Health Health & Well-Being

Multiple Sclerosis : Fight (for) yourself !

Multiple Sclerosis is one of the most common neurological disorders occurring at a young age, with symptoms related to gait imbalance, visual and cognitive impairment, sexual dysfunction, pain, etc. (Karatepe et al., 2011).

Dimitra Tagara

Dimitra Tagara

Psychologist, graduate of the Department of Psychology of Panteion University

Multiple Sclerosis is one of the most common neurological disorders occurring at a young age, with symptoms related to gait imbalance, visual and cognitive impairment, sexual dysfunction, pain, etc.

The management of the disease, however, does not solely lie in the treatment of physical symptoms. Young people diagnosed with MS are faced with fatigue, depressive and anxious feelings, which have an impact on their quality of life, with studies highlighting high rates of depression compared to the general population (36%-54%) and other chronic conditions. 

MS remains a condition of unknown causes and this naturally creates fear of the unknown and unpredictable. Called upon to cope with this anxiety, the reality of the disease can act as a relief. Its causes and manifestation are anything but under their own control. But their attitude towards it is their powerful weapon, with research in recent years focusing on the influence of psychological factors on the progression of the disease. This focus has led to the formulation of interventions aimed at emotional management , with the concept of mindfulness as the basis and aiming for a healthy attitude towards oneself within the daily life of the disease.

The concept of mindfulness, introduced by Kabat-Zinn (1994), refers to the intentional process of focusing one’s attention on the present moment, away from the criticality of the experience or emotion being experienced. The individual learns to focus on the body and his or her emotion through relaxation and breathing techniques, as well as enhancing cognitive concentration, thus forming an attitude of kindness and acceptance towards oneself in the moment of experiencing a negative emotion. In this way, the person is able to build resilience in the face of the unpredictability of the disease by strengthening not only the relationship with himself or herself, but also the relationships with his or her supportive context.

Marianna, a young girl of 25 years old, who was diagnosed with MS a year and a half ago, talks about her own experience and what it is that helps her to face the future with optimism: “What gives me a boost is that I don’t feel helpless and I can help myself because of the nature of the condition in my own body. The environment around me has helped me with everything else. People with humour and optimism around me who have continued to treat me as they did before the diagnosis and have not let me down psychologically. I am a naturally positive person, but it is the people around me who remind me of this positivity on a daily basis. There were days after my treatment in the hospital, I was going to school to teach a class. It’s something you think about strongly, but you choose the way you decide to deal with it and the life you live. In my case I have decided from the beginning that I will define my life, not the disease!”

Read more about Multiple sclerosis and nutrition

Bibliographical sources

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life.New York: Hyperion.

Karatepe, A. G., Kaya, T., Günaydn, R., Demirhan, A., Çe, P., & Gedizlioglu, M. (2011). Quality of life in patients with multiple sclerosis: the impact of depression, fatigue, and disability.International Journal of Rehabilitation Research, 34(4), 290-298.

Minden, S. L., Feinstein, A., Kalb, R. C., Miller, D., Mohr, D. C., Patten, S. B., . . Narayanaswami, P. (2013). Evidence-based guideline: assessment and management of psychiatric disorders in individuals with MS: Report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 82, 174-181.

Simpson, R., Booth, J., Lawrence, M., Byrne, S., Mair, F., & Mercer, S. (2014). Mindfulness based interventions in multiple sclerosis-a systematic review. BMC neurology, 14(1), 1-9.

Dimitra Tagara is a psychologist, graduate of the Department of Psychology of Panteion University. She is attending the Postgraduate Program “Psychology” with specialization in Positive Psychology offered by Panteion University, while she is a trainee at the Hellenic Society of Existential Psychology “Gignesthai” where she is attending the 4-year program of psychotherapeutic approach. She works as a psychologist at the Society of Social Psychiatry and Mental Health P. Sakellaropoulos, in a Psychosocial Rehabilitation Unit in Attica, while she is also working at the IASIS Day Centre as part of her internship, taking part in the various psychoeducational activities of the organisation.

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