Most anxiety is not caused by medical problems. Anxiety is a mental health disease, and it's often created through a combination of life experiences, coping ability, and genetics. But in some cases anxiety can be caused by something physically wrong, and one example of such an issue is multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a terrifying disease. While generally rare (1 in every 1,000 women, and 1 in every 3,000 men), the illness can cause a host of physical problems, and unfortunately anxiety is one of them.
Coping With MS Anxiety
Even when anxiety is caused by MS, anxiety can be controlled with healthy coping. Find out more about how to control MS anxiety with my free anxiety test.
Get a Better Understanding of Your Anxiety
No one experiences MS the same way. The scleroses can affect any part of the brain, and that means that some people may have generalized anxiety, others may have panic disorder, and more. Learn more about what your anxiety means and how to control it with my free 7 minute anxiety test now.
Never Self-Diagnose MS From Anxiety
There is one tip that you always need to keep in mind - that you should never self-diagnose MS, especially not because you have anxiety. Unfortunately, anxiety causes many of the same symptoms as the early stages of MS. MS is one of the health issues that comes up most when those with anxiety search for their symptoms online, and millions of those with anxiety convince themselves that they might have MS every year.
So if you haven't yet been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and you came to this page hoping for some way to tell the difference between MS and anxiety, it's far better to assume you have anxiety and simply talk to your doctor about multiple sclerosis. MS and anxiety have an astounding number of symptoms in common, and MS is one of the first health concerns that people have when they have extreme anxiety or panic disorder, even though it is fairly rare to have both.
How MS Causes Anxiety
Multiple sclerosis can cause anxiety within the brain itself. But the actual reason that MS tends to cause anxiety is simply because the disease is scary. It's not the fact that MS affects your brain that leads to anxiety. Many of those with MS have frightening symptoms and recurrent, relapsing, progressively worse MS. It's often not much more complicated than that.
That's something very important to keep in mind. Developing anxiety is normal with MS simply because MS is a frightening disease. Anxiety is a response to danger, and MS makes that anxiety warranted, which makes it harder to control.
However, MS can also cause anxiety and depression as a result of the illness itself. Anxiety inflames various parts of the brain, and when the brain experiences damage and stress, it's not uncommon for a person to experience anxiety. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, it may also provoke panic attacks as well. It's not entirely clear why the mind causes anxiety when it's experiencing problems, but it's been well established in the literature.
In addition, the symptoms of MS can be triggers for those that already have anxiety. Panic disorder is a great example. Many people with panic disorder have panic attacks as result of changes in their body's sensations, and MS can cause changes in sensations that trigger panic attacks. While MS isn't technically causing the panic attacks directly, it's creating an environment that makes them far more likely.
All of these are the reasons that anxiety is a common condition for those with MS.
How to Stop MS Anxiety
While you should talk to your doctor about ways to control your own personal multiple sclerosis anxiety, it's not a bad idea to consider treating it like its own condition. Remember, most MS anxiety is caused by fear as a result of the disorder, not literally by the lesions in the brain. Furthermore, even when MS causes anxiety directly, your own coping ability can still contain that anxiety so that it doesn't affect you as much.
Experts recommend the following to deal with MS anxiety:
- Exercise Talk to your doctor about exercising. Exercise may be the single most important natural way to reduce anxiety. Studies have consistently shown that exercise has as strong an effect on mental health as most modern medicines, and it seems to be very successful for those with anxiety.
- Learn Breathing Techniques There are several breathing techniques that can also be useful for controlling anxiety. Deep breathing appears to be a very effective relaxation strategy, and the breathing techniques of yoga also seem to contribute to less anxiety and stress.
- Stay Busy/Active Inactivity and a lack of mental stimulation is known to create anxiety as well as make it more likely that you're focusing too much on your disease. Keep yourself busy with projects and tasks so that you're not overwhelmed by the illness.
You should also take my free 7 minute anxiety test now. The test will give you a graph of the severity of your symptoms as well as information on how to control them.
Zorzon, Marino, et al. Depression and anxiety in multiple sclerosis.A clinical and MRI study in 95 subjects. Journal of neurology 248.5 (2001): 416-421.
Korostil, M., and A. Feinstein. Anxiety disorders and their clinical correlates in multiple sclerosis patients. Multiple Sclerosis 13.1 (2007): 67-72.
Beiske, A. G., et al. Depression and anxiety amongst multiple sclerosis patients. European Journal of Neurology 15.3 (2008): 239-245.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.