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Building Spirituality Into Your Life With MS

Posted on May 05, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Amit M. Shelat, D.O.
Article written by
Mary K. Talbot

Having a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis (MS) means facing the premise that your life may not be headed in the direction that you’d once envisioned. Although you cannot change your MS diagnosis, you do have the ability to come to peace with your chronic disease. Some people living with MS find that spiritual practices can help them find relief from their symptoms and accept their path with gratitude.

Spiritual practices include an array of activities, including prayer, mediation, and yoga, and they do not require a belief in a higher power to provide benefits.

What Is Spirituality?

Spirituality can be defined in many different ways, but it’s often considered a way to understand yourself and your place or role in the world.

There are many different ways to enhance your spiritual self to attain greater satisfaction while improving your mental health and general well-being. While some people find comfort in organized religion, others may prefer meditation or yoga to attain spirituality.

There are merits to any spiritual path that you might take, including cultivating peace, purpose, and forgiveness, and building resilience to stress, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Organized Religion

Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, or Hindu, those who pursue the path of organized religion can find peace and connection with the support of a like-minded community. One MyMSTeam member calls their place of worship “my place of refuge and my strength.”

Practicing your faith in a religious community can provide a feeling of comfort and safety, along with social connections. Social connections are particularly important for people with MS, who are at risk of experiencing social isolation. In addition to connectedness, religious communities also provide structure and dependability — a wonderful contrast to the sometimes unpredictable nature of day-to-day life with MS. As one MS Team member wrote, “God is with you! God will never leave nor forsake you!”

Along with fostering social connections, there is some evidence that religious or spiritual beliefs can help people with MS develop a positive outlook on their illness, appreciate their life as it is, and cultivate gratitude.

Prayer

Prayer can take many forms. It can be part of organized religious services or informal groups, or it can be done alone. Some people choose to recite traditional texts; others speak in their own words or use a journal to write down their prayers. You can pray even if you don’t consider yourself a member of a faith community or believe in a higher power.

Prayer can be beneficial for several reasons. It can help you to cultivate feelings of gratitude and compassion, lower anxiety, and release control to a higher power or external force. There is also some research that prayer can help people better manage chronic pain.

Prayer is an important part of life for many MyMSTeam members. One member shared, “I am talking to God more, reading my Bible, and singing the song ‘I am the Lord that heals thee.’”

Another member commented, “Prayer is a free gift and one offered from the heart. It might work, and it might not, but what do you have to lose?”

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation has been used throughout time by many different ethnic and spiritual traditions. Meditations can be guided or unguided, and they can use visualization techniques, breathing, awareness, or reflection.

A systematic review of studies on meditation found measurable changes in participants. People who meditated experienced “reduced anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, blood pressure, cortisol levels and other physiologic markers of stress,” according to the 2020 review from the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine.

Studies of meditation in people with MS have found that meditation can reduce pain and lessen anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

In the words of a MyMSTeam member, “Meditation is one thing I think everyone should do. Once you practice it enough, it's not too hard to get into that state of mind. At first it was almost too much effort to be worth it. Now I think it is about the most natural remedy anyone can do.”

Technology has significantly reduced the barriers to learning and practicing meditation. Free apps can be downloaded on your smartphone, audiobooks on meditation are widely available, and countless reflections, sounds, and sleep tracks are available online to aid with meditation.

Yoga

Yoga’s origins date back to ancient India. It is both a spiritual and physical practice that improves mental and emotional health, sleep, and balance — while also helping to manage anxiety, depression, and symptoms of chronic diseases, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

There is evidence that yoga can have a positive impact on emotional and physical health in people with MS, including reducing fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

Yoga classes are available online and in person. There are chair yoga classes and yoga for MS classes, which make the practice accessible to all. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers several resources for finding yoga instructors who can teach you proper alignments, adaptations specifically developed for your body, and ways to use props.

MyMSTeam members have high praise, in general, for the benefits of yoga:

  • “Always a positive way to start out the day!”
  • “Amazing how much better I feel after yoga. Today was a limpy-gimpy day, but then I went to yoga and it is so much easier to walk.”
  • “Practicing yoga before bedtime really helps me to have a good night's sleep. I definitely recommend it. Adaptive yoga is the way forward. Mind, body and soul.”

Read more about yoga and MS.

Other Ways To Cultivate Spirituality

There are limitless ways to cultivate spirituality in your life. The trick is finding what works for you. In addition to religion, meditation, or yoga, the following practices may be helpful.

Connect To Art and Music

Some people find that immersing themselves in art or music can be a spiritual experience. This can take many forms. You may enjoy studying a painting or sculpture by a famous artist, or you may enjoy listening closely to your favorite song or piece of music. You may even create art or music yourself, no matter your skill level.

Spend Time in Nature

Spending time in nature can boost your mood and help you connect to the outside world. You can connect to nature by taking a walk, spending time in your backyard, gardening, bird-watching, or simply looking out the window and focusing on the way the clouds look in the sky or the way the wind moves the leaves on the trees.

Express Gratitude

In the general population, feelings of gratitude are associated with lower risks of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Gratitude can also lead to greater feelings of enthusiasm and determination. There are many ways to cultivate gratitude in daily life. You can express gratitude in prayer, or you can focus on gratitude while meditating, listening to your favorite music, or spending time outdoors. You can also keep a gratitude journal in which you list things you’re grateful for on a regular basis.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. More than 166,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple sclerosis.

What spiritual practices have you found beneficial? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMSTeam.

References

  1. The Mental Health Benefits of Religion & Spirituality — National Alliance on Mental Illness
  2. Prayer and Pain: The Mediating Role of Positive Re-Appraisal — Journal of Behavioral Medicine
  3. Prayer — University of Minnesota
  4. Loneliness and Isolation — Listening To Experiences of Loneliness and Isolation in the Lives of People Affected by Multiple Sclerosis — Multiple Sclerosis-UK
  5. An Overview of Meditation: Its Origins and Traditions — Psychology Today
  6. The Benefits of Meditation and Mindfulness Practices During Times of Crisis Such as COVID-19 — Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine
  7. Study Finds That Online Meditation Course Reduces MS Symptoms and Enhances Well-Being — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  8. Effects of Meditation on Pain and Quality of Life in Multiple Sclerosis and Peripheral Neuropathy — A Pilot Study — International Journal of MS Care
  9. 12 Best Meditation Apps Download in 2021, According to Experts — Prevention
  10. Yoga: What You Need To Know — National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
  11. Development of Specific Aspects of Spirituality During a 6-Month Intensive Yoga Practice — Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  12. When Looking for Happiness, Find Gratitude — National Alliance on Mental Illness
  13. Develop Your Spiritual Resources — University of Minnesota
  14. Faith as a Resource in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis Is Associated with a Positive Interpretation of Illness and Experience of Gratitude/Awe — Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Amit M. Shelat, D.O. is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and the American College of Physicians. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Mary K. Talbot is a graduate of Providence College (Rhode Island) and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University (Illinois). Learn more about her here.

A MyMSTeam Member said:

No worries. It's what I need to be for her that was taken away by MS. I still have my Angel. No one will take her away. Her daddy will see to that. Thank you for caring.

posted about 1 month ago

hug (4)

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