How to Have a Positive Mindset While Living with ALS

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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I have a good friend who also lives with a life-threatening illness; mine is ALS, her’s is cancer. Recently we visited, and I asked how things were going. Smiling broadly, she replied, “Oh, I’m still just one banana peel away from dropping the other shoe! So, hide the bananas!”

We enjoy making each other laugh, and we share the same mindset. We also enjoy poking fun at life’s banana peels… you know, those speed bumps, curve balls or ups-and-downs that flow into and out of everyone’s life.

Ours is an optimistic mindset based on letting go of worry, and not waiting anxiously for the next worst thing to happen.

Worries and anxiety — I had those and more during the dark months that followed my diagnosis of ALS. I felt stuck in a mental holding pattern, circling and circling, finding no safe place to land.

It was only when I mustered up the courage to face my emotions — the feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and loss — that my thoughts finally settled down. I followed up by using several tips offered by experts from the Positive Psychology movement. Positive Psychology is the science of happiness and an essential part of everyone’s well-being. And my well-being depends on finding the balance between feeling happy and having a rational understanding of my future.

Here are a few steps that worked for me:

Learn all you can about your illness: Knowledge helps dispel irrational fears about the future. Know what to expect and what your options are. Having several contingency plans in place and knowing whom to contact will help dodge many of life’s banana peels.

Practice mindfulness and gratitude: Learning to be mindful helps keep your thoughts in the now, preventing you from wallowing in the past or creating “what-if” scenarios. Thoughts of gratitude don’t have to be just an end-of-day practice. Be on the lookout for spontaneous “this is good” moments. Noticing and acknowledging these moments will automatically bring you into the present.

Surround yourself with optimistic people: Caregivers, family, and friends all have an influence on your mood. Spend time with those who share your mindset and who radiate positive energy.

Check in with yourself: Establish the habit of asking yourself these three questions: How do I feel? What do I need? and Who can help me? For example, I feel thirsty, I need a drink. I will let my caregiver know. Or, I feel lonely, I need conversation. I will call my friend. Checking in often throughout the day keeps your thoughts in the present, and prevents ignoring important health signals from your body.

We all know that change is inevitable. However, rather than waste precious time waiting for the other shoe to drop, try a few of my tips, adopt an optimistic mindset, and live life fully. And then, have a good laugh at life’s banana peels.


Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Charlie avatar


The Kubler-Ross 5-stage thing ends with Acceptance. Living with ALS and all it entails but having a 'Positive Attitude' might appear only to be possible once the Acceptance stage is reached. In the long dark night of the soul, a Positive Attitude on ALS is a profound challenge.
Who gains most from this attitude? The patient or the care-giver?

Tim Bossie avatar

Tim Bossie

Insightful thought Charlie. You are right in saying that it is hard to keep up a positive attitude throughout the different stages of acceptance of this disease, or any other. There are no quick ways to acceptance other than surrounding yourself with family and continuing to persevere through each individual day. In saying that, I would say that both the patient and the care giver gain and should work at keeping a healthy attitude. One that may not always be positive, but at least not hopeless.

Eileen Coyne avatar

Eileen Coyne

Dagmar - I am ALWAYS uplifted by your words of wisdom. Thank you for being you! Hugs - IE

kj kerl avatar

kj kerl

One additional daily practice makes me feel more "connected" with myself every day. At random times in a day I'll ask myself: On a scale of 1 to 10, how am I feeling now?". If my answer is less than a 9 I'll automatically ask myself "why so low?". I can usually figure out why I'm not feeling better, and often change what I'm doing, or able to do, to improve my personal rating score. It works!

Often I'll also ask a friend, and sometimes a server in a check-out line, what their "score" is today. It's a nice conversation starter. And if their answer comes out below a 9 I'll ask them "what will it take to get it above 9?". They'll laugh, then become contemplative when I tell them it's a serious question.

I hear the most interesting answers sometimes, and learn things about friends or others that I didn't know. I've heard "need a higher salary", "need a new boyfriend", "need to go home to sleep", etc. We become better friends from sharing feelings more. klaus in Seattle.


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