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Emotional Health

Diagnosed in 2009


The Society offers a variety of resources to assist you and your family members in dealing with the emotional aspects of MS, including self-help groups, peer counselors, workshops and other programs. Contact an MS Navigator®, or consult HelpPRO® for help finding therapists, groups and other mental health services. 


In this article


MS can have a significant impact on a person’s emotions, not only because MS is unpredictable and challenging to live with, but because it affects parts of the brain that control mood. It is essential to recognize and address changes because state of mind, emotion and mood:
  • impact how one feels physically and functions in everyday life — they’re essential components of overall wellness
  • affect one’s ability to care for oneself, adapt to change and problem-solve effectively
  • can negatively impact cognitive function (particularly depression)
  • are difficult for others to understand and live with, potentially causing disruptions in communication and relationships

Types of changes

Emotional changes in MS can occur at any time — even at the time of diagnosis. The most common include grief and sadness, worry, fear, moodiness and irritability. Significant mood changes, including depression, anxiety, and marked irritability, can be a symptom of MS as well as a reaction to its challenges. It’s important to recognize that these changes significantly impact many aspects of life and can be a significant source of pain and distress. They require and deserve as much attention as physical symptoms.
Mood changes are not a sign of weakness; in fact, dealing with them requires great strength. They can be addressed with a range of strategies, including counseling, medication if needed, exercise and other self-management techniques if necessary. If you notice new or uncomfortable changes in your mood:
  • Report the changes to your healthcare team.
  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about MS, or contact an MS Navigator for a referral.
  • Connect with others in person or online for support.


Building your level of personal resilience (i.e. the ability tackle problems, find solutions and bounce back from difficult situations) can help you address the challenges of living with MS.

The changes caused by MS can be negative or positive, sudden or gradual, permanent or temporary, predictable or unexpected. How to cope with MS-related changes comfortably and effectively is the subject of the workbook Living Well with MS: Coping with Change. Like other workbooks in the Living Well series, Coping with Change is designed to be used in a variety of ways: you can use it alone, as a guide for personal reflection and problem-solving, or as the basis of discussion with members of your family or your self-help group.


Stress is unavoidable. Learning to manage the stresses of everyday life is essential — but not easy. Don't feel guilty because you think you may have “created stress” in another person’s life. Stress is part of the reality of living; rather than trying to avoid it, learn how manage and cope with it. You may need to try different relaxation activities or other techniques until you find what works best for you and you may need to adjust your technique(s) as life goes on. Strategies include:
  • Identify your stressors. Write them down, and rate them. Will it be important next week or next month? Put things in perspective; let go of the small stuff.
  • Reframe. Negative thinking can make stress worse. You can't control all the stressors but developing more positive thinking patterns can create a better attitude which can lessen stress. A mental health professional can help you identify and change negative thinking patterns.
  • Get physical. Exercise reduces the effects of stress hormones on the body. Consult your healthcare professional about starting an exercise program. Learn and practice stress management techniques such as visualization, meditation, or relaxation and breathing exercises. Classes and audio/visual resources are available to lead you through these activities.
  • Change focus. Get off the stress cycle by doing something that gives you pleasure. Read, write in a journal, stroke your pet, listen to soothing music, or pursue your hobby.
  • Reach out. Call a friend to share what's troubling you. Build a support network.
  • Get some rest. Develop regular sleep habits. And take a break during the day if fatigue gets in the way.
  • Learn a one-minute stress reducer to use anywhere or anytime. Find a special word to repeat ("one", "home" or "love" are good ones); take slow, deep belly breaths, or call a happy picture to your head.
  • Get a whiff. Many people find that aromatherapy helps promote relaxation. Among the essential oils that seem to promote relaxation are lavender, geranium, mandarin, neroli, and ylang ylang. Go for pure products. Put a drop on a tissue and breathe. A little goes a long way.
  • Laugh. Keep a few comedy DVDs on hand.
  • Develop gratitude. Take time to appreciate something good in your life each day.
Author: Jude Meyer, PhD, Can Do Multiple Sclerosis

Stress-management programs are readily available and have become an accepted part of the treatment of many medical disorders. Professional counseling as well as support groups can also help in learning how better to cope with stress.

Family members

Each family member experiences his or her own set of feelings and fears. In particular, care partners are known to be at increased risk of depression and should discuss this with their healthcare provider.

Children who have a parent with MS may have questions they do not know how to ask, as well as feelings they cannot put into words. Keep S’myelin, a Society magazine for children ages 6-12, provides age-appropriate information about MS as well as guidance for parents on how to talk about the disease and the feelings that kids may be experiencing.

MS can affect the expression of emotions

Read more about uncontrollable episodes of laughing and/or crying (pseudobulbar affect), euphoria, and inappropriate behavior in emotional changes.

Additional resources