Practical strategies for managing anxiety by Louise Pearson

Anxiety Image - Practical strategies for managing anxiety

It stands to reason that anxiety is going to be a problem for many people with MS, given the unpredictability of MS in the way that symptoms will affect your everyday life, but there are ways of working through the anxiety that you experience, and you can definitely make it more manageable. Some strategies will take time and effort to put into practice, but like most skills, the more effort you put in, the more successful become your strategies.

Self-compassion – what is it? 
Self-compassion means treating and talking to yourself gently and kindly, not with harsh self-judgement, when you are anxious. Self-compassion expert Kristin Neff (1) has defined three main elements to self-compassion – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness:

Acknowledging our feelings and then self-talking in a compassionate and kind way, like we would to a friend: self-talking might sound weird but it’s what we do in our heads all day. It might feel strange to say to yourself, ‘is there something you need?’ Or ‘what can I do to help you get through this?’  But no-one knows you better than you, and you know what would make you feel better. So, treat yourself with kindness, not harsh self-judgement – talk about your experiences and feelings with less shame by using self-compassion as you talk to yourself.

Common humanity
We recognise that we are all part of a common humanity. What does it mean to be human? It means being imperfect and getting it wrong sometimes and that is something that we have in common with the whole human race in the form of shared human experience. Often when we’re not coping, we feel like we’re stuck out on a limb by ourselves, watching everyone else race up and down the tree doing things perfectly. We need to remind ourselves that that’s not necessarily the reality and that many people in our circumstances would feel as we do.

Being with what is in the present moment. It’s recognising the truth about our experience. Sometimes having MS makes you anxious. Sometimes your life’s circumstances are going to make you anxious. So, if we are suffering, if we’re feeling like we’re exhausted or out of resources, or alternatively if we’re really happy with an outcome, that’s what’s happening for us in the here and now. We need to take time out and sit with that for a bit and recognise that that’s our experience and not try and brush it away. 

Practical ways to exercise self-compassion– the ‘self-compassion break’ for anxiety
Sit back in your chair for a moment and think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that makes you feel anxious. Bring it to mind and see if you can feel yourself right into the situation; feel what you feel then, see if you can actually feel the stress and the emotional discomfort in your body. 

Now say to yourself, ‘this is a moment of suffering’, ‘it’s really painful’, ‘it makes me uncomfortable’. Then say to yourself, ‘suffering is a part of life’. Here, we bring up our common humanity and you can say things like, ‘I’m not alone’, ‘we all struggle in our lives’, ‘I’m just a part of that. It’s OK’. Put your hands over your heart or join your hands if you can’t reach your heart. Feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest or wherever they are.  Say to yourself, ‘may I be kind to myself’. ‘It’s okay’. ‘May I give myself the compassion that I need and learn to accept myself as I am’. 

This practice can be used any time you’re feeling anxious. But trying to do it every day, will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.

Louise Pearson is an accredited mental health social worker, counsellor and Gestalt psychotherapist with almost 30 years’ experience working with people with neurological conditions. If you would like further information, Louise Pearson can be contacted via her website:

If you’d like to speak to someone about strategies for dealing with your anxiety, call our MS Connect team on 1800 042 138.


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