Part 1 of a series
Editor’s Note: This series by clinical psychologist Dr. Helga Hemberger* will explore various aspects of getting in good ‘mental condition’ when living with a debilitating neurological condition, by providing ideas and tools for managing stress, improving mood and supporting a positive outlook. We all know to floss and brush to keep our teeth in good shape, and what happens if we don’t … but do we know as much about ‘mental hygiene’ as we do about ‘dental hygiene’?
I am constantly impressed by the resilience and strength of people with a progressive condition. Being diagnosed with HSP presents a huge life challenge for many. But how do people react? How do you cope in such a situation?
A person’s usual pattern of coping with stress may not be enough to negotiate strong feelings of anxiety, disbelief, sadness, anger and guilt that are common following diagnosis. Emotions may feel very close to the surface for some time. Thoughts are often racing and many don’t feel strong enough to cope. Some look for support from family and friends. Others throw themselves into work or withdraw. Different people react differently, and they are all perfectly normal reactions.
How did you cope with learning you had HSP?
What did you do to help cope?
What worked and what didn’t?
You can share your thoughts on the questions in this series in the Comments section at the end of the article.
In so far as we are all different, reactions to a diagnosis such as HSP will vary. We come from different family backgrounds, hold different beliefs about illness, have very different levels and quality of relationships and support in our lives. Some people have unhelpful expectations of themselves, others and/or the world that can interfere with the process of adjustment, e.g. a person with very high standards or who has been expected to show stoicism in the past may have an expectation that they ‘should cope’ and are less able to acknowledge not being okay.
Did you have expectations of yourself or others?
Did you adjust your expectations over time?
How did that go?
Difficulty in adjusting and coping often shows up as:
- Increasing negative thoughts (self-critical thoughts or hopelessness about the future)
- Persistent low mood – feeling down all the time
- Anxiety and stress
- Deteriorating confidence
- Sleep or appetite disturbance
- Relationship difficulties.
Did you have difficulty adjusting and coping?
How did that show up?
In subsequent articles, we will explore ideas and tools for good mental health through exercise, diet, sleep, awareness, relaxation, thoughts, decision-making, self-image and self-worth, needs and relationships.
If you feel persistent stress, low mood or anxiety, see a doctor.
*Dr. Helga Hemberger is a Clinical Psychologist who provides neuropsychological assessment and therapy for people with neurological injury, illness or disease, their family and carers. Since completing her clinical training in 2006, Helga has worked mainly in neurology and rehabilitation settings including at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London. She is registered with the Psychology Board of Australia and is a Member of the Australian Psychological Society, APS College of Clinical Psychologists and the International Neuropsychological Society. Helga has two Sydney locations – Annandale and St. Leonards.
ph: (02) 8959 9696 or [email protected]