and support, anxiety can be managed effectively to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
Anxiety is a feeling of being at unease or feeling worried. Of course, everyone experiences anxiety at some time in response to life’s situations, but for some people these feelings are not short-lived and start to affect health, wellbeing and quality of life. This is when anxiety can become a problem. It’s essentially the “fight or flight” response in overdrive for an extended period of time and it can feel exhausting.
The unique complexities of living with MS can give rise to feelings of anxiety. This can be related to stress, depression and/or the many other feelings people go through in response to living with MS. This can centre around factors such as the uncertainty of relapses in the future, disease progression and managing MS medications and their side effects. It’s also thought that for some people, MS lesions in specific areas of the brain could also contribute more directly to feelings of anxiety.
With the right help early on, anxiety can be controlled, managed and even treated before it spirals out of control. Early intervention is critical to also ensure it doesn’t affect your MS management.
If you’re feeling anxious, speak to your neurologist, MS Nurse or GP as soon as possible. Your healthcare team will also be able to help you review your MS management and medications and make any necessary adjustments.
It’s important to know that there’s support and help available. You may want to reach out to a mental health helpline for more information or support, if you don’t feel comfortable disclosing your feelings to family or friends. You can find details for reputable services below.
Learning how to recognise and control the feelings that build anxiety, can help lead to long-term coping mechanisms that can reduce anxiety and improve quality of life. For some people living with MS, a psychologist, counsellor or life coach can provide valuable help with learning behavioral techniques that identify anxiety early and develop strategies to help manage the condition.
Self-management can form an important part of an overall approach to managing anxiety. This may include some key lifestyle changes such as:
Self-help support groups, phone counselling, online forums or mental health organisations may also help. Your doctor will regularly review your progress to ensure that your mood is improving.
For some people, anxiety can be harder to manage and referral to a mental health specialist for treatment with medication may be necessary, usually in conjunction with other management strategies mentioned above. It would be the aim of treatment to use medication short-term, whilst undertaking management strategies to help control anxiety long-term.
Your healthcare team will be able to create a personalised management plan for you. Like MS, anxiety is different for different people, so an individual approach is best.
There is support available to help you manage your MS.
Your neurologist, MS Nurse and GP should be the first contact for any new and/or persistent anxiety concerns, so they can perform a detailed assessment and tailor a management plan or referrals if needed.
Contact your state or territory MS organisation to access services such as MS nurses, peer support and other resources.
The following support services may be able to provide advice on anxiety, mental health, wellbeing and other lifestyle factors: