End of Year Reflections

There’s a song lyric that says “It’s hard to remember we’re alive for the first time. It’s hard to remember, it’s hard to remember, we’re alive for the last time” (Modest Mouse). This poignant sentiment sums up a lot about our daily lives.

When you’re in the thick of your day-to-day routine it is easy to become bored or stagnant. When you are struggling with something it can be reflexive to focus only on the challenges and obstacles in your way as opposed to the strength and persistence required to make it through.

It’s easy to get caught up in just another day and forget about the wonder and marvel of life, and all the precious moments that you get to experience. True, not all moments are wonderful, but when you lose the spark of hope and wonder you lose something bigger and not just your inner philosopher.

First, cut yourself some slack, nobody gets everything right. Reflect and recognize that each day is a new one. If you are so inspired you can chose to think that with each day comes opportunity and choice. We may not be able to control everything but we can control some things.

Second, remember that no one’s life is endless. When reflecting on your own precious life you may find that there are opportunities and adventures you want to undertake. As 2014 winds down think about the journeys (metaphorical and physical) that you want to take and write them down. Some people might call it a bucket list, you may never get to all of them but you can keep trying and remembering.

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National Day of Gratitude

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
― William Arthur Ward

Thank someone on National Day of GratitudeRecently on Facebook, a trend has emerged where individuals are challenged to list three things that they are thankful for and re-post three new things for five days in a row. At the end of the five days, they are to nominate other friends to complete the five-day challenge.

Although sharing feelings of appreciation or value can occur on any day, sometimes it takes a nomination from a friend, or a national “holiday” to remind us to share those thoughts with others. The expression of personal emotions and feelings are often the most difficult to convey. Assumptions are made that the other party understands our feelings without ever discussing them. But as the quote at the top illustrates, having gratitude means nothing without sharing it with others.

So while it is important to personally remind ourselves of the things we feel grateful for, it is also important to share it. Writing a letter, posting to Facebook, or making a phone call are some of the ways to reach out to someone to say that you are grateful for them.

This Sunday, September 21st is the National Day of Gratitude. In what ways will you show your gratitude? Leave a message in the comments section to share your appreciation and gratefulness.

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It’s all relative.

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Sometimes it may seem like things are spiraling. Maybe the bills are piling up, the stress level in managing home life or work is rising, and you are worried that you are headed for an MS Relapse if you keep going at your current pace. When things feel like they are outside of your control, it is easy to “cycle”  or consistently think of the negative aspects of what is going on. The whirlwind of negativity can affect not only your mood and health, but also your relationships and ability to accurately read cues from others and be empathetic.

When your co-worker is acting totally checked out and you are annoyed that she hasn’t helped you with a joint project, you might think she is acting uncaring, but maybe she didn’t tell you her brother is very sick in the hospital. When the dentist office calls for the third time to cancel your appointment and you just feel like screaming at the scheduler, you may not know that she is stressed out because other office staff keep flaking out on their scheduled appointments and making her job harder.

Yes, it is okay to have a bad day or a bad week. It is okay to not put on a “fake it ’till you make it” smile when you feel like nobody understands what you are dealing with, but when you start to get caught up in the negativity tornado and are on the borderline of snapping, remember that everyone is dealing with something. Yes, some of those “somethings” are more manageable than others, but they all impact and make a difference in the lives of the people living them. Focusing on the idea that everyone is living their own journey with different successes and challenges can help us to maintain balance; we are not alone for the ride. When things start to spiral, try to remember that everything is relative.

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Time to wind down…

After a long and seasonably warm 4th of July holiday weekend, it may be time to relax and recover a bit from the weekend’s festivities and weather. A long holiday weekend can tire anyone out, and for those with MS, the heat index does not add favorably to the situation. Spending time with loved ones and friends, though enjoyable, can be tiring as well, so make sure to focus on your needs and health after these get-togethers. Take some time for yourself-retreat to cooler environments, take a stroll in the evening to unwind, or settle down with a hobby or activity you favor. Taking a time out from busy activities can help you catch your breath and get back into a routine that works in your day to day.

What do you do to wind down?

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Making the Best of a Bad Situation

By: Matt Cavallo

In terms of the heat, spring is quickly turning to summer in Arizona. Daily temperatures are already constantly in the nineties, creeping closer to triple digits every day. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, this is a problem. As the heat levels increase, so does my fatigue. Each day for me is becoming a battle of will and determination to accomplish simple, everyday tasks. My refuge from the heat is to hibernate in my cool, air-conditioned house.

Recently, I was at work and received a call from my wife that I wasn’t expecting. She told me that the central air-conditioner in the house went out. She went on to say that the AC repairman said the motor was dead and the entire unit needed to be replaced. The sticker shock of what a new AC unit costs was another blow, but with my MS, there was also no way I could afford not to replace the AC.

As I hung up the phone, I started to feel defeated and stressed. It always seems that just when I am starting to get ahead, I figure out a way to fall behind. As I reflected on the situation, I realized that it was out of my control. So what was I to do now? There are all kind of events in life that we don’t plan for, and this was a big one. I could let the worry, stress and financial considerations of the situation bring me down into a negative place, or I could look deep inside myself and somehow find the positive.

I decided that I was going to be positive. The AC was twenty years old, too small for the house and a real drain on our energy bill. We had talked about replacing it for years and this situation was forcing our hand. When I put it in my mind that getting a new AC was good for us, the negative circumstances started to change. We had a friend that could install the AC for a reasonable price. The vendor didn’t have the AC unit in stock that we purchased, so for the same price they gave us a bigger, more energy efficient unit. That unit then qualified for a $500 tax credit. The best moment, however, was the joy my four year old received as we watched the crane remove the old unit and then put the new unit on the roof. He was so excited to see the construction that it made me excited to share in that moment with him.

When life throws unexpected challenges at you, how do you handle them? You can choose to be negative or positive. I choose to make lemonade out of lemons and then pour myself a nice big glass.

*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/

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What makes you smile?

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Have you ever noticed that smiling can be contagious? That it’s hard not to smile or laugh when someone around you is? I’m not saying that life is always known to be a smile fest, as there sure are obstacles and challenges that the road of life brings, but smiling and seeing or experiencing joy can definitely raise one’s spirits. In a world that becomes hectic and chaotic in the day to day, some smiles can go unnoticed; people still smile at one another at a grocery store, or while holding the door for someone, don’t they? It’s hard to tell sometimes, because most people are rushing through their day just to get everything accomplished, and kindness and joy sometimes go unobserved.

What would happen if you slowed down long enough to take a look around you – to notice people smiling and acting kind to one another? Even though there can be dark moments in the world, there are still some who wish to radiate joy and hope to spread it to others, especially during difficult times. So try it! Try noticing others around you, those expressing joy and smiling from ear to ear at something that brings them happiness, and think to yourself – what brings me joy? And practice embracing that joy, in your day to day…

So what makes you smile?

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Which half do you see?

rsz_middle-aged_caucasion_woman_thinking_and_reading_a_paperOptimism – the typical description is if you see the glass half full, you are an optimist and if you see the glass half empty, you are a pessimist.  It can be very empowering and reassuring to view the glass as half full. In most situations, having a positive outlook can help to impact the situation in a beneficial way.

To get more theoretical though, sometimes it may be helpful to remember it is just a glass with water and analyzing our perceptions and personal filters can help determine how they impact our outlook on life. In other words, the facts are the facts and the way we perceive a situation and our resulting emotions are usually based on personal filters of what we believe is good/bad, moral/immoral, happy/sad, etc.

Take for example when you meet a new boyfriend, people may say that you look at him “with rose-colored glasses,” meaning you cannot yet see or choose to ignore his apparent faults because you are so newly engaged in the love feeling that you are ready to brush those other concerns aside. At the end of the day, when your rose-colored filter is removed, you may be willing to deal with the shortcomings or challenges involved with that relationship, or you may be ready to hit the road running in a different direction.

In that scenario, if a person was able to view the actual situation and set aside their personal filter, they might know earlier on in the relationship that their partner is not a good match. Conversely, they might set aside someone they deem too difficult or different when if they had used a rose-colored filter, they may have given the relationship a chance and later found out that their difference could be compromised or overcome.

So back to the glass of water…ultimately, your mind may jump to one assessment or another (half-full/half-empty). While there may be benefits of viewing things one way or detriments to viewing it in another way, sometimes, especially in challenging situations, being more analytic and viewing the glass as a glass may help you to ascertain what personal filters or perceptions may be coloring your thoughts, emotions, and actions. When the glass always looks half-empty, it may be a good reminder to keep analyzing the glass and your own perceptions.

 

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Developing New Ways of Thinking

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“Optimism is like a muscle. Gets stronger with use.”-Robin Roberts

Taking an optimistic view rather than focusing on negative thoughts can benefit your overall mental well-being. While it might take some time, eventually you may find that thinking positively starts to come more naturally. Consider putting some of the following tips into practice.

List five things that you are grateful for right now. Let this practice become a part of your daily or weekly routine. It may be helpful to hang your list in a spot where you may come across it often, so that you can take a moment to think about what you are grateful for.

Live in the present. Too much focus on future and past events can distract our minds from what is important today. Meditation and yoga can help in centering the mind and body, allowing you to identify with yourself in the present moment.

Surround yourself with positive people. Positive thought patterns are contagious, so surround yourself with people who make you happy and are optimistic.

Positive thinking and optimism does not come overnight, and you do not need to be a positive perfectionist. It may be challenging to try and find the positive in every aspect of your life – health, finances, relationships, and/or work. Focusing in one area will aid in building the skills to transfer into the other areas of your life.

What helps you to maintain positive thoughts?

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Reducing Internal Stressors and the “and, AND, AND” Mentality

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Stress is something that everyone confronts in their lives. Stress broadly falls into two categories – external stressors where another person or entity is pushing you harder and asking for more, more, more (more of your time, more of energy both physical and mental, and more than you can handle). I think everyone is familiar with the external stressors- a school deadline, a boss that keeps piling more on your plate, appointments and activities you need to get to…these can all add external stress.

The other lesser acknowledged form of stress stems from internal pressures. Internal stress arises when you place restrictions, parameters, and deadlines on yourself, where you strive harder and work longer and try to be “perfect” or to be everything you think you can and should be for everyone and more.

I’ll give you an example. The schedule says you work from 8-5 and get an hour for lunch, that is the schedule you are paid for BUT the phone is ringing, and a new project is assigned, and the work is piling up (external stressors) so your internal response is to come in a little early and only take 20 minutes for your lunch breaks and maybe on some days you stay a little later too. Before you know it you are working 5-10 additional hours each week. Sure you are getting the work done but you aren’t being compensated extra, and everyone else is taking their lunch breaks.

Sometimes people use internal stressors because they are motivated by something specific (i.e. if my boss sees me accomplishing so much maybe I can earn the promotion, and some day make it to the corner office) or maybe you love your job and are motivated by what you think you can accomplish (i.e. I’m saving the world one day and one life at a time, GO ME!) but whatever the reason at some point those additional self-imposed stressors will catch up to you. And frankly at the end of the day while your boss might acknowledge all of your hard work it is just as likely that they will raise their expectations of you, so that without a big promotion you are stuck doing all the extra work and if you try to cut back on the “extras” your boss may wonder why you can’t accomplish what you used to!

These internal stressors don’t just apply to the workplace, they may cause anxiety over what you need to do-“I’ve got to clean the house before Janice comes over to visit, but when will I have the time and energy.” If Janice is truly a friend she will understand that life got in the way and that your house can’t always be impeccable. Don’t worry, Janice already knows that you are human.

You may be asking why is it important to acknowledge when a stressor is internal or self-imposed and try to reduce those actions or thought patterns. Stress is well known to impact health. Stress has been attributed to developing or exacerbating changes in mood such as increasing worry/anxiety, but stress has also been linked to physical health including affects to sleep, cognition, and increasing levels of burnout/fatigue. On the more severe end of the spectrum, stress has been linked to heart attacks, ulcers, and has also been correlated with MS Relapses among other health issues. So, while you may not be able to stop your boss from dumping 500 projects on your desk or keep your house in a perpetually spotless state, you can put in place an internal protection system: Remind yourself that there will always be work for tomorrow no matter how much work you do today, and that friends, family, and neighbors don’t expect you to be “perfect.” Finally, let yourself know that it is okay to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be your own worst enemy, prioritize your health and try your best to stop or reduce that internal voice saying and, AND, AND.

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Wait a second, did you get that?

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Being able to effectively communicate with others is one of the most basic human needs and functions. Babies and young children cry or throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want or need because they haven’t discovered any better ways to express their concerns or desires. They need to be heard, but they can’t express their concerns directly so they resort to raw emotion and yelling to get their needs met.

As we grow older, we are taught that there is a time and place for everything and that generally when speaking in public (school, work, etc.), you need to do your best to control your emotions and try to calmly verbally address your needs or concerns. For example, in a business meeting while you might feel like rolling your eyes at an inane comment, or may even feel like yelling when your point hasn’t been heard or addressed after asking for the 100th time, responding in either of those ways in a work setting is likely to get you a reprimand at best and unlikely to get you what you really wanted (for example a shorter meeting with highlighted objectives, or a specific problem or concern to be addressed).

These communication issues don’t only happen in the workplace setting as you might have times where you feel like your doctor is just not hearing what you are saying or a relative is being insensitive or un-relatable. When you end up in these frustrating situations, you might have the impulse to cry or yell, and sometimes that might supersede your public decorum, but these also may be good times to evaluate your situation and how you could better try to communicate your need.

So how do you take a step back when you need to make sure something is heard?

You may need to take five minutes before speaking to give yourself time to process a more tactful response. You might pretend you are re-explaining the situation to a totally
Older male doctor with laptop talking to middle-age male patientdifferent person. You may also ask the other person to repeat back to you your concern in their own words, so you can make sure they “got it.”

Feeling misunderstood or like no one is listening can heighten your anxiety, stress, and frustration around a situation. Others can contribute to misunderstandings and miscommunications if they are not being active listeners and receptive participants in the conversation, but try to do your part. Try and emote effective communication. If the other party really is not listening, or you can’t overcome personal barriers, you can try to remediate the situation by going to others with your concerns (in the worst case scenario finding a new doctor or changing jobs…. although I’m told you can’t get a new family).

Can you share your tips for how to communicate better in difficult situations?

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