As if the whole year round doesn’t bring enough stress, with the holidays approaching and busy end of year happenings, stress can rear its ugly head two-fold during this time. Stress can have negative effects on anyone’s health, but especially for those living with a chronic illness like MS; this beast can cause additional challenges on other symptoms. That’s why it’s so important and crucial to try and reduce stress when you have any control over a situation and it’s possible to have influence over it. Now this isn’t always the case, because as we all know, life tends to be a tad unpredictable at times so control isn’t always a possibility. However, when you do encounter those moments to change things yourself, make it worthwhile and significant to your benefit. So how can you try to manage stress?
S– Stay flexible. When things occur that you can’t predict or plan for, the stress we place on ourselves as a result can have real consequences. So try to stay open to change; sometimes it may bring good results.
T– Talk to others about the stress you’re feeling. Opening up about what’s going on may reduce the inner stress you’re experiencing if you keep things bottled up inside.
R– Rest and relax when you’re able to. Your body is stronger at combating stress and illness when it receives the rest and care it requires.
E– Enjoy simple pleasures and special moments when you can. Life goes by so fast, so make sure to take in the joyous times and happy occasions to hold onto if and when stress surfaces again, it can aid in the fight.
S– Socially connect to others who may have had similar stressful experiences and challenges—it can help to learn some different ways to cope and to also know you’re not alone in this.
S– Slow down. There’s no need to try and act like a superhero constantly. We are only human. Take time for yourself, do what you can and are able to, and don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself. You’re already doing your best!
What are some ways you try to reduce stress?
So this past month we’ve been talking about various issues related to the topic of wellness in our MS Conversations, but what really is wellness? And how do you know if you’re truly living ‘well?’ What is the guiding point to reference when trying to determine this? All good questions, but not ones that necessarily produce easy, one word answers. Wellness can encapsulate many different factors, and its outcome can definitely be subjective at times according to each person’s view of it. It can be defined in very unique terms and the way each person lives their life can differ because of this. That’s not to say that one person’s take on wellness is better over another, it’s just different and relative to their own needs.
There are many components to the notion of wellness and that’s why its possibilities are abundant. Capturing not only the physical piece, but the emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual factors too, also contribute to the vast definition of what wellness means for each person. It’s not measured by just one part but by many, and who’s to say that if a person focuses on one piece of it at a time that they’re not still living ‘well’ in their own understanding of it. That’s why it’s so hard to quantify exactly what the picture perfect frame of wellness is; everyone is different and lives by distinct belief systems and practices. Because the concept of wellness can change so subjectively, it’s challenging to try and identify an exact point of reference for it. So instead, ask yourself questions that gauge your own well-being and include things that are most important to you—health, spirit, relationships, values, beliefs, the list can go on…
That’s right, it’s almost here again-that time of year when individuals can enroll in a Marketplace health insurance plan. The open enrollment period to sign up for 2017 health insurance coverage begins November 1, 2016. Those who are uninsured can search for insurance plan options and assistance through the Marketplace to find a plan that works for them. Some may even qualify for lower costs on insurance premiums depending on your household information. Be sure to review the deadlines to sign up for insurance coverage to ensure that you are covered on a plan beginning January 1, 2017.
As this is an important time for those who are uninsured, it is too for those who have previously purchased health insurance through the marketplace. For the latter, if you are not satisfied with your current plan purchased for 2016 and would like to make a change, now is the time to do so. During open enrollment you can review other insurance plans to see if another plan better matches your needs.
For those currently enrolled in marketplace plans, you may receive a letter from your insurance company explaining if the company will either automatically re-enroll you for 2017 coverage, or if you will not be automatically re-enrolled. If your insurance company plans to automatically re-enroll you for coverage but you would like to make a change, it’s important to review other policies during the enrollment period and take action to change it by December 15th to ensure coverage beginning January 1st.
Whether you’re notified that you’ll be re-enrolled in your current plan or not, you do have to update your expected income and household information for the 2017 coverage year. This is to ensure that your premium tax credits are correct and that you will receive the appropriate coverage costs and plan options for the next year. A letter from the health insurance marketplace is also sent out to individuals currently enrolled that better explains the actions needed to receive the accurate premium tax credits for 2017.
In addition to updating your own income and household information, be sure to take the time to review the different insurance plan policies and prices for the new 2017 coverage year as these do change. You can also find helpful information with MSAA resources like My Health Insurance Guide and The Affordable Care Act and Multiple Sclerosis brochure that provides an overview of the insurance planning process and steps to help you PLAN ahead.
A week from now Medicare’s open enrollment insurance period will begin, running from October 15th until December 7th. This is the time when you can review your current Medicare plan and make changes if needed. You do not need to sign up for Medicare each year, but you can review your coverage and make adjustments if necessary to ensure your health insurance needs are being met.
Medicare beneficiaries who have a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D plan should receive documents such as ‘Evidence of Coverage’ or ‘Annual Notice of Change’ letters from your health plan showing coverage outlines and any changes that will occur. It’s very important to review these materials to make sure of any changes in the plan’s costs, providers, benefits, drug formularies, etc. so that if something is changing with your plan, you are aware of it and can make changes to your coverage if needed. These plans can change their benefits so it’s crucial to review your policy and any upcoming changes.
What can you do during the open enrollment period? According to Medicare’s website you can:
The Medicare website offers a Medicare Plan Finder where you can search for and compare health plans, benefits, coverage and estimated costs. You can also contact Medicare directly at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for additional information and questions.
For additional help, you can receive individualized assistance and guidance in choosing coverage through your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). This resource provides one-on-one insurance counseling and support, visit https://www.shiptacenter.org/ to find your local office.
MSAA’s My Health Insurance Guide is another helpful source for the MS community to find more information about insurance options and resources. This is an important time, so be sure to review your plan’s coverage and make changes if needed to make sure it’s right for you!
So this week marked the start of many students heading back to school and the unofficial ‘end’ of summer with the fall season being just around the corner. This time of year usually generates many nostalgic feelings; how it felt having to go back to school, which was sometimes a drag at first but eventually turned into excitement to learn new things, the change in routine and schedules, and the countdown to the holiday season. Even just the colors and smells of fall have the potential to bring about joyful feelings—it can be a very pretty and festive time of year.
For some people this week may represent new beginnings and changes, for others it may signify an anticipated change of season with teasingly cooler temperatures being just around the bend (hopefully). For others it may just represent a hope for change and new things to come. This particular week and time of year doesn’t necessarily look or mean the same to each person and it doesn’t have to; everyone goes through different things at different times and holds unique perspectives towards it. It’s more about finding what is special or important to you and holding onto that—knowing what feelings are prompted or what memories are beckoned when you experience time and season changes during the year. It’s a chance to create new memories, make adjustments to change, prioritize your needs, and most of all, to self-care—because there is only one you, and you deserve the most that time has to offer.
In keeping with the theme of ‘change’ during this month’s MS Conversations, I wanted to talk about MS symptoms and how they can differ for those diagnosed. MS often comes with its’ own agenda and unpredictable course for those affected, often making it difficult to anticipate what symptoms can arise and how they can vary from day to day. And because each person’s experience differs greatly with MS, it’s challenging to try and compare situations in order to come up with guide points and specifics to learn from throughout the disease. The type of symptoms, their range of severity, and their disappearing/reappearing act can all change according to how one’s MS affects them, which further adds to the list of unattractive traits held by MS.
However, because people with MS have a great voice and have been consistent with reporting their symptoms and experiences with the disease, doctors and researchers have an abundance of information to work with for developing more symptom management therapies and treatments that could potentially help reduce these issues. There are several techniques used to treat MS symptoms, but it may take some trial and error along with continued follow-up with a doctor to find what works best and most effectively. While no two MS cases look exactly alike, each individual’s condition brings with it more power and knowledge because it’s so unique, and therefore helps to contribute to the understanding of this ever-changing landscape.
So honestly I’ve never been one to ever really like change. Even when I was younger I don’t think I was as resilient as other kids around me when it came to change because I always seemed to struggle with it. Even as I continue into adulthood change can still create feelings of anxiety, confusion and discomfort at times. And this can occur with good change too; I think it’s the concept of something being different than it was before that I have trouble accepting, especially when it’s a change that I have no say over. Now don’t get me wrong, certain types of changes can be good, when they produce positive and beneficial differences in life and particular circumstances. But in general I think we struggle with change because it has great influence over our control and expectations. It’s difficult to like change if it’s something you didn’t ask for or that was necessarily warranted, especially if its arrival produces unwelcome challenges. So what do you do when change comes along?
Everyone’s coping mechanisms are different when it comes to dealing with change. Some individuals try to meet change head-on and seek out ways to adjust and adapt, while others try to fight change and work hard to deny it and refuse acceptance of it. Some look to others for support during times of change, whereas other individuals prefer to be alone to cope with it. What’s important to know is that everyone has experienced some form of change in their lives, and while none of the changes may look exactly the same, the ways in which people try to cope with it can look very similar. There are no absolutes when it comes to facing change—no specific right or wrong way to work it out. But you have more control than you think in these situations; you’re the one who gets to decide how you want to approach change in those moments and how much influence it can truly have.
How do you cope with change?
As we continue to pass through the summer months and find ourselves looking towards a change of season (hopefully soon!), there’s still some time for fun to be had during the remainder of the summer. At times it can be difficult to try to make plans or schedule activities if the uninvited MS decides to rear its head and join in. But there are some last minute ways to try and enjoy the rest of the season, without having to make elaborate plans that MS will try to outdo.
There are times when heat-excessive summer days call for indoor activities, so why not have a game day/night? Getting back to a time where playing board games and cards was all the rage can be fun and nostalgic, and a good way to find some last minute amusement with friends or family. And keeping with the indoor theme, how about a movie night? Gathering together to watch a good flick, even if coordinated last minute, can be relaxing and entertaining. Orchestrating a last minute trip to the movies or visiting a museum or aquarium can also be some fun activities that may not require excessive planning but an opportunity to enjoy events of the season.
Check with community offices and message boards in your area to find some local events being held during the rest of the summer. Concerts, festivals, shows and exhibitions are just some of the local activities your community may offer that you can take advantage of last minute. Sometimes trying to take part in an activity that’s more spur of the moment and last minute can work to your benefit, especially if it catches MS off guard and doesn’t give it the opportunity to invite itself!
Being halfway through July we can surely say the summer season is in full swing, and for those with MS it’s no secret that the heat and humidity of the season can be a real downer at times. MS heat sensitivity can result in aggravated or worsened MS symptoms and help to contribute to an overall disliking of the summer months. This can be disheartening because many individuals enjoy this time of year, with outdoor activities and events that beckon and get-togethers that warrant much time outside—shame on MS for trying to corrupt this. But there are things that can be done to try and overcome the cruel intentions MS may have during this time of year, and some may already find themselves doing them.
- It might be tricky at times, but when you can, get outdoors when the temperature is more manageable. Going outside earlier or later in the day/night can help you avoid the hotter temps throughout the day.
- When possible, engage in activities that are in cooler/air conditioned places. If you have to be outside, try to take breaks in shaded areas or indoors when you can.
- Wear cooling products like neck wraps or vests that can help to reduce heat sensitivity issues and keep your body temperature down.
- If you’re not in the mood to travel or go out due to the heat, have friends or family come to you for a visit.
- Explain MS and heat sensitivity issues to those close to you so they have an understanding of what you’re experiencing and why there may be some limitations during this time of year.
- Try to stay actively engaged in the activities and events you enjoy during these summer months. Adjusting the timing or setting of your interests or finding new things to participate in can help to combat the heat factors.
There’s a line you can draw with MS when it comes to your likes and interests. If you enjoy the summer season take part in things you’re able to or try new experiences, and let MS sizzle by itself under the summer sun.
Sometimes it’s really difficult to maintain relationships and stay social with others around you. This can be due to a number of reasons and factors. Life in general creates enough hurdles and curveballs that prevent us from staying engaged and interacting with others, at times it’s simply because things get in the way. Having a chronic illness like MS can certainly make staying connected even more challenging as the disease comes with its own agenda and unpredictability. But it’s important to try to stay socially linked to people and support networks around you, because it can be beneficial in more ways than one.
It’s understandable if there are times when you don’t want to reach out to others and engage in social interactions, it happens to everyone. There are moments where we just want to be alone and process things on our own. However, making ties and maintaining relationships can create added benefits to one’s life. Positive connections can help to boost your mood and attitude, especially when surrounding yourself with encouraging and optimistic people. Staying social can create a sense of cohesiveness and camaraderie with others. These bonds may form even stronger if the same types of values, goals and experiences are shared—or if they are not, there is infinite respect in the relationship to appreciate these differences.
Having a chronic illness can sometimes cause feelings of isolation and separation for those affected—a feeling of being alone in what’s happening because others do not know or understand the condition. That’s when connecting to others who have similar backgrounds or experiences can help. Sharing the same types of feelings, thoughts and hopes with others increases a sense of belonging and validation in knowing you’re not alone in your experiences. Social engagement can help decrease stress levels and keep your mind active which can also aid in improving your overall health. And it doesn’t matter what type of social activity you’re engaged in; whether it’s taking a walk or ride, going out to an event, talking on the phone or attending a group, what matters is the connections you’re making and the positive benefits they have on your well-being.