Managing Your Depression & Moods
The holiday season can be a time of joy and celebration with family and friends. Yet it is also the season when you cannot escape media coverage of the holiday blues or holiday stress. These changes in psychological health can all be compounded by multiple sclerosis, of which depression, altered mood, and fatigue are major symptoms.
With that in mind, it’s important to be aware of the most common mood changes that occur in MS.
For most people with a chronic illness like MS, as well as their support partners, healthy grieving over changes and losses is part of the picture. Beginning with diagnosis, and again with changes in function or everyday activities, people need to grieve over losses they experience before they can move forward with their lives. Normal grieving ebbs and flows with these changes. Depression, on the other hand, is both a symptom of MS and a reaction to the challenges it poses. More than 50% of people with MS will experience a major depression. For somewhat different reasons, support partners are also at risk for depression. Regardless of the cause, depression deserves the attention of your healthcare team. Accurate diagnosis and adequate treatment – ideally consisting of counseling, medication, and exercise – are important.
Mood swings and irritability are also common symptoms of MS, caused by the disease itself and its challenges. These mood changes can easily be confused with depression, in part because people with MS who are depressed may appear more irritable or moody than tearful. Depression, however, does not come and go in the same way, and will generally continue or worsen until adequate treatment is provided.
Anxiety is as common in MS as depression, but generally receives less attention. People with MS and their support partners experience anxiety over the unpredictable impact of MS on their day-to-day lives and the future. Left untreated, anxiety can interfere with planning, problem-solving, and quality of life. Counseling – with medication, if needed – is an effective treatment strategy.
Physical activity and/or exercise are often recommended as adjunct or even primary therapy for depressed mood, anxiety or stress. While controversy remains, the collective evidence suggests that exercise might indeed be helpful for these conditions in the general population. For persons with MS, exercise appears just as likely to promote psychological well-being. It is likely that aerobic or resistance (aka strength) training can be effective and that the exercise need not be intense. It may even be possible to see the positive effect of exercise on mood after only a single exercise session. Finally while most of the research in this area has been on traditional forms of exercise, yoga, tai chi, and even sport climbing have been shown to improve psychological well-being, including mood, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.