Priority Number One: You

At the beginning of a new year, many people make resolutions for ways to make this calendar year better than the last one.  Some of the most common resolutions made at the beginning of the year include: dieting, exercising more, learning to budget money better, spending more time with friends and family, and learning a new language.  One resolution you might consider is learning to prioritize your own wants and needs, especially when it comes to living with MS.

It can feel selfish to focus on yourself and your own needs, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. We are able to give more of ourselves to the people and things we care about when we have first taken care of our own bodies and wellbeing.

Living with a chronic health condition like multiple sclerosis can force you to become better attuned to your body’s needs as the severity of your symptoms change.  Each person knows their body better than anyone, and knows their limitations (whether we choose to acknowledge them or not).  If you feel you need time and space to focus on a particular physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual need this year, make the time to do so.  Family, friends, hobbies, work, social life – they are all important, but so is your overall health and wellbeing.

This year, challenge yourself to create a new habit – choose at least one activity a day that helps you focus on self-care (and let us know in the comments how you are doing it)!

For more information and strategies for overall wellness this year, check out MSAA’s Overall Wellness section on their website.

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Why Self-Care?

Self Care by it’s very definition is “Care of the self without medical or other professional consultation” (or at least that is what Dictionary.com says). The very act of one caring for oneself would seem would be natural and come without thought. Then why is it so incredibly hard for individuals to practice self-care? We spend hours, weeks and years of our lives making time to care for others, putting others needs first and making to sure to be there for those around us who call. And while I’m sure this is incredibly helpful to the friends, neighbors, coworkers and loved ones who we give our time to, we often suffer in the name of others.

Please don’t get me wrong, helping family, volunteering for organizations, being there for friends and coworkers is valuable and vital to building good community and connection, but taking the time for self is vital to you. Often, and I’m probably not alone in this, I feel selfish and self-centered when I turn down working at a community event, changing plans to help a friend move or asking someone else to take something off my plate. But it’s important to remember that “an empty cup has nothing to pour out.”  So if you are depleted, running on empty, feeling emotionally or physically fatigued, not only will you personally feel the weight of it but possibly the interactions you have with others will also be impacted.

What is self-care? That looks different for every person. I enjoy a cup of coffee in the quiet of the morning on my back steps, going to the movies first thing Saturday morning when I’m the only person there and taking my favorite playlist with my DSLR camera and getting lost exploring my city on a beautiful day. Yours may be similar but it may also be completely different.

I’m a fan of podcasts and educational talks. If you have not heard of them, give TedTalks a try. They have a section on the importance of Self-care. And if you don’t want to take my word for why placing an emphasis on self-care is so important, give them a listen as they give ideas, tips and why behind the what of self-care. Listening to their talks may just be an act of self-care in itself 🙂

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Where Has the Time Gone?

It’s (finally) officially spring in the Northern Hemisphere. While temperatures in the spring-like arena appeared earlier than expected in many areas, today marks the official start of the Spring Equinox, and with it the end of another winter.

Spring, like many of the other seasons, helps us to mark the passage of time. One month ends as another begins while we watch as one season gives way to the next. The passage of time can be something that renews us, but for some it can also be decidedly daunting. Preparing for a change or coming to the end of a journey. When we think of our wellness we tend to parse it out into differing categories and label each with action steps to move it along. Time is one of the few things that inches its way into all aspects of our wellness. The time we take to devote to our physical wellness. Setting aside time to recharge and center for mental wellness. Or the time we give ourselves to work thru emotional times to attend to our emotional wellness. Time and for many of us the lack of it in reserve is another aspect we have to consider when we talk about our wellness. Being deliberate about taking time to ourselves when we need it most and even when we don’t think we do. Taking an intentional (as much as is possible) look at the time we spend and what that says about the things that matter to us. It’s been said that “time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters”. Where and what and who we spend our time on has the ability to shape the way we view not only ourselves, but also our wellness.

As spring arrives and we are in the mode of thinking of change, take stock of your personal wellness on all levels. See what aspects of your wellness that you may be spending not enough time, too much time or no time at all on and consider making an adjustment to see how thinking about the devotion of your time will impact your overall wellness.

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Aquatic Exercise and Finding the Right Facility

Exercise is a great way to help maintain strength and endurance in order to better take care of your physical well-being. There are countless varieties of exercise trends and routines, but traditional exercise isn’t always the best fit for everyone, especially individuals with MS, due to the increased physical demand and rising body temperature.  Research conducted over the years has suggested that aquatic exercise is an effective way for individuals with MS to improve their flexibility, fatigue levels, and (most importantly) their quality of life and psychological well-being.

Take, for example, the way aquatic exercise has affected Mandy Iris.  “I can swim as angry as I want.  I can be as sad as I want, but it all just seems to melt away every time I jump out of the pool.  I feel better. It’s invigorating, it makes you feel alive,” says Mandy. Spending time in the pool and swimming a few laps, or just walking around in the pool can not only help strengthen your muscles, but allows you the time and space to clear your mind.

If you are looking to try aquatic exercise for yourself, and you’ve discussed this with you doctor or physical therapist, here are a few of tips for finding the right facility for you:

  1. Location – Find a facility within a reasonable driving distance or that you can get to using public transportation.
  2. Safety and Accessibility – Make sure that you are able to easily move about the facility and pool deck. Also, be sure that you will be able to get in and out of the pool with ease.
  3. Classes – If it interests you, see if the facility offers any aquatic exercise classes you can attend.
  4. Schedule – Find a facility or a program that works with your schedule, including work, child care, and personal preferences.

You can find more tips, resources, and inspiration to get started on MSAA’s Swim for MS Online Aquatic Center at: aquatics.mymsaa.org/aquatic-exercise/

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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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