Stress Management Tips

The holiday season is fast approaching.  This time of year brings lots of great things like family traditions, fun activities, and opportunities to celebrate with friends.  Unfortunately, holidays can also be stressful and unpredictable. Dealing with fatigue and managing your MS symptoms can add to your stress if you aren’t careful.

So, here are four tips to help you manage the stresses of the season so you can have happy holidays!

Plan ahead

Planning your holiday schedule of activities in advance can help to reduce anxiety and limit fatigue.  Planning ahead will also help you identify the things you really want or need to do and weed out anything unnecessary or unpleasant.

Relax

It is important during the holidays to take time for YOU.  Even just a few minutes to relax and recharge can reduce stress levels and help you cope with all of the chaos.

Eat healthy

We all know that holidays bring sweet and savory treats, late nights and unusual schedules.  Be sure to stick to a healthy eating plan and reward yourself by having a  few treats during the holidays.

Support

If you are feeling lonely or stressed, make sure you have a close friend, family member or someone you trust that you can call on.  Maybe attend a local support group or call the MS Friends helpline to talk about how you are feeling.  Multiple Sclerosis Friends: 1-866-673-7436

The holidays don’t have to be stressful.  Take a step back and organize your schedule for the holidays, and make sure to take time for yourself.  By doing so, you can enjoy time with family and friends.

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Make Life Easier To Get More Done and Lessen Stress

By Stacie Prada

note-cards-picEveryone I know feels overwhelmed at times.  They forget things, and they accomplish less than they’d like sometimes. I’m comforted when I have an organized life and am not worried that I’m forgetting something. I like to create systems that support me in being organized, simplify my life, and make life easier so that I can exert energy on the good stuff.

To reduce my stress level, frequently I put effort into reducing the number of decisions I need to make and the quantity of things I need to remember. If I don’t have a method for remembering it, I’ll get in a thought loop reminding myself to do it later. After a while, it can be crazy. It’s wasted energy that could be put to better use.

Streamlining things I do repeatedly makes them easier, less stressful, and more likely to get done. Making decisions takes energy. The more decisions I make in a day, the more energy it takes to get through the day. Decision fatigue is real, and when MS fatigue already affects a person’s health it can really lower their quality of life. Given that I want to be productive and maximize what I can accomplish, reducing the number or decisions I need to consider and decide repeatedly frees up energy and time for other things.

Simple ways I reduce the number of decisions daily life requires and ways I make decisions when I’m not in a time crunch are as follows:

  • Lay out my clothes the night before so that I don’t need to figure it out in the morning when I have a time limit for getting ready. I include my underwear and socks so everything is ready for me to get dressed and there are NO decisions to be made. My shoes and coat are ready by the front door, and so are my keys.
  • Create a packing list for things I do or places I go repeatedly. I refer to lists frequently before I go on a bike ride, take a long walk or hike, or go to the pool.
  • When making meals, make extra. Leftovers are easily one of the most time saving and decision reducing methods for reducing stress.  Think about how often you ask yourself what to make for dinner or your next meal.
  • Automate bill payment when possible. For things like electrical or phone bills, set up bill pay so that they automatically get paid with a credit card. I can pay multiple bills in one sitting when I pay my credit card bill. I also don’t need to worry about forgetting to make a payment.

Lots of times it’s not about being unable to do something I want done, it’s about not remembering to do it. It’s easy to forget things if I’m out and about or get distracted at home.  Creating memory triggers helps. Check out these easy ways to stay focused:

  1. Make reusable flashcards. I use 3” x 5” index cards for recurring tasks or habits I want to create. When I remember I need to do a recurring task and can’t do it immediately, I’ll pull that card out or make a new one. I’ll place it somewhere I look frequently. For me it’s the kitchen counter or dining table. It’s a time saver and memory jogger. These reminders are especially great when you share your home. Family members will realize that laundry needs to be done and may help without you asking. They’ll also appreciate that you’re doing things that contribute to the home when otherwise they may not have noticed.
  2. Set a timer: When cooking or doing things where I may not hear the buzzer, I’ll set a kitchen timer or phone alarm. This is great for things like laundry, cooking that requires pre-heating, or pulling something off the stove.  It’s not a failure to need to use these tools. I know people with perfect cognition that get distracted and nearly burn the house down by putting something on the stove and forgetting. The timer is a necessity for reminding me I turned on the oven or put a load of laundry in the wash. I don’t necessarily need to have a reminder card for that (even though it doesn’t hurt), but there are instances when the timer goes off and it takes me a moment to remember what it’s for.
  3. Leave myself a note: When needing to do something later, I’ll put a note in a hot spot I see frequently. It may be a post=it left in the car, at home or on my computer monitor at work.
  4. Put appointments and reminders on the calendar in a mobile phone with an alert.
  5. Create lists for what I need to bring for things I do repeatedly. I have lists for going for a walk, bike ride, leaving town, and getting back from out of town. I also have a pretty standard list of grocery items that I frequently eat. The point is to ease up on the number of times I need to figure out the same thing.

Often the difference between feeling overwhelmed and feeling like things are doable is one task or obligation.  If you’re stressed out and having a hard time getting things done, be brutal.  Remove things that don’t absolutely need to be done the way you’re used to doing them or would prefer to have them done.  What’s the minimum necessary to get it done, and when is the deadline? What can be delayed until tomorrow, next week, or next month? What doesn’t need to be done by you or at all?

Get over the feeling that it’s embarrassing or not okay that you need reminders. I once had a family member laugh at me because she saw my reminder on the counter to “pack” for a trip.  She thought it was absurd that I was reminding myself to do something that was obvious.  Yes, it was needed and obvious, but my simple reminder kept me focused and less stressed.

I’ve learned that a single tracking or organization tool isn’t going to work for everything I want to remember or do. Just like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, email and texting have different strengths and times where they’re appropriate, organization is a compilation of lots of little methods.  Think about what works and why it works for you.  Then build on that.  Where do you need to remember things and where do you frequently look? Make a system that works for you.  It’ll be unique to you, your life, and your priorities.

*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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30… Well Make it 29 Days of Happy

I think it’s safe to say it’s officially fall, the weather has turned cooler (for the most part) the leaves are changing colors and Holidays are just around the corner. I know, I know we can’t rush these things but if some of our stores had it their way we’d be decorating for Christmas on Labor Day…but I digress. This month as we get ready for some of the busiest times of the year we are focusing in on stress and stressors. BUT before we get there I’d like to present an idea, a movement of sorts for this November…. A Month of Happy. I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and at the end thought “A year is a long time to work on this. But if we take it 30 days at a time we should be good” (yes I know it could possibly be the same thing but stay with me).

5374200948_539b10fb1c_z-550x366“Happy,” as we all know, is a subjective term. What makes me happy may not make you happy, or anyone else for that matter. I think that is what makes something like this so important. Because it’s personal to you individually, and you make it exactly what you want. Now there are lots of blogs, planners, charts and How-To guides that will seek to teach you just how to be happy, but ultimately that’s what works for those people, and great for them. What works for you? For the next 30 (technically today is the 2nd so the next 29, but who’s counting) days decide to do one thing that makes you happy (let’s draw the line at one thing that won’t get you into hot water). Go outside and enjoy the leaves, stay in bed all day watching your favorite movies, Pinterest away to your hearts desire and then actually try some of those things. Read a book you’ve had on your shelf, stop in and sign up for that Thai Chi class you wanted to try, eat something you used to love as a kid or none of these things at all. Come up with a calendar and determine that everyday this month you will do something that makes YOU happy. Not for your kids, spouse, boss, family, friends instagram or twitter followers, but just for you. Give yourself permission to enjoy this month before the holidays set in and your plate gets full both literally and metaphorically. Enjoy the time you put into this and you might find that being happy is less about combating the negative or the stressors in our lives and more about making the conscious decision to do something for ourselves. Happy November 🙂

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The American Way of Life for Women (aka spouse, mother, employee, daughter, sister, caregiver, advocate)

By Cindy Richman

Don’t you all agree something’s gotta give? In the twenty-first century I really had high hopes for my daughters’ and son’s futures. I anticipated serious discussion and change around work/life balance issues. Instead we have one disaster after another at home or abroad, and ultimately the entire US government is shut down! No time is spent on how we particularly as women go about improving the business of living our everyday lives.

If you are like me, you live like someone is chasing you trying to get everything done on time and fulfill the many roles you play from a mother, to an employee, to a caregiver. Expectations can be unpredictable and change may come in a moment’s notice. Your child has 102 fever and you need to get to the school ASAP. You worked late and the dinner you planned will take too long to cook and everyone is already starving. You have MS and you promised your son you would go watch his game, but you worked all day and have to work again tomorrow and you feel like you can’t take one more step.

“So what’s the solution?”, you ask? The solution is different for everyone, of course. The solution is particularly challenging when you are living with MS or loving and caring for someone who has MS. Living life in America today without a diagnosis or even a short term illness is really over-the-top to begin with and then adding MS into the mix is really signing on to be superwoman! One of the simple things I think we can all do right away is to try and take just a little bit of time for ourselves.

Beware, you will really have to make a thoughtful effort to do this because many women put everyone else’s needs first and completely forget about what they need. Even if the time is only 20 minutes or less to start, just begin practicing getting back in touch with yourself and being present in the moment. It could be as simple as appreciating the scent in a garden or reading a few lines of a poem that speaks to you before you hear the sound of someone’s voice demanding the next thing on the to-do list. The unpredictable life continues…

*Cindy Richman is the Senior Director of Patient and Healthcare Relations for MSAA

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