Breathing Your Way through MS

Jamie Tripp Utitus
Written by
Jamie Tripp Utitus

According to various studies, 50% of people with multiple sclerosis suffer from some type of depression . For patients like us, depression is two-fold. There’s an “organic depression” that can develop due to a lesion and where it rests in our brain. And then there’s something we also call “situational depression” which is the result of all the stress that comes along with a chronic illness and disease. Worrying about money, caregiving, family responsibilities, disclosure (do I tell my boss? I can’t hide this much longer?), dating, sex – all of those things and much more adds up inside and can lead us down the road to depression and anxiety.

A big part of depression that can coincides with a diagnosis is anxiety. Anxiety is very common among people living with MS , as everyday situations can create a great deal of stress especially when dealing with the logistics of this disease. It’s no easy feat figuring out how to adjust to your new lifestyle and restrictions. There are times where it all seems too much to bear and it’s important to remember to breathe.

Learning different breathing techniques can keep you calm and help you feel in control when you’re in that state or feel panic coming on. Many people in a state of panic are filling their lungs, but are forgetting to EXHALE when panic begins. So, next time you feel the anxiety coming on – please, tell yourself to “breathe” and “exhale” and then try one of these breathing exercises to calm you.

Remember, no problem was ever solved as a result of worrying, BUT many patients will attest that their disease has progressed as a result of anxiety. Strive for calm. Here are three helpful breathing techniques:

Slow breathing: Much like mindful meditation – lay down flat and take one hand, placing it on your chest while resting the other on your abdomen. You want to control your breathing slowly, and mindfully with each inhale and exhale. You must breathe in with your abdomen, distend for three seconds and then exhale through your mouth for three seconds. Make a noise as you let it out.

Sama Vritti or “Equal Breathing”: With equal breathing our goal is to increase the number of counts as we inhale and exhale. Yoga guru, Rebecca Pacheco, is a fan of this for beginners and insists it can be done anywhere at any time. Inhale counting to four, exhale counting to four. According to Pacheco this adds a “natural resistance” to the breath. When you get the four count down, you can set your goals higher and aim for six to eight counts per breath, “With the same goal in mind: calm the nervous system, increase focus and reduce stress,” Pacheco says.

Nadi Shodhana or “Alternate Nostril Breathing”: Alternate nostril breathing? Is that possible? It actually turns out to be a favorite for many for good reason. The goal of this type of breathing, other than to calm you down, is to unite both sides of the brain. Start by relaxing your shoulders and taking the typical meditative pose. Hold your right thumb over the right nostril, while inhaling deeply through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, take your ring finger and hold it over the left nostril while exhaling through the right nostril. Repeat, inhaling through the right nostril, closing off the right nostril this time with the right thumb and exhaling through the left nostril. And just keep it moving until you FEEL it. Your gut and your peace will tell you when you’ve arrived.

When you feel yourself experiencing anxiety and reaching that panic state, it’s important to remember that stress improves nothing. Be mindful when these feelings start to rise and practice the breathing methods listed here or any other coping mechanisms that work for you. If none of these work, please remember to always consult your doctor and know there are helplines all over the world if you feel hopeless.

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