Story by: Sara Thompson on June 25, 2021
The link between mental health and chronic illness, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), is complex and might seem overwhelming. But Norton Neuroscience Institute is expanding its work to address the common stress and mental health concerns in managing MS. Norton Neuroscience Institute offers comprehensive care, including behavioral medicine services, to patients with MS.
MS is accompanied by physical and emotional symptoms, ranging in severity from person to person. These symptoms can affect all aspects of your life and often can feel difficult to manage. Common responses to MS include grief, stress, adjustment, depression, anxiety and self-isolation.
“We know that stress negatively affects the body,” said Bryan Davis, Psy.D., a clinical health psychologist with Norton Neuroscience Institute. Recent research has shown that stress increases MS-related brain lesions.
“As human beings we have become very good at responding to stress and anxiety as a form of protection to a perceived threat,” Dr. Davis said. When the fight or flight/sympathetic nervous system does not turn off, the body exhausts physical and mental resources as it continues to work to protect itself. Because stress makes MS symptoms worse, it’s important to treat the emotional as well as the physical symptoms of MS, because they make up the bigger picture of your health. All the aspects of your life contribute to your overall health, mood and quality of life.
Norton Neuroscience Institute brings together a team of professionals to meet your needs, including behavioral health providers, neurologists, social workers and other specialists. This team creates a care plan with you at the center and works hard to provide the best care for you.
Related: Knowing your MS triggers can help reduce worsening symptoms or relapses
“The first thing we do it get to know you,” Dr. Davis said. “We use screening tools to learn about your levels of depression, anxiety and physical symptoms.”
It’s important to build a strong collaborative relationship and ask you to be the expert on your experiences. By keeping track of your symptoms and talking with you, the team can adjust your treatment.
“There are many ways to treat all your needs, and we look at what will work best for you,” Dr. Davis said.
The Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Center in St. Matthews provides help with the day-to-day challenges of living with a neurological condition. It’s part of Norton Neuroscience Institute’s goal to care for the whole person, not just the condition.
One of the centerpieces of behavioral health at Norton Neuroscience Institute is a four-session stress management program. Patients meet with providers once a month to learn and practice breathing techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy tools, mindfulness and more. Each session builds on the previous one.
“We have seen significant positive results in our patients,” Dr. Davis said. “People are improving their own symptoms with mindfulness and breathing exercises.”
Additional offerings include:
Besides clinical therapies and breathing techniques, the other piece of this treatment approach involves general wellness.
“That means a healthy diet, some activity, improving sleep, and connection to something deeper, be it nature, a religious faith or something else,” Dr. Davis said. “We want to collaboratively increase awareness to the extent of the stressors and build skills to communicate with our bodies in a way that makes life more workable.”
This could mean building skills to create and maintain relaxing habits.
Connecting with others is also crucial to wellness. That could be in person or via electronic means such as Zoom or FaceTime.
“It doesn’t have to be a massive group of a hundred people,” Dr. Davis said. “But a good support system that one perceives as helpful is important.”
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