Over the past few years, doctors and public health experts have stressed the important link between positive mental health and good overall health. If you’re living with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis (M.S.), it can be even more crucial to focus on taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally.
Experiencing unpredictable physical symptoms like pain, muscle weakness, and tremors can take a toll. Anecdotally, many people with M.S. say they experienced depression after their diagnosis. And research supports that too: A 2016 review of studies published in the Journal of Neurological Sciences1 found that roughly 30% of more than 87,000 people with M.S. experienced depression.
With that in mind, we spoke to several people with M.S. to learn how they prioritize their mental health. A major takeaway: While it isn’t easy, people with M.S. say that making mental health a priority is an important part of living well with the condition.
1. “M.S. has truly made me prioritize the word ‘no.’”
Briana Landis, 24, was diagnosed with M.S. in 2001 when she was just three years old. “It feels like M.S. has always been a part of my life,” Landis tells SELF. Landis has experienced different symptoms throughout her life, including going temporarily blind in one eye when she was eight. “I more recently had a flare where half of my body went completely numb,” she says. “That was the first time that has ever happened. Usually, I get headaches but that’s about it.”
Landis says she’s noticed that stress can prompt a flare-up. “If my mental health is not in a good place, then my M.S. is not in a good place,” she says. “M.S. has truly made me prioritize the word ‘no.’ I wish I could attend every event, support every friend, and play every sport, but my body just can’t handle that,” she says.
Landis relies on using a calendar to visually look at her schedule. “If I am doing too much, I can see that and then take something off or politely decline an invite,” she says. “Having periods of rest is important to both my mental health and M.S.”
2. “Being athletic plays a really big role in my M.S. and mental health.”
Landis’s doctors have always encouraged her to stay active to help with muscle tightness. “Ever since I was little, I have been athletic,” she says. “I played soccer and baseball as a kid and ran cross-country and track in college.” Now she likes to kayak, walk, hike, and do water aerobics.
“Being outside and being athletic plays a really big role in my M.S. and mental health,” she says. “I feel a difference in my mental and physical health when I exercise and when I don’t. Specifically, she feels a sense of control, which is important when managing a disease that can be so unpredictable.
3. “I found an amazing therapist.”
Cory Martin, 42, was diagnosed with M.S. in 2007 when she was 28. “For about six to eight months after the diagnosis, I would stay up until three in the morning searching for information about M.S. on the internet,” Martin tells SELF.