For most, the new year comes with excitement of what’s to come. For those of us who battle MS, the new year comes with its fair share of worries, challenges and anxious thoughts of what the new year may bring. We reflect on our past year, perhaps your MS got worse, and you’re worried it won’t get any better, or maybe you are finally considered “stable”, and you’re concerned it is too good to be true and you will get worse. However you choose to look at the new year, we all worry one way or another. I am here to tell you that you are not alone.Continue reading
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…
By Stacie Prada
Sometimes it seems that advice for better health sounds like we need to do more, be better, and just generally suck it up buttercup. I’m not impressed by stories of people saying, “If I can do it, anyone can do it.” It completely ignores the fact that the other person had a challenge and may not have been able to do it at a different phase of their life. It also may be something that they won’t be able to maintain for the rest of their lives. It basically ignores the individual circumstances of our own physical health, lifestyle and obligations. We all have different demands and limitations, and we should only compare ourselves to where we are now and where we want to be given our interests and preferences. That said, other people’s stories often inspire and motivate me to take the next step on something I’d like to accomplish.
After my MS diagnosis, I read the suggestions to swim and do yoga. I realized that I was very reluctant to do yoga, but I didn’t have a specific reason. I’d tried yoga videos, but they didn’t hook me. Later I realized that my reticence was likely because it seemed like it would be admitting that I was giving up on doing gymnastics. It seemed like accepting defeat. Once I went to a yoga class years later, I loved it so much I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to try it! To be fair, I was busy. I was active doing other things. Life was full and doing yoga seemed like another thing I “should” do instead of something that I would enjoy.
More recently I started swimming, and it took me a while between knowing it was a good idea and actually going to the pool. My reluctance to swim was more based on proximity, convenience and feeling slightly intimidated about all of the associated unknowns. While talking with a friend about swimming, I shared that I was starting to think about my exercise schedule as a two week or monthly schedule instead of weekly. With this approach, I could aim for doing certain activities once every two weeks or once a month. That goal made it suddenly desirable and motivating for both of us to go to the pool. By reducing the idea of success, it removed the barrier of over-committing or setting myself up for feeling like I’d failed if I didn’t continue. Once we got to the pool and swam a few laps, we were a bit giddy about how good we felt, what an excellent workout it was, and how well we each slept that night. Again, why did I wait so long to start swimming?
I’m not going to dwell on the past, but I do want to learn from these experiences. If something interests me, next time it might be good to think about the following:
- Can I try it once without committing to a regular schedule? It’s not all or nothing, and it won’t be failure if I decide not to continue.
- Do I know someone who does it and will give tips about what to expect? This can help reduce feelings of intimidation or nervousness about new surroundings, people or experiences.
- Did I used to do it and enjoy it? If so, why wouldn’t I now?
- Do I have a friend willing to go with me? This makes for great bonding and mutual encouragement for healthy habits.
- Do I need special clothing or equipment? Try goodwill or other second hand shops for inexpensive gear so that I’m not out much money if I decide not to continue it.
MSAA advises people with MS to consider swimming and yoga for good reasons. They’re easily adaptable to different skill levels and physical abilities. They both are a bit meditative for me, and I’m relaxed even after intense workouts. They work lots of little muscles in my body in a gentle yet strengthening way. Plus, I always sleep better on days I’ve done them. I love when I incorporate good habits into maintaining my health even when it takes me a while. I hope to be able to keep yoga and swimming as part of my ongoing activities even if they’re only a few times a month. That’s still success.
*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/
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.
I am not nor have I even been a “gym rat.” The one year in school I did a sport I picked track. Each person had to pick three events. I picked discus, hurdle jumping, and the long jump. Most of my time was spent lounging on the grass with my friends while we talked and let the real runners go around the track (you could only throw discus or do hurdles when the areas were set up).
Nowadays when I read fitness articles about people running marathons or races I am glad for the people involved and happy to hear about them meeting their own goals and objectives. But I know I am no runner and never will be. In fact, running causes me exercise induced headaches.
But here is the important thing, after trying many activities over the years I don’t let the gym intimidate me anymore. While there are things I know I don’t want to do or that don’t make me feel good (i.e. running) I have also found activities which make me feel strong, and competent, and healthy.
Yes, my arms might be the equivalent of small twigs, but put me on the rowing machine and I am a goddess. For 20 minutes on the rowing machine I can glide back and forth and feel l that I am powerful and going somewhere with my fitness.
I have also learned not to let other people’s perceptions impact my choices. For a tiny person I also enjoy lifting. Yes I might max out at lifting 30 lbs., but 30 lbs. for me is really good. I’m not trying to be a body builder, just improve my own health and wellness, so I’m not going to care if I’m the only woman on the lifting machines or that my weight limits are low.
Finding a fitness activity or plan that works for you is the most important thing in maintaining a plan, and by choosing something that makes you feel strong and powerful and energized you have a built-in incentive to keep going back.
What activities motivate you?
For many, the New Year brings along new promises and new goals for healthy living. Making better choices and eating healthier come hand-in-hand. Over the years, I have adapted some techniques that I think have helped my family to make better food choices, and I wanted to share them all in this blog.
First, in order to make healthy food choices, you have to surround yourself with healthy options. If you don’t buy junk food, or have it in the house, you are more likely to make better choices. Let’s be honest, if it comes down to a cookie or an apple, I am pretty sure I’ll choose the cookie. But if it’s between an apple and some strawberries, it’s a win-win situation! By planning what is available to you, you are setting yourself up to make good choices.
The grocery store can be very intimidating and stressful, especially if you are hungry, which brings me to my next point: always have a snack or a full meal before shopping. This will prevent the cravings purchases, and you won’t be distracted by your stomach. It helps to have a grocery list with you and to only purchase what is on your list. I like to look at the store circulars beforehand and make note of the sales and write these items down on my list. Only purchasing the items on my list helps me to make better choices, as well as helps with my food budget.
Speaking of food budget, one thing that I have found helpful over the past couple of months is creating a weekly “menu” for my family. Usually on Sunday, I will pull together my local circulars and look at the sale items. The majority of my food budget goes towards purchasing meats, so this is where I start building my meals. I have my “go-to” recipes and start from there. Maybe chicken with vegetables one night, some form of pasta another. Eventually I have formulated a “menu” for the week. Now looking at my menu, I will create a list of the ingredients I will need for those items, and place them on my grocery list. This helps to ensure that I purchase everything in one trip, for all the meals I will be making that week.
The food menu has helped my family make better decisions when it comes to eating. Knowing what is for dinner and knowing that I have the ingredients to make it prevents the “oh no, what should we do for dinner” scenario-which often leads to bad choices!
It took a while for this to become a practice in my house, and this may not work for everyone. I encourage you to take a look at your food purchases and try to make some changes that will work for you.