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Can Meditation Help You Cope with MS?

How this ancient practice may help you cope with the many demands of living with multiple sclerosis.

Can Meditation Help You Cope with MS?

Meditation is a practice that results in physical relaxation and can improve mental health, which is especially useful for people who are living with a chronic illness. Meditating on a regular basis can improve symptoms of anxiety or depression, may relieve insomnia, and can even help calm flare-ups of some conditions. One condition that may benefit from meditation is multiple sclerosis.

The impact of MS
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the spinal cord and brain. It causes damage to the nerve cells. This damage can slow down or block signals between your brain and body, resulting in muscle weakness, difficulties with balance and coordination, and memory problems. MS is more common in women and is typically diagnosed in younger women between 20 and 40 years of age.

Treatment for MS can be preventative, abortive, or symptomatic.

  • Preventative treatment involves the injection of drugs that affect the immune system and slow the speed of MS progression.
  • Abortive treatment targets flare-ups and typically involves corticosteroid injections which reduce inflammation.
  • Symptomatic treatment focuses on addressing MS symptoms that can impact quality of life and independence. It may involve working with difference specialists, such as physical therapists, mental health professionals, urologists, and others.

Your treatment will depend on the severity of the disease as well as your symptoms, and your treatment may change over time.

Lifestyle is also important
Although living a healthy lifestyle is not a replacement for treatment, it is important for anyone with an MS diagnosis. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, and getting enough sleep can contribute to an overall better quality of life and may even ease flare-ups and symptoms.

Incorporating meditation into your healthy lifestyle may also improve your physical and mental health. There are many types of meditation practices such as music meditation, silent meditation, and walking meditation. Most practices help you focus on the present moment, and deep breathing techniques can help reduce blood pressure, ease physical pain, reduce anxiety and depression, and reduce stress. Studies have shown that people with MS can benefit from meditation practices used in combination with a light exercise routine.

Additional benefits
Meditation can also benefit many other areas of your life. It can help you learn to focus on tasks, manage your emotions, increase self-awareness, patience, and creativity, and provide ways to reduce and manage your stress.

While meditation is generally safe, it should be noted that practicing meditation can trigger unwanted or negative emotions. You may want to let your healthcare provider know that you’re trying meditation, and if you do experience unwanted emotions, you may want to discuss these with a mental health professional.

Remember, there are other things you can do to cope with the mental burden of MS, such as participating in support groups, writing in a daily journal, keeping a consistent and manageable routine, and making sure you have a network of people to help and support you.

If you have any questions or concerns about your diagnosis or treatment, always remember that your healthcare provider is your best source of information.

Medically reviewed in June 2021.

Sources:
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "Meditation: In Depth."
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "8 Things to Know About Meditation for Health."
MedlinePlus. "Multiple Sclerosis."
Merck Manual Professional Version. "Multiple Sclerosis (MS)."
Harvard Health Publishing. "Multiple sclerosis."
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Treating Multiple Sclerosis (MS)."
Winchester Hospital. "Lifestyle Changes to Manage Multiple Sclerosis (MS)."
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Diet, Exercise & Healthy Behaviors."
Mayo Clinic. "Mindfulness practice: Can it reduce symptoms of MS?"
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Study Finds That Online Meditation Course Reduces MS Symptoms and Enhances Well-Being."
Jinny Tavee, Mary Rensel, et al. "Effects of Meditation on Pain and Quality of Life in Multiple Sclerosis and Peripheral Neuropathy: A Pilot Study." International Journal of MS Care, 2011. Vol. 13, No. 4.
Francesco Pagnini Cesare Cavalera, et al. "Longitudinal associations between mindfulness and well-being in people with multiple sclerosis." International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 2019. Vol. 19, No. 1.
Mayo Clinic. "Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress."
Tamara K. Sellman. "The Science Behind Mindfulness and MS: A Survey of Recent Research." MultipleSclerosis.net. April 3, 2019.
Marco Schlosser, Terje Sparby, et al. "Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations." PLOS ONE, 2019.

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