Coping with an MS Diagnosis
When you’re first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), it usually comes as a shock. You may need a few days for the news to sink in. Once you start to absorb it, you may find yourself dealing with difficult feelings and lots of unanswered questions.
The way you handle these feelings and thoughts can help you adjust or hold you back. You can’t change the diagnosis. But you can manage how well you cope with it.
Dealing with Your Emotions
There’s no right or wrong way to feel when you first learn that you have MS. Your feelings are valid, whatever they may be. These are some common emotional reactions:
Grief. Many people mourn for their prediagnosis selves, much as they might mourn for a loved one who has passed away. This is a normal response to loss. If you’re grieving, remember: The pain will ease with time as you adapt to the situation.
Anger. “Why me?” is a question that many people ask at some point. After all, they didn’t do anything to bring MS upon themselves. If you’re feeling angry, try to channel that energy into positive action, such as finding an excellent health care team and making your lifestyle as healthy as possible.
Fear. People may not know much about MS when they’re first diagnosed, so they often fear the worst. If you’re feeling anxious, learning more about the disease and the effective treatments available today may lessen your anxiety.
Denial. Some people simply refuse to deal with the situation. If you need a short timeout from thinking about MS, that’s fine. A little denial can be healthy, protecting you from becoming emotionally overwhelmed. But if denial lasts for weeks or months, it could undermine your health. Talk with your doctor about setting realistic goals for managing your illness and living well with MS.
Accepting Your New Normal
Adjusting to a diagnosis of MS can take some time. Allow yourself to get used to the idea at your own pace. In the meantime, be good to yourself. Eat healthfully, stick to a regular sleep schedule, and exercise regularly with your doctor’s approval. Practice stress-busting strategies, such as getting a massage, listening to soothing music, and doing yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
Spend time with family and friends. Just keep in mind that dealing with your diagnosis is difficult for your loved ones, as well. If people don’t always respond in a helpful way, try not to take it personally. They may need time to process their own feelings. For additional support, consider joining a support group or talking with a mental health professional.
Learn as much as you can about your illness. Then work with your doctor to make the best treatment and lifestyle choices for you. Taking charge of your well-being helps restore your confidence and sense of emotional balance.
A diagnosis of MS is definitely a challenge. But it’s also an opportunity to discover just how strong and resilient you really are.
You can’t change a diagnosis of MS. But you can manage how well you cope with it.
Common reactions to being diagnosed include grief, anger, fear, and denial.
Adjusting can take time. Allow yourself to get used to the idea at your own pace.
- Learning about MS and partnering with your doctor will help restore your sense of emotional balance.
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Multiple Sclerosis and Your Emotions. National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2011. (http://www.nationalmssociety.org/download.aspx?id=151.)
Exercise. National Multiple Sclerosis Society, undated. (http://www.nationalmssociety.org/living-with-multiple-sclerosis/healthy-living/exercise/index.aspx.)
Nutrition and Diet. National Multiple Sclerosis Society, undated. (http://www.nationalmssociety.org/living-with-multiple-sclerosis/healthy-living/nutrition-and-diet/in...)
You Can…Get the Sleep You Need. National Multiple Sclerosis Society, undated. (http://www.nationalmssociety.org/living-with-multiple-sclerosis/you-can/get-sleep-you-need/index.asp...)