Tips for Avoiding a Post-Holiday Multiple Sclerosis Flare

By: Matt Cavallo

The holiday season is behind us. Packed away in the garage are all the ornamental memories of the season. Driving around the neighborhood at night no longer is decorated by blinking bright lights. And while the majority of people are resuming their day-to-day routine, those of us living with Multiple Sclerosis are unknowingly entering the danger zone.

While the holidays are a magical time of year, they also impose emotional and financial stresses upon us. Many of us are looking at our December statements wondering how we spent so much or how we are going to pay off the bills. We are probably also feeling the after effects of all those great holiday dinners and desserts.

As the stress of paying the bills or trying to lose weight begins to build, we are at a greater risk for triggering a Multiple Sclerosis Exacerbation. According to the National MS Society, “an exacerbation of MS (also known as a relapse, attack, or flare-up) causes new symptoms or the worsening of old symptoms.” A 2003 research study concluded that, “stressful events were associated with increased exacerbations in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.” Furthermore, according to Healthline.com, “researchers considered the four weeks following a stressful event to be a high-risk time for exacerbations.”

Considering that the holidays are a stressful event, for those of us living with MS, this stress can lead to an exacerbation. Here are some tips to help minimize the stress from the holidays:

Tips for Minimizing Post-Holiday Stress

  1. Develop a financial plan – as the bills mount from the holidays, create a financial plan to help successfully budget your expenses. You may not be able to pay off the bills right away, but having a plan to pay off debt can help reduce stress associated with financial obligations.
  2. Change eating habits – the holidays include a lot of emotional eating. Not only do we eat larger portion sizes during the holiday, but we also eat more desserts. Use the time after the holiday to get back on track in terms of eating healthy.
  3. Exercise – the stress of holidays and the shorter days of winter make it easy to skip exercising. Exercising reduces stress and can help with symptom management.
  4. Get back on schedule – the holidays force you out of your routine. The stress of getting to these holiday events or finding the energy to participate in these events can be draining for people living with Multiple Sclerosis. Getting back on your established routine can help reduce stress.
  5. Set attainable goals – two weeks after the holidays and some of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions. Revisit the goals that you had to start the year and make sure that the goals are attainable. Setting too high goal expectations can bring about unnecessary stress whereas goals that you can achieve could reduce stress.

As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, understand that the stress of the holidays can leave you at a greater risk for an MS flare up. Managing that stress can help reduce the risk of an MS exacerbation. Exercising, eating right and developing a financial plan are some of the ways that you can manage stress. Following these tips and reducing stress in your life will help you avoid a post-holiday MS flare.

Resources

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

Share

Embracing New Traditions When You Have MS

By: Matt Cavallo 

Some of my favorite childhood memories stem from the holidays. On Christmas Eve,  my Grandmother prepared a wonderful homemade Italian feast followed by a bonfire in the front yard where the whole neighborhood would gather to sing Christmas carols. Although the weather was never above freezing, we were warmed with a sense of unity in song accompanied by the melodic sound of my cousin’s saxophone.

When my wife and I decided that we were going to move away from my hometown in Massachusetts for a new life in Arizona, I knew that I was leaving behind those traditions that I cherished. I also knew that my boys wouldn’t have the same experience that I did growing up. I was worried that I would be depriving my children of those memories that I held so dear.

I had  more pertinent factors to consider in my decision, however. My MS was progressing and I no longer wanted to fight the elements that go hand in hand with living in the Northeast. I love the colors of fall, but I no longer wanted to rake the leaves. There is something so peaceful about looking out the window and seeing the first snow falling, however, the strain of shoveling the driveway and front steps after the snowfall was no longer worth the pain. Life seemed to be becoming too physically draining to really enjoy it.  I knew I was ready for a change but wasn’t sure how to start over. Would a change mean robbing my kids of childhood memories? Was I being selfish by putting my health before my family?

The first winter in Arizona was sunny, warm and free of snow.  Despite the health improvements and ease of my new lifestyle, I was still missing the Christmas ritual and traditions that I grew up with. I decided that I had two choices: revel in the sadness of what I was “missing” or create new traditions to enjoy. I chose the latter.

Maybe this isn’t the case for you. Maybe you have lived in the same place your entire life, but are experiencing limitations due to your disability. Although you didn’t move, you may no longer feel that you can participate in the holiday season the way you used to.  Don’t let these limitations take the joy out of the season you once loved. If this rings true for you, here are some steps to help you embrace new traditions:

  1. Set new expectations – If your disability is affecting your ability to participate in events, try not to relive how you used to participate.  Instead, create new expectations for how to enjoy the same events. For example, if you used to stand up and lead the band, pass the baton. You can still enjoy the music if you sit and listen.
  2. Focus on the positive – It is easy to get down on yourself during this time of year remembering days before your disability. There is an old saying that I love, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right!” Be positive, believe in yourself, and you will enjoy the holidays even if it is different than it used to be.
  3. Take advantage of new technology – If you can’t be there in person, take advantage of new technology to bring you as close as possible to friends and loved ones. Skype or Google+ Hangouts are a great way to participate in an event without physically being there.
  4. Keep your memories alive but update the tradition to fit into your current life – There are certain foods that take me right back to those old days at my Grandma’s house. Learning those recipes and recreating those dinners have been a way for me to remember the past while living in the present.
  5. Tell your story – People around you view you as a fighter for battling your illness. Use this time of togetherness as a way to share your story, allowing the people you are closest to a better understanding of who you are today.

Four years later, our new family traditions are every bit as meaningful as my childhood memories. We have made great friends in Arizona, and we get together to form our own lasting memories for our children. Whether it is taking the kids up to Santa’s Village in Flagstaff or watching a parade of boats decorated in Christmas lights at the lake, these new traditions are every bit as meaningful as singing in my Grandma’s front yard, minus the frostbite.

In many ways, these new traditions make the holidays more meaningful to me. I have experienced a lot of loss with my MS. With that loss, I realize how precious each moment in life can be and have begun to live in the moment and enjoy it. Embracing these new traditions has taught me that this season is still the most wonderful time of the year despite having MS.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Please note, MSAA offices will be closed December 25th through December 30th.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and will respond to all comments and inquiries upon our return.    

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

Share

Why I No Longer Fear the Holidays and Why You Don’t Have to Either (Even When You Have MS)

By Jerri Burtchell

When I was a kid I loved this time of year. Snow on the ground, great food (except for that weird Jell-O salad Aunt Mary always made), and presents at Christmas. Things have changed since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1999. Now a sense of foreboding overcomes me each year, right after Halloween.

I’m not the “bah-humbug!” type, but I do hail from a long line of worriers. Maybe we were meant to be “warriors”, but some genetic mutation caused a typo. Now we fear things our imaginations dream up. The “what if” syndrome. My MS diagnosis has elevated my worrying to a whole new level.

Holiday time is prime “what if?” time for me. What if I can’t navigate the busy malls and grocery stores? What if the handicapped parking is all taken up? What if I don’t have enough money to give everyone gifts? What if this fatigue keeps me from enjoying the family I rarely get to see? And the biggest one: What if all this worrying stresses me out and I end up relapsing?

One Christmas, that changed when our family shared what other families keep secret. We all admitted that gift buying was stressing us out. Not only the act of shopping, but the dent it was putting in our pocketbooks. Our name isn’t Trump or even Kardashian. We don’t have money or personal shoppers. What a relief to know we all felt the same way!

So we started something new. When we gather at Thanksgiving now, part of our tradition is drawing names for Christmas gift exchange. We’ve instantly gone from buying gifts for ten to buying for one. Stress diminished. To take it a step further, we can only spend $20. Now the stress was melting like snow in the spring.

Christmas morning is no longer spent in a flurry of mindless paper shredding as we tear through one present after another. But the only ones disappointed are the cats with less cardboard boxes to explore. We still have the experience of gifts under the tree, but now it’s a single, more thoughtful, often handmade gift.

And we quit competing with Martha Stewart for the most elaborate side dishes and desserts. Not everything has to be perfect. We’re enjoying things on our terms, not those set forth in Better Homes and Gardens.

One Christmas I got a late start putting up the decorations. It seems MS fatigue brings out the natural procrastinator in me. So imagine my panic when I went to get the fake tree from the garage only to find it was now home to a family of mice.

I took a few deep breaths and channeled MacGyver. Before you know it, a big vase was the base for my silver, spray-painted Christmas “stick” – a dead branch I’d dragged in from the yard. With a string of lights and a few baubles here and there, the problem was solved. The best part is, it was cheap, handy, and I finally made use of an idea I’d pinned on Pinterest.com.

Jerri's x-mas treeSo in freeing myself from the stress that comes with striving for perfection, the reward I got was more quality time to spend with those I love–the only gift that counts.

Life passes too quickly and before you can say, “Black Friday,” it’s all over. I can safely say I won’t be lying on my deathbed lamenting over all the bargain basement prices I missed out on. It’s the people in my life and the connections we made that will be my fondest memories.

I won’t be stressing over the perfect gift for someone this Christmas, or if I forgot to put the marshmallows on top of the sweet potato casserole…again. I’m going to be counting my blessings in each smiling face that comes through the door.

So forget what the commercials all tell you to do. When you give yourself permission to lower your expectations of perfection, miracles happen. You have lots of laughs, give lots of hugs, and take lots of pictures. Aren’t those the memories you’ll treasure most in the end?

And that gem of wisdom is my holiday gift to you. (It was handmade and cost me less than twenty bucks – Enjoy!)

References: http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/pictures-multiple-sclerosis-psychological-changes

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

Share

Vote for your Favorite Thanksgiving Card & spread awareness about Multiple Sclerosis

For the third year in a row, MSAA is conducting a Thanksgiving Card Competition! We have six online Thanksgiving Card candidates (shown below), all vying for the top spot as MSAA’s most-popular Thanksgiving Card for 2013.

Vote for your favorite Thanksgiving card

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please vote and then watch to see if your favorite card will emerge victorious! Once the voting is over next week and the selections are tallied, we’ll let everyone know which card is the top choice to email to friends and family, wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

To vote for your favorite online card design, please visit our Thanksgiving election poll (or go to support.mymsaa.org/voteforcard).

Share