How Does MS Affect Emotions?
Multiple sclerosis is by nature a very emotional condition. Just like cognitive and physical symptoms in people with MS, there are a number of emotional symptoms that are brought about by the damage of the central nervous system. One of the results of multiple sclerosis is that it attacks myelin, which plays a crucial role in protecting the central nervous system resulting in the occurrence of some scars. This process affects many parts that make up the central nervous systems like optic nerve, spinal cord, and the brain.
It is however common for physicians to focus on treating physical symptoms of people with MS and neglect the emotional aspect, which is vital for ensuring the overall well-being of a person. Unlike the physical symptoms like walking balance and tremors, the connection between MS and emotions is not always recognized and may be less visible to the outside world. The fact of the matter is that MS increases a person’s emotional instability and is sometimes characterized by crying, laughing, and even euphoria.
Common Emotions in the Course of Multiple Sclerosis
It is a fact that living with MS is accompanied by profound emotional changes. In addition to the difficulty experienced while adjusting to the diagnosis, one may have fluctuating emotional conditions that may keep changing and sometimes lead to emotional exhaustion.
The damage of nerve fibers in the brain and demyelination is one of the main causes of emotional disturbances among people with MS. Additionally, emotions can also be affected by such medications like corticosteroids. Some emotions you may experience due to MS include the following.
MS-Related Mood Swings
Mood swings are one of the most common emotional symptoms of MS. Unlike the kind experienced by people suffering from bipolar disorder, which is characterized by depression and euphoria, mood swings associated with MS involve behaviors like irritability, extreme moodiness, and irrational anger.
One of the challenges of going through MS is that one can confuse the expressions of happiness and sadness. In this state, you may sometimes show the emotions of sadness or crying when responding to positive news and laughing as a response to negative news. Although mood swings can worsen as MS becomes severe, it is vital to note that mood swings usually happen unexpectedly and end very quickly. You may only need to be concerned if your mood swings are caused by damaged nerves and this will be indicated when it becomes more frequent and severe.
In MS, mood swings can be experienced at any time, leading to frustration due to an inability to control emotions. Having an understanding of your processes can empower you to understand the causes of your changes of emotions. For instance, it is common for one to experience grief-related mood swing when one is just diagnosed with MS, or when making changes to a routine he/she is used to.
Anxiety-related emotions often occur as a response to a specific difficult circumstance like financial difficulties or relationship problems. These emotions are escalated by a combination of stress and the uncertainty caused by factors that pushed one out of a familiar situation.
Stress is another common emotional behavior of people living with MS. Stress is prevalent in people with MS because the unpredictable nature of MS symptoms could cause feelings of uncertainty about the future.
Depression is another emotional condition that can be triggered by multiple sclerosis. It is important for one to be aware of the symptoms of depression since it can potentially cause vulnerability to other conditions. It is estimated that depression is so rampant that it affects more than half of the people living with MS.
Depression can be linked to a wide variety of emotional conditions which can range from feeling low to severe clinical depression that will go on for months. In the event that you feel you are experiencing depression, never take it lightly.
Symptoms of depression
- Having a prolonged depressed mood characterized by feeling hopelessness, uncertainty, and loneliness.
- Frequent thoughts of suicide or death that may or may not be accompanied by specific plans
- Reduced interest in activities once found enjoyable
- Having a feeling of fatigue or low energy
- Agitated or slowed behaviors
- Lack of appetite potentially lead to considerable weight loss
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- A reduced ability to think critically and make decisions.
Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA) is an emotional situation that causes people to have bouts of uncontrollable laughter or crying. It is estimated that PBA affects every one in ten MS patients. MS can affect the prefrontal cortex in the brain, causing one to exhibit a set of symptoms known as Involuntary Emotional Expression Disorder (IEED). This situation can lead to feeling out of control of behavior even in a social environment.
How Do You Manage MS-Related Emotional Consequences?
It is important to seek help when you start experiencing such common emotions like anxiety, mood swings, denial, and even depression because you will sense when these emotions begin to affect you. Your doctor can recommend therapy or counseling sessions to help you understand what it is that interferes with your emotions. Here you will have access to useful tools for managing these emotions.
People surrounding MS patients who suffer from such emotions, such as family and close friends, can also benefit greatly from counseling sessions.
- Consider enrolling for counseling sessions with a mental health expert to gain the right skills and potential medications to address these emotions. Some drugs that a specialist may recommend include anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs. You may also be placed on mood-stabilizing drugs depending on emotional health.
- Cognitive behavior therapy can sometimes be the only option for managing challenging emotions because some MS drugs cannot be used together with antidepressants and mood stabilization drugs.
- Suggested personal steps to consider are:
- Reduce pressure from your daily tasks through delegation. This will help you to reduce stress, as you will have more time to relax.
- Never isolate yourself because being around friends and family can help you deal with emotions like frustrations, anxiety, fear, and even mood swings. Talking is one of the most effective channels for releasing pent up negative energy that can lead to mood swings and depression. In addition, being around people who understand your mood swings can reduce stress brought by worrying about what other people think about you.
- Also consider joining a support group consisting of other people with MS. People going through the same emotional state as you will help you to understand yourself better and get resources that can help you to cope with such emotions.
The Bottom Line
Emotional challenges associated with MS can be managed through a combination of approaches that may include antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. Other remedies include sporting and exercise activities as these have been proved to enhance people’s moods.
It is important to talk to your doctor immediately you notice any of these emotional difficulties. Consulting your family doctor, another mental health specialist, or a neurologist can provide you with the right tools to manage the ever-changing emotions associated with multiple sclerosis.
Additionally, engage with support groups to learn from other's experiences and gain insight into coping with the condition.