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24 November 2021

Masters of our own domains

New research from the University of Melbourne tells us how important it is to have a sense of mastery when it comes to living well with MS.

Mastery is the extent to which you see yourself as in control of your own life and not dominated by things outside of your control.  

The study surveyed more than 800 people with MS over five years to measure how their sense of mastery had an impact in four of the areas that a lot of us with MS experience: 

The researchers, at the NEU, used a tool called the Pearlin Mastery Scale to measure participants’ sense of mastery, or control over their own lives. Then they measured their experiences of depression, fatigue, severe disability, and relapse and compared the results.  

What they found gives us a clear picture of the importance of mastery when it comes to the risk of depression for people with MS.  

Although they didn’t find a magical mastery-based impact on fatigue or number of relapses, a win is a win. 

The participants who measured in the top two quartiles on the mastery scale had between 66 and 74 per cent lower depression rate than the people with MS who had the lowest sense of control over their own lives. 

The strong result for risk of depression led the researchers to suggest mastery is an important skill to develop for people with MS. 

Great, but how do I do that? 

For people with MS, depression is fairly common, around one in every two of us will experience it. Knowing that developing a sense of mastery could help sounds terrific, but I’ve never seen a ‘mastery’ section at the supermarket so where do I get it? 

Meditation and mindfulness

The regular meditation and mindfulness that you may be practising as part of your journey with OMS can really help. Developing a regular meditation practice can seem challenging, but the trick is to start small. Even five minutes a day of sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing can help to start to calm your busy mind and get you started towards mastery. Check out the resources on OMS to help you get started. 

Gratitude journaling

Another important step to take you towards feeling calmer and more in control – which is the core of a sense of mastery – is taking time to be grateful. Like meditation, you can start small. I like to write down three things every day that I’m grateful for, it can feel a little cheesy but I do feel better when I do it than when I don’t.  

Your gratitude items don’t need to be fancy, but they do need to be specific. A chat with an old friend, a delicious meal, a good hair day – these are all gratitude journal worthy. When you’ve written them down take a minute to think about each one and why you were grateful for it. Let yourself absorb the gratitude. 

Take a listen to Mari McCarthy’s episode from our Living Well with MS podcast, in which she discusses the benefits of journaling. 

On your bike

Or in the pool, or on the yoga mat, or around the block. Whatever your choice or ability when it comes to moving, make sure you use it. Exercise is a really important part of living well with MS, and it’s also a really important part of calming your mind and developing a sense of control. OMS have a great guide to exercise, covering all abilities and accommodating MS symptoms.

Small steps for a possible big impact

The research has shown us how important having a sense of control over your life is for supporting your mental health when you live with MS. There are three small and simple steps that we can all take: 

  1. meditation 
  2. gratitude journaling 
  3. exercise. 

And you might even be taking some of them already. 

Here are some suggested steps and actions to help you gain a sense of mastery:

You can read the full NEU paper here.