The Benefits of Creating Artwork… It’s More than Just a Pretty Picture!

Each month, we honor an artist from our Art Showcase in our Artist of the Month series.  But have you taken a moment to look through the Art Showcase to see what you’ll find? In addition to a wide variety of beautiful pieces of art, you’ll find personal stories written by the artists. These stories add a whole new dimension to the artwork, allowing you to read about the artist and learn what inspires him or her to create.

In looking through these stories, you’ll find one common theme: In addition to creating a piece of art, the act of doing the art is extremely therapeutic – and this is true whether drawing or painting, as well as crafting, knitting, or throwing a clay pot on a pottery wheel. It often changes one’s outlook and gives individuals a new purpose in life.

These positive effects are exciting to hear and are certainly not limited to MSAA’s Art Showcase! The entire field of art therapy is based on the benefits derived from the creative process and the resulting artwork, and these advantages may be experienced by children, adults of any age, healthy individuals, and individuals with physical, emotional, or psychological challenges.

Numerous studies have been conducted with healthy individuals as well as those with various conditions to examine the positive effects of creating artwork. One small study found that the women with MS who participated in a creative art program experienced significant increases in self-esteem, social support, and self-efficacy to function with MS (self-efficacy is the ability we believe we have to meet challenges and achieve goals). The study also saw a strong effect on hope. The authors concluded that creative art has the potential to enhance the lives of those living with MS.

Another small study conducted in Ireland found that the group of adults with MS who participated in creative classes experienced deep immersion in their artwork, offering respite from worry about their illness. The art-making processes and artwork created increased emotional wellbeing and promoted self-worth, while attending the classes provided an opportunity for social camaraderie and learning. Artwork even helped to support their identity and to accommodate functional losses associated with MS. Participants expressed the feeling that art was “opening new doors” for them.

The American Art Therapy Association at arttherapy.org explains that art therapy is a mental health profession in which art therapists use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to help their clients to explore their feelings and reconcile emotional conflicts. Among other benefits, they note that art therapy can help people to foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. Anyone interested in learning about art therapy or locating an art therapist in his or her area may visit this website for more information.

It’s important to note that you do not need to work with an art therapist to enjoy the rewards of creating artwork, nor do you need to be an artist or believe you have any “talent” as an artist. While an art therapist may be very helpful to someone who is experiencing emotional or psychological issues, including depression or anxiety… or to someone recovering from an illness or coping with a medical condition… anyone is free to explore his or her creative side… and discover the positive changes associated with creating his or her own works of art!

Another informative resource on the value of art is the Be Brain Fit website. This site was created by two health professionals and cites many published works relating to the benefits derived through art and the creative process. In this section of their website, they explain that creating art is a very effective way to stimulate the brain and that anyone can do it. To follow are a few points from Be Brain Fit, all supporting the positive effects of artwork.

Art relieves stress by enabling you to become totally immersed and providing a distraction for your mind. As you concentrate on details and pay more attention to your environment, it acts like a form of meditation. Many of the new coloring books being marketed to adults were designed with the idea of reducing stress, and have even helped veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Art uses both sides of your brain, encourages creative thinking, and enhances problem-solving skills. Art is thought to serve as a type of brain exercise and stimulates communication between various parts of the brain, creating new connections between brain cells. It also boosts self-esteem, provides a sense of accomplishment, and can help children to become better students. Art has even been shown to enhance cognitive abilities and memory for people with serious brain disorders, and has been shown to improve memory in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Now that you know some of the exciting benefits that art has to offer, this might be a great time to give art a try! You can start with a pencil and paper, a coloring book and pens, a craft kit from the store, paints and brushes, or a scrapbook and glue… whatever you might find to be interesting and fun. You can even enroll in a local art class. The results will surprise you! And who knows? Maybe the next MSAA Art Showcase will feature one of your works!

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Show Your Support on this National Day of Service

Monday, January 16th is observed as a national holiday in honor of a great leader and activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to being a federal holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is recognized as a national day of service, empowering citizens to give back to their communities and help bring change in a nation so profoundly influenced by the courageous acts of Dr. King.

This day of service encourages our nation to have a “day on, not a day off” and support causes they feel a connection to. This is why MSAA encourages everyone to take part and offer a helping hand to those within the MS community.

There are many ways to give back and help improve lives in the MS community. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  1. Donate your time by creating a fundraising event to benefit MSAA. This could be anything from a bake sale to a bowling tournament!
  2. Participate in Swim for MS – get creative and make your own unique swim challenge!
  3. Make a purchase from a company that supports charitable causes.
  4. Make a monetary contribution.
  5. Love using social media? Become a member of our Street Squad and help spread the word about MSAA!
  6. Perform a random act of kindness for someone in your community.

The hectic holiday season can certainly bring on a lot of stress. Allow this day of service to help you reflect on what you’re grateful for, and how you’d like to assist your community more in the New Year. We thank you for your continued dedication to our mission and hope you enjoy your volunteer work, whatever it may be!

We would love to hear how you are spending your Monday. Let us know what activities and service you are participating in either on our blog or on our Facebook page.

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MS Clinical Trials Made Easy with MSAA and Antidote

MSAA is pleased to announce that through a partnership with Antidote, a digital health company, we are now offering a clinical trial search tool on our website that will make learning about and connecting with MS clinical trials easier than ever.

While we remain dedicated to improving lives in the MS community through vital services and support, MSAA recognizes the value of having access to clinical trial information, providing important answers to researchers. This is why we encourage you to try Antidote’s clinical trial search tool.

Although some may be familiar with the purpose of clinical trials, others may not know or understand the benefits of these studies. Clinical trials are scientific studies that test the safety and effectiveness of new treatments for diseases, including MS. They often use patient participants; are conducted by universities, MS clinics, and neurologists; and must follow FDA-approved protocol so that all treatment is provided and all data is collected uniformly. No drug can be approved by the FDA until there is clinical trial proof of their safety and effectiveness.

The major advances in the treatment of MS in the last 15-20 years have only been because of data provided through clinical trials, which is why these studies remain so significant for MS research.

You can start searching for clinical trials for you or your loved one right now on our website. Click here to begin.

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Why Just at New Year’s?

Last week people all around the world celebrated and rang in the New Year; 2017 felt like it came so quickly and of course with it came the routine creation of resolutions and goals for the start of the new year. It’s tradition, right? To make New Year’s resolutions and try to stick with them until at least… the end of January? Lol.

I heard something on the radio recently about resolutions – the question as to why people wait until January 1st to make them and essentially put their goals and hopes of change on hold until this significant date. Sure, it does make sense to wait until the start of a fresh year to initiate change; the New Year has always symbolized new beginnings and a clean slate to start anew. But just imagine if you were to start your own tradition of making resolutions and promises of change in the middle, or anytime of the year for that matter – whenever it is that the idea first pops into your head? You’re under no obligation to delay or put your life on hold because of past traditions and habits. If you’re one who likes to wait and mark these resolutions in the New Year then that’s great! But there’s no reason if you want to make a change now, why you’d have to postpone it. I mean there is something to be said for traditions, it’s nice to have customs and practices that are familiar and safe and comforting, but it’s also ok to spark a new practice within your life. Though the world and life in general can have their own very strong influences and effects in your day to day, you still have power to make decisions that impact your own life too, so that means you can make choices that suit your best interest, not just at New Year’s but all year round.

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New Year’s Resolutions, Taking Stock & Creating a Personal Health Reference Manual

By Stacie Prada

I used to think it was more important to just do things than to track them, but now I see the value in writing them down and acknowledging how far I’ve come over time. When the calendar year ratchets up and I think of myself as another year older, it’s a natural time to reflect and make goals. I like to review what I’ve accomplished, endured, thwarted and nurtured. When I’m feeling like I have a lot I still want to do, knowing how far I’ve come is a reality check for my expectations.

I aim for full life wellness, and I categorize my areas of wellness as health, home, relationships, finances, creativity and adventure.  At all times, I try to have at least one goal for each area. I like to incorporate small activities in my life that move me toward achieving my goals, and I like doing one or two large projects at a time that leap me forward on a goal.  Depending on my levels of energy and obligations, I’ll do a little or a lot on the larger projects. I try to establish and maintain balance in my life without sacrificing or ignoring another aspect of my life. My overarching goal is to keep working toward something while appreciating who, where and what I am now.

My 2017 Resolution: Take stock.

I think it’s helpful to take stock.  To think about what made me happy in the past, what I love about the present, and what I would like my life to be soon or someday. Committing those thoughts and ambitions to paper or a digital file allows me to look back over time to see if I still want the same things in life now that I thought I wanted in the past.

I’m taking stock figuratively and literally. I’m pouring through all of my personal belongings, my finances, my routines and my data. I’m compiling the things I’ve learned over the years since I don’t always remember something when I encounter it again. This will focus my attention on what I have, what I could adapt to use differently, what I still want, and what I’d like to upgrade for the perfect fit.

My Personal Health Reference Manual

A big project I’d like to accomplish this year is compiling all of my health information for things I’ve experienced, tried and currently use. I aim to create and maintain a binder for all the ways I keep my health in check. It will include all the successful and unsuccessful treatments.

The idea for this project came to me after my hip started hurting. I know that my hip can hurt when I jog longer distances, and I could tell that I’d overdone it. I believe the cause is foot drop that slightly affects my gait when I jog and triggers a misalignment in my hips to compensate.  In the past, I’d curbed my distances to deal with it. Sadly, it took hurting my hip twice in a month and six weeks of recovery time before it occurred to me I’d dealt with this before!  I remembered that I had physical therapy exercises from seven years ago that helped heal my hip from the same problem.  My hope is that using these exercises will not only allow me to heal my hip faster but prevent future injury and allow me to work back up to longer distances again.

This experience made me realize I need a personalized easy-reference health manual to manage my health with less stress. MS affects each person differently, and it requires constant adaptation to live successfully with MS. I want to reduce the amount of time spent enduring something and wracking my brain figuring out what will work for me in order to hasten effective treatment. An up to date personalized health reference manual will help.

The information I want to compile will include the following:

Conditions, Symptoms, and Injuries

  1. Indicators, triggers and causes
  2. Preventative measures including lifestyle choices, nutrition and activities
  3. Treatments including prescriptions, exercises, and natural remedies
    – Pros
    – Cons
    – When it’s effective
    – When it’s not effective
    – Why I choose this (or don’t)
  4. Experiences with this issue – what’s worked or failed
  5. Theories for why my body reacts a certain way – correlations proven and disproven

Sources of information I’ll use to compile this reference manual include:

  • Tracking calendars of health data and disease-modifying drugs
  • Notes I’ve taken at health appointments
  • Physical therapy treatments and exercises
  • My memory
  • My friends’ memories – often they recall things for me that I’ve forgotten
  • Books and internet resources that can trigger my memory for things I’ve tried but didn’t write down
  • Medical records from doctors

I’ve included a couple of examples at the end of this post that I’ve put together so far. It’s tailored to my health and experiences, so yours will look different. It’s also a work in progress, so I’ll keep adding and editing it as time passes and I change.

I wish I was low maintenance. Sadly, as I’ve aged I’m getting to be higher and higher maintenance. I joke that at least I’m doing the maintenance and not pushing that responsibility onto other people!

That said, if I do ever need help with my health, this will be a great tool for anyone helping me.  They’ll know what I’ve already tried, what works, and what hasn’t worked. I won’t need to start from scratch with each new provider.

This is organizing my health from my information and experiences. It frees me from relying on information from the web each time I confront an issue. Sometimes the information can just be too much, and what will help me gets lost in the mass of opinions and recommendations. This is organizing around me and benefiting from the decades of experience I have being me.

Examples of pages from my Personal Health Reference Manual:

Condition: Vertigo and dizziness with nausea

  1. Indicators, triggers and causes: crystals in ear out of place
  2. Preventative measures: none
  3. Treatments: Epley Maneuver to put crystals in ear back in place
    Pros: Non-invasive, I can do it at home, and no side effects. Immediate results.
    Cons: none
    When it’s effective: When dizziness is caused by ear crystals out of place.
    When it’s not effective: If dizziness is caused by something else.
    Why I choose this for now: It’s an easy fix.
  4. Experiences with this issue, what’s worked or failed. I experienced dizziness and nausea for a week before seeing my neurologist. He did the Epley maneuver to me on one side and it didn’t do anything. He did it again on the other side, and immediately my vertigo vanished! He taught me how to do the Epley maneuver at home, and I have used it a couple times over the years since. When I need a refresher, I’ve found a Youtube video to remind me.
  5. Theories for why my body reacts a certain way, correlations proven and disproven: It’s common.

Condition: Fatigue

  1. Indicators, triggers and causes:
    – When numbness intensifies or spreads from the usual areas
    – Spring and Fall when the seasons change
    – Less daylight in winter
    – More obligations than usual after work or on weekends
    – Workdays that involve constant personal interaction without breaks
    – Relationship stress
    – Big events – both happy and sad!
    – Long periods of added stress
  2. Preventative measures: Track fatigue level daily and adjust activities and treatments based on fatigue level.
  3. Treatments:
    1. Coffee/caffeine:
      Pros: It lessens light or moderate fatigue effectively and temporarily, it tastes good, it’s accessible, I don’t need a prescription, fewer side effects than other methods
      Cons: It can adversely affect sleep and intestinal health. Dosage can only go up to a certain level before getting jittery and anxious. I felt better physically (except for fatigue) when I went without coffee for a month.
      When it’s effective: For minimal to moderate fatigue.
      When it’s not effective: When fatigue is extreme.
      Why I choose this for now: I like it and it fits within my lifestyle. While I need to work in an office setting, it’s helped me maintain.
      Experience: Green tea inflames my throat. Caffeine tablets were harsh on my stomach. I may as well drink coffee and enjoy it.
    2. Rest:
      Pros: It’s helpful
      Cons: It’s isolating, it can conflict with life obligations.
      When it’s effective: At least some rest daily, but more intensive rest needed when fatigue is heavy or extreme.
    3. Modafinil (Provigil):
      Pros: It’s effective
      Cons: It requires a prescription, and my insurance doesn’t cover it. Out of pocket cost was $120 for six pills in 2012. (Could check on this periodically to see if it’s changed.)
      When it’s effective: It can help me get through periods of time when I’m not able to limit my obligations to get more rest. It’s a good temporary option if I can get an Rx.
    4. Exercise:
      Pros: Moderate exercise helps reduce fatigue. It’s good for weight management. It helps keep me mobile and able to experience lots of activities.
      Cons: Hard to always gauge how much exercise is enough and how much is too much. Too much extreme exercise over months can tax my body and lead to more fatigue.
      When it’s effective: When I’m not injured or severely fatigued.
    5. Organization & Prioritization:
      Pros: It lessens stress and frees up mental and physical capacity for reducing stress.
      Cons: It takes a lot of thought and practice to create organization methods.
      When it’s effective: Pretty much always.
    6. Blue light
      Pros: Non-invasive
      Cons: Daily time investment required, and the results aren’t immediate. Hard to gauge if it’s helping or not. It was an expensive investment without any assurance it would help.
      When it’s effective: Fall and winter when the days are short where I live.
    7. Limit activities
      Pros: Helps free up time for rest and sleep.
      Cons: It can get depressing and make me feel like I’m being punished.
      When it’s effective: When I’m still able to do things that satisfy me emotionally.
  4. Experiences with this issue, what’s worked or failed. I used a blue light in 2010 through 2012. I think it helped, and I should pull it out and try it again this winter. I don’t need it in the summer and I forgot I had it. Exercise, rest, coffee, and good nutrition work for daily maintenance. Modafinil works well when I need to keep going for a week or so beyond what my body would prefer. Rest is required to recover from overdoing it.
  5. Theories for why my body reacts a certain way, correlations proven and disproven: Fatigue is the #1 symptom common for people with MS. With so much damaged nerve insulation (myelin), it takes more energy to do common tasks than for someone with healthy myelin. My neurologist explained that the energy it takes a healthy person to walk a mile may be an equivalent of a mile and a half or two miles for someone with MS.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/

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January 2017 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2016-17 Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by multiple sclerosis (MS).

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

Marion Carney-Howard – Cleveland, OH
Winter Fun
Marion Carney - Winter Fun

About the Artist:
“I’m currently a house wife with three sons and three stepchildren for the past year since taken ill. I’m 48 years young and love art, music, dance as well swimming. I’m not a professional artist and sometimes surprise myself at my ability. I think I get my artistic flare from my dad who was a professional artist and photographer.

My art reflects my inner being. My submission is a memory I had of my sons playing outside with their friends and how much fun they were having. The medium I use is Paint Shop Pro and Polyvore as well acrylics and watercolor.”
Read more

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Polar Plunge 2017

On January 1st, we had the honor of attending and being the beneficiary of the 2017 Atlantic City Polar Bear Plunge, hosted by the Atlantic City Polar Bear Club. It was a beautiful, sunny day and hundreds of participants arrived at the Jersey Shore on Sunday morning, eager to plunge into the icy waters to support MSAA and ring in the new year!

As local South Jersey radio station, 100.7 WZXL and Mayor of Atlantic City, Don Guardian began the countdown to the plunge, we felt fortunate to have a large group of supporters spending their New Year’s Day giving back to the MS community. Seeing all the creative plunge-themed costumes and cute animals in decorative outfits was a plus, too!

MSAA would like to extend our thanks to the Atlantic City Polar Bear Club, Resorts Casino Hotel, 100.7 WZXL, and Dab Tech LLC for all of their hard work. Without their dedication, the plunge would not have been possible! We would also like to thank Ventnor No. 7311, Starbucks of Atlantic City and Sam’s Club of Pleasantville for their lovely donations of snacks and coffee for participants. Each organization went above and beyond to ensure everyone had a fun day!

While MSAA staff did not brave the freezing waters on New Year’s Day, we certainly appreciate all of those who did. We hope the chilly water wasn’t too intense, and that you’ll continue to join us next year in Atlantic City. Thank you and Happy New Year!

See more fun pictures of the Atlantic City Polar Bear Plunge on our Facebook page!

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Happy New Year

From all of us here at MSAA, we are thankful for your continued support throughout this past year.

We wish you and your families a safe and happy New Year!

Please note that MSAA offices will be closed on Monday, January 2nd and will reopen on Tuesday, January 3rd.

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Tips to Fight Those Winter Blues

After the excitement of the holidays wind down, the remaining winter months can often seem very long and keep many indoors and away from social activities. To help prevent the winter doldrums, we invite you to check out the following strategies for ideas on how to stay active and engaged in the comfort of your home:

  • Lend your voice. As you may know, MSAA launched its first online MS peer forum this summer titled, My MSAA Community. With more than 1,400 members to date, this safe and supportive community offers tremendous resources and personal insights into managing the day-to-day challenges of MS. Among the most frequently discussed topics include tips on cognition, handling family relationships, symptom management strategies, and much more.
  • Find some happiness. What makes you happy and inspires you? Is it a craft, hobby, or artist expression? Perhaps learning about mindfulness stress reduction, yoga, or aquatic exercise can help improve your physical and emotional outlook on life. MSAA offers an extensive Overall Wellness section on our website at mymsaa.org, providing useful information, resources, informative videos, helpful tip sheets, and more.
  • Take a journey with Christine. Just added to the “Personal Stories” section of MSAA’s Lending Library, Walk of Hope: One Woman’s Journey with Multiple Sclerosis is a book written by Christine Ganger. In this writing, she describes some very raw and personal moments in her life, while also revealing how hope can make the mind and heart overcome the anguish one feels when experiencing similar physical disabilities.
  • Plan your own journey. Now is a perfect time to think warm thoughts and plan ahead for any possible spring or early-summer travels! The Lending Library includes a section on “Accessibility,” and features titles such as: 101 Accessible Vacations, Barrier-Free Travel, and There is Room at the Inn.
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Happy Holidays

From everyone here at MSAA, we wish you and your families a Happy Holiday!

Please note that MSAA will be closed on Friday, December 23rd and Monday, December 26th.  We will be back in the office on Tuesday, December 27th.

Enjoy your holiday!

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