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16 November 2023

Finding Balance: The Intersection of Mental Health and Physical Wellbeing in MS

PMAC, an organisation made up of mental health and wellbeing professionals, have written an insightful blog on the importance of mental and physical wellbeing for people living with MS.

Importance of Considering Both Physical and Mental Wellbeing

It is essential to keep mental and physical wellbeing at the forefront of the mind when addressing multiple sclerosis. MS, a disease that affects an individual’s central nervous system, can have a significant impact on an individual’s physical abilities. These circumstances can significantly impact an individual’s mental health, leading to challenges such as depression and anxiety.

Physical symptoms of MS can range from feelings of fatigue and difficulty with actions such as walking, to more severe issues including paralysis and impaired coordination. Understandably, these challenges can mean significant changes to a person’s lifestyle, including feeling isolated, frustrated and often a decreased sense of self-worth. The consistent management of physical symptoms of MS is key to preventing mental health challenges from arising.

However, we must keep in mind that just focusing on physical health can be a great oversight. In a study by Feinstein et al. (2014) (1) results showed that around 50% of individuals with MS are likely to experience depression or anxiety at some point. These mental health challenges can be a result of not only the physical symptoms of MS, but also a direct result of the condition’s impact on the brain. This highlights how important integrated care is, that addresses the impact this condition has on both physical and mental health.

Using a holistic approach allows healthcare professionals to provide support for their patients that has a significant positive impact on their quality of life. This is especially true for those treating people with MS. This approach could include a mix of medication, physical therapy, mindfulness techniques and counselling to aid in managing both physical symptoms and mental health concerns. Though MS is a physical condition, it’s important to remember that the mind and body are closely linked and that the key to true wellbeing is by caring for both your physical and mental health.

Holistic Approaches to Managing MS: Integrating Mental and Physical Health

Living with multiple sclerosis can be a complex challenge that requires a comprehensive, holistic approach to maintain optimal health.

Physical symptoms of MS, including fatigue, mobility issues and pain, can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health. Factors such as stress, anxiety and depression may have a negative impact on the physical symptoms of MS which can create a difficult cycle which can be hard to manage.

A holistic approach is incredibly beneficial and is an effective way to break this cycle. This can include medical treatment for physical symptoms, as well as mental health support to manage stress, anxiety, and depression. Regular physical activity, even light exercise, can help to lessen some physical symptoms of MS, whilst promoting mental wellbeing. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga, can help manage stress levels, aiding in better mental health and potentially lessening some of the physical symptoms.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been deemed effective in managing mental health, especially for those with chronic conditions like MS. This can be backed up by various research studies. A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology [2] found that CBT significantly reduces anxiety and depression in MS patients, whilst having positive effects on physical health. Mental health training programmes can also be considered to help those who either need direct assistance themselves or those who are supporting others living with MS.

It’s important to remember that every individual’s experience with MS is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. However, by combining treatments for physical and mental health such as by following the Overcoming MS program, and by adopting a detailed, personalised approach, individuals with MS can better find a path to improved overall wellbeing.

Practical Strategies for Achieving the Balance

As mentioned, it is important when managing a condition like multiple sclerosis, to consider both the physical and mental aspects of health. Below are some practical strategies to help achieve balance between them both.

Regular exercise is essential when managing the physical symptoms of MS, whilst also having a positive impact on mental health. According to the National Health Service UK, “Exercise can help control the fatigue and muscle weakness that often come with MS” [3]. At the same time, exercise releases endorphins – known as the body’s natural mood lifters – which can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Find out more about the Exercise pillar of the Overcoming MS Program here and why not try out one of the Overcoming MS exercise videos?

A balanced and healthy diet can help manage MS symptoms, whilst having a significantly positive role in mental health. Research has shown a strong link between a healthy diet and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety [4], making nutrition an essential part of managing both the physical and mental wellbeing of those with MS.

Mindfulness and meditation can also be beneficial. By regularly practising meditation and mindfulness techniques, individuals can help reduce feelings of stress – a known trigger for MS flare-ups – and improve their overall mental wellbeing. The Mental Health Foundation UK suggests that “Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better” [5]. Find out more about the Meditation pillar of the Overcoming MS Program here and have a look at the guided meditation videos.

It is important to not underestimate the power of community and connecting with others. Support groups, whether physical or online, can provide a sense of community, which aids in reducing feelings of isolation and boosting mental wellbeing. Read more about Overcoming MS Circle groups and the Overcoming MS community app here.

These strategies are not a substitute for professional medical care, but they may be a complementary addition to any existing treatment plans. It is crucial to always consult with your healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your lifestyle.

The connection between mental health and physical wellbeing is a vital aspect of managing MS. By paying attention to both areas, it’s possible to find a balance that enhances quality of life.

References:

  1. Feinstein, A., Magalhaes, S., Richard, J.F., Audet, B., Moore, C. (2014). The link between multiple sclerosis and depression. Nature Reviews Neurology 10, 507–517.
  2. Mohr, D. C., Hart, S. L., & Goldberg, A. (2003). Effects of Treatment for Depression on Fatigue in Multiple Sclerosis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71(4), 542–545. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.71.4.542
  3. NHS UK, 2020
  4. Mental Health Foundation UK, 2017
  5. Mental Health Foundation UK, 2020 – how to mindfulness

Thank you to PMAC for writing this blog.