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Selfie of Caroline smiling with chest of drawers in the background

My ‘toolbox’ for living with anxiety and MS

Caroline Howlett

As someone who has always struggled with anxiety, MS only focussed this further.

I’ve tended to worry that I’m not doing my best, and worry what people think of me or whether I’ve let myself or others down.

Decision-making can be difficult, as I’m always weighing up the possible outcomes of any actions, and often imagining a worst-possible-case scenario. At worst, this can lead to me avoiding situations where it might rear its ugly head.

Coping with financial worries, the loss of both parents, divorce, have come with the added fear of what a future with MS will mean for me. All of these on top of my naturally anxious nature have seen me prescribed short courses of Prozac (fluoxetine) to manage mild depression and anxiety.

Taking medication

I live alone, but with the support of a cat, a companion and friends!

I’ve been feeling rather overwhelmed lately, not just due to the pandemic. Recognising that I was unable to take much real pleasure in life, I've started on another course of Prozac, to help me navigate back to the old me.

I feel like the medication flattens my daily emotional state and helps me escape disturbing emotions. I also find it can dampen enjoyment so when I start missing the ups and downs of everyday life, I'll know that I can cope without it once more.

Mini-meditations to slow down

I’ve also tried several other approaches to help manage an often debilitating condition. Rather than sticking rigidly to any one of them, I combine elements from mindfulness practises, with exercises from Tai Chi and breathing techniques.

For example, taking time out when I feel tension rising is helpful. A few minutes observing the goings on in my bird bath, puts me ‘in the moment’, in mindfulness terminology. This mini meditation helps slow down my whirling brain.

Being active with Tai Chi

We know physical activity is good for mental health and can help with some MS symptoms. And physical activity doesn’t have to mean running a marathon.

I enjoy using the lyrically named Tai Chi move ‘Waves hands like Clouds’, which involves gentle arm movements and a twisting of the torso. You can combine it with a slow breathing regime of five and a half seconds inhalation, five and half seconds' exhalation. This rhythm feels to me similar to a Buddhist chant or performing the Rosary, with its meditative, calming nature.

Learning to be kind to myself

With exercises like mindfulness and Tai Chi, regular practise is helpful to cope with existing anxiety and prevent it from getting worse. But this is something I’m not always self-disciplined enough to maintain.

Especially when living with MS means getting through the day’s necessary tasks can be a major achievement in itself.

So I’ve had to learn perhaps the hardest lesson from mindfulness - to be kind to yourself. Each day brings new challenges, but by integrating care for both my body and my mind, I’ll hopefully be able to meet those challenges.

> Read more about MS and depression, stress and anxiety

Looking for emotional support? Contact our MS Helpline on freephone 0808 800 8000 or email [email protected]. We’re here Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm except bank holidays.