Come Float with Me…

Not long ago I wrote some about my first trip to see an acupuncturist. It’s a recurring trip that I genuinely look forward to and enjoy. There are lots of other areas where you can find some alternatives that can be added to what you are already doing, or in place of something. Now each alternative therapy may not work for you specifically and you should consult your physician when it comes to any radical changes to your diet, routine or the programs you adhere to. Continue reading

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What are you doing to cope?

If you can believe it, we are already in the month of May! 2017 has been steadily moving along and this month we are looking into the topic of coping. Everyone has their own versions and ideas about how they best cope with, and through, stressful or difficult situations. For years professionals have presented, written about, fine-tuned and zenned over the most positive ways that we can cope. While not every example will work best for every person it’s always great to have some ideas in your back pocket when the need arises. There is nothing wrong with testing a few out to see which ones do not work for you and which ones are your go-to when counting to 10 just does not cut it anymore. You can try:

  • Cooking or Baking
  • Scheduling some time off and stick to it
  • Spend some time with young children or animals (both tend to be care free and some of that may rub off on you during your time with them)
  • Create something artistic (this can be any number of mediums such as music, clay, paint, found objects, writing, photography and the like)
  • Visualization, Meditation. Group or Individual Therapy
  • Physical Activity (this too can be any number of things; swimming, dance, yoga, stretching, sex…yep, you read that right…a bike ride or walk)
  • Give of yourself to organizations you are interested in. Volunteering can not only  help you, but also others
  • Explore something in your area that you haven’t before
  • Get some more sleep
  • Seek out speaking with friends or family and expressing your emotions

We all know that we have some negative coping mechanisms that may help for a short period of time in the moment but still leave us a bit in the lurch. Seeking out more positive ways in which to cope, these or others may help us to set up a more positive pattern to help deal with a negative situation. We’d like to hear some of your positive coping skills or ideas that you’d like to share. Take a moment to check out our thread on My MSAA Community.

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Love Your Pet Day

Many people who have pets will admit that they do not need an excuse to give their pet extra attention and a little pampering, but did you know that there is a National Love Your Pet Day coming up on February 20th?

Having a pet or any kind of animal companion can offer a variety of benefits to anyone.  Whether you are cuddling with a furry family member, or confiding your fears and frustrations to an attentive animal, our pets can reduce our stress levels, providing both physical and mental relief.  Who hasn’t come home after a long day with a desire to just say hello to your pet, give them a pat on the head, or a belly rub?  We can vent our frustrations and acknowledge the things that make us nervous and anxious to our pets, without fear of being judged for our thoughts. They support us without ever needing to actually speak back to us.

As some of our My MSAA Community members have said about their pets:

“Gidget is waiting for me every time I come home.  No matter where I’m at she finds me.  She is wagging from head to tail. I swear she knows when I’m sick because she follows me around like my little shadow.”

“My dog Razor has seen me through 5 ops in 5 years, never left my side.”

“My little kitty girl, Tux, is my daytime companion.  She follows me around and sometimes even rides on the back of my chair.  We like to sit in the sun and watch the birds in the trees in the backyard.”

Our pets are often considered an extension of our family and can easily be considered a care partner for many of us when we aren’t feeling our best.  How has your pet been there for you?

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There’s No Place Like Home…?

So the holiday season is here and for some of us that means a lot of extra time spent with family. Now for many people this is a welcome and joyous gathering; spending time with loved ones and those you may not see all year round is longed for and appreciated. For others, being with family may be a bit more stressful, so one’s strength and will can find that it’s tested more so this time of year. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all family occasions and activities are taxing, they can be very pleasant at times, but there are those moments where we find ourselves maybe wishing we were at Ebenezer Scrooge’s house for Christmas dinner (the Ebbie we see before his change of heart, lol).

I think most of us can relate to those relatives who can bring out the worry, stress and anxiety in us—and for whom we do our best to place a smile on our face and grin and bear their remarks and actions because they come from a place of concern. I know some say that family only wants the best for us, but do they have to work so HARD at it? Tough questions, unrealistic expectations and lingering comments can be very trying to endure, especially for those coping with their own changes or challenges and expectations. No one’s arguing the fact that we do ultimately want to treasure and appreciate the moments we have with family, because we all know that special moments can be fleeting and life can be very unpredictable when it wants to be. But why do some of these moments have to be so hard sometimes? Why can’t we get through a meal or activity without that moment of discomfort because someone asks an unwelcome personal question or comments on something they don’t know anything about?

Again, I’m not saying that all family get-togethers and events bring about these types of feelings; I’m merely trying to validate that these moments do occur for some and they are not without frustration or stress. The question is; how do you approach these more interesting of family encounters, especially around the holidays? What would Ebenezer do? (The changed Ebbie at the end of the tale, that is).

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S-T-R-E-S-S, what does that spell…?

As if the whole year round doesn’t bring enough stress, with the holidays approaching and busy end of year happenings, stress can rear its ugly head two-fold during this time. Stress can have negative effects on anyone’s health, but especially for those living with a chronic illness like MS; this beast can cause additional challenges on other symptoms. That’s why it’s so important and crucial to try and reduce stress when you have any control over a situation and it’s possible to have influence over it. Now this isn’t always the case, because as we all know, life tends to be a tad unpredictable at times so control isn’t always a possibility. However, when you do encounter those moments to change things yourself, make it worthwhile and significant to your benefit. So how can you try to manage stress?

SStay flexible. When things occur that you can’t predict or plan for, the stress we place on ourselves as a result can have real consequences. So try to stay open to change; sometimes it may bring good results.

TTalk to others about the stress you’re feeling. Opening up about what’s going on may reduce the inner stress you’re experiencing if you keep things bottled up inside.

RRest and relax when you’re able to. Your body is stronger at combating stress and illness when it receives the rest and care it requires.

EEnjoy simple pleasures and special moments when you can. Life goes by so fast, so make sure to take in the joyous times and happy occasions to hold onto if and when stress surfaces again, it can aid in the fight.

SSocially connect to others who may have had similar stressful experiences and challenges—it can help to learn some different ways to cope and to also know you’re not alone in this.

SSlow down. There’s no need to try and act like a superhero constantly. We are only human. Take time for yourself, do what you can and are able to, and don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself. You’re already doing your best!

What are some ways you try to reduce stress?                        

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How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference in the New Year

By: Matt Cavallo

While most people are planning for their New Year’s resolutions, many of us with multiple sclerosis are just trying to feel normal again after all the holiday activities. The problem with the holidays is that they take us out of our normal routines and create financial and emotional stress. When we go outside of our normal routine or have increased stress, we unknowingly put ourselves at risk for an MS exacerbation, or relapse.

Last year I blogged, “Tips for Avoiding a Post-Holiday Multiple Sclerosis Flare”, which can be read by clicking here. Those tips include: developing a financial plan, changing eating habits, exercising, getting back on your schedule and setting attainable goals. You can enjoy the holidays, but it is critical to have a plan to get back on track.

Most times my tips come from lessons I’ve learned the hard way. Instead of taking my own advice last year I tried to be super dad and ran myself ragged. I spent the next couple of months trying to recover from the MS fatigue, was unable to take off the extra holiday weight and had to buy new pants with a stretchy waist band.

You see, you don’t have to wait until the New Year for a do-over. Resolutions can start at any time. Mine was to ditch the stretchy pants. I made sure to start working towards it before the holiday season began. I also made a couple of smart decisions along the way.

I took extra time off to make sure that I wasn’t stressed with last minute running around. Taking care of the gifts ahead of time also softened the financial stress of the season, because the costs were spread out. We didn’t stray too much from our regular diet, but did allow some holiday goodies. I also made sure to take extra time to rest. Taking the time off to spend with my family allowed me to be super dad and catch up on rest.

With all of the planning I did ahead of time, I am much less stressed and fatigued than last year. I am also down a couple of pounds and can ditch the stretchy pants. I’m still not exactly where I want to be yet, but I am working on it. A pleasant side effect of implementing a resolution before the New Year is that I actually believe that I have some attainable goals that I can stick to.

What I learned is that I don’t need a holiday to commit to feeling better. I cannot control what MS does to me, but I can control other things like fitting into my pants. Making small changes can have a big impact on how you feel or how fatigued you are. What little changes are you going to make in 2015?

Thank you for your continued readership and support. Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy New Year!

*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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Having a Stress-Free Holiday Season When You Have MS

By: Jeri Burtchell

Each year, I judge how well prepared I am for the holidays by the way Halloween plays out. When I saw my son donning the same scary mask we bought several years ago, I realized I’m as ill-prepared as ever. We’re lucky it still fits, I think to myself as holiday dread settles squarely on my shoulders.

The problem with his costume is not that we aren’t creative, it’s just that life is busy and time slips through our fingers like greased marbles these days. We end up making last minute plans and this Halloween was no exception: get the plastic pumpkin off the top of the fridge and start searching the house for that mask (two hours before Trick-or-Treat officially kicks off). I’m not creating the perfect childhood memories for my son, I fret to myself as I look under the bed for the face from Scream.

The limitations that my MS fatigue and reduced walking ability have placed on me are showing. I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas with the same enthusiasm as I once did. I’m filled with angst as part of me wants the ultimate “joyful” experience, while the other part just wants it all to be over.

But the holiday season is stressful for everyone. The difference is some people thrive on the stress, which they call “anticipation.” But others like myself are filled with dread. Ever since I was diagnosed with MS in 1999 it seems like I stopped looking forward to the time between Halloween and New Year’s Day. I think it’s because I worry about stress triggering a relapse. And then part of me feels guilty because the children in the family aren’t getting the full “magical” experience.

While I do face physical challenges, my MS isn’t the only factor shaping our family holidays. Mom is 91, and though she’s still undeniably the sharpest knife in the drawer, she doesn’t get around as easily as she once did. Still other family members are living with everything from lactose intolerance to diabetes which influences the dinner menu.

But we are managing. Together our family is learning to adjust to our new collective “normal”. We’re redefining what our get-togethers look like. The emphasis is on comfort and ease while downplaying commercialism. So what if the tree isn’t up or we don’t have a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings? We can define the celebration on our own terms.

The holiday dinners will be potluck so that we can each focus on one dish and prepare it ahead of time. Nobody will be banished to the kitchen and make-ahead dishes can be prepared when the cook (or baker) is feeling up to it.

With dinner prepared in advance, we’ll be free to enjoy each other’s company. The conversations, the laughs, the squealing children, and the photo ops will fill our memories of the day.

If Mom has to take a nap or I have to go lay down for a while, that’s okay. Everyone knows we both have our limits.

At Thanksgiving we’ll draw names for Christmas gift giving. Everyone ends up with a present but only shops for one person instead of ten. With a $20 limit and the convenience of online shopping, we can eliminate the stress of holiday crowds. We’re trying to make it more about the get-together and less about “what-did-I-get?”

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve come to learn a lot about managing my MS. I need plenty of rest, I need to eat right, and I need to exercise. But it’s just as important to reduce the stress in my life. Not only is it bad for MS, but for everyone’s health in general. By reducing the amount of effort (and stress) it takes to pull off a family gathering, we’re really looking out for our health.

The holidays should be about family, love, togetherness, and appreciation for every positive thing in our lives.

So when next year rolls around and my son is reaching for the same old scary mask at Halloween, I’m going to go a little easier on myself. The mask can be a new tradition, a symbol of how we can let go of society’s expectations. It will signal the start of a stress-free holiday season and–with the help of my family–I know we can do this!

References:
http://www.healthline.com/video/managing-multiple-sclerosis

*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.

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Planning for a Stress-Free Holiday

With Thanksgiving a little over a week away, many families have already started planning for the holiday season. Who is hosting, who’s making the turkey, and who will be opening their home to holiday guests this season? As if the actual day wasn’t hectic enough, with the shuffling around of foods, the constant chatter, and all of the hugs and kisses; why stress this upcoming week in preparation?

The following tips may help keep this holiday season a little less stressful:

1. Make a plan: Start by listing out each of the tasks that need to be accomplished. Breaking them down into groups can help keep things organized (i.e. cleaning, shopping, cooking).

2. Ask for help: Be prepared to delegate tasks to others. Go through the list and identify tasks that can easily be accomplished by someone else. Family and friends are usually asking, “What can we do or what can we bring?” Use this opportunity to check something off that list.

3. Practice self-care: Take breaks throughout the day; do not push through to finish a check list. Find a good mix of tasks that you enjoy with ones that are less pleasurable; when it comes down to choosing one or the other, always choose the one that makes you happy.

In what ways do you plan for a stress-free holiday?

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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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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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