Practical Steps to Lessen the Stress of MS
Daily life is filled with small stresses that can quickly add up to be bigger ones. In other words, it isn’t any one thing — such as struggling with the buttons on your blouse, getting stuck in traffic, or misplacing the notes for your first meeting — that wears you down. Instead, it’s the fact that they all happened before your morning coffee and you’re behind schedule before the day has even started.
So that you don’t get bogged down by the small stuff, here are suggestions for eliminating some of those pesky problems:
Give yourself extra time to get where you need to go. Feeling rushed all the time is uncomfortable for everyone, but it’s even worse when you’re dealing with a bunch of MS symptoms that slow you down.
Organize your living and work spaces so that everyday items have a regular home. Nothing is more stressful than spending half your time looking for the stuff you need (and the other half trying to maneuver around the many piles littering the floor).
Do things the easy way rather than the hard way. Take shortcuts whenever you can, use the best tools that assistive technology (AT) has to offer, and call in the troops when you need help.
Build rest times into your day. Once you’re exhausted, everything feels more stressful. Taking the time to refresh your body and your mind will help keep stress at bay. And let your family know that you’re not available during those rest times!
Every day, think of one thing you want to do just for yourself, and then make sure you do it. It’s easy to spend all your time doing things for other people — your partner, kids, boss, and colleagues are all lined up with demands on your time and energy. Taking the time to do something for yourself isn’t selfish — it’s essential to your well-being.
Plan ahead. Feeling more prepared for various tasks always makes you feel less stressed. Here are some tips to help you plan:
Organize your tasks (household chores, errands, work activities) in chunks that make sense. Rather than running around helter-skelter, figure out all the activities that need to be done in a certain part of town, in the basement, or on the floor where the photocopier is, and then take care of those things all at the same time. Being strategic is a lot less stressful than running yourself ragged.
If going to the supermarket wears you out, plan your trip ahead of time. Use a standardized grocery list that’s organized according to the aisles in the store (your store may actually have one of these).
Check off the items you need that week and go only to the aisles where they are. Besides taking less energy, this strategy cuts way down on impulse buying, which can save you money! If fatigue or weakness are dragging you down, take advantage of one of the store’s scooters to zoom through the aisles. And asking a family member or neighbor to pick up a few items for you is okay too.
If you’re traveling, do an accessibility check well ahead of time. Be specific about what your needs are so that you get the appropriate accommodations when you arrive.
If you’re getting lost more while driving, use a GPS, or plan your route ahead of time and carry a set of directions in your car. If you do this for every trip, you’ll have a handy file of directions in your glove compartment. Just be sure to write or type them in large size print so you can see them easily while you’re driving.
If you have bladder issues, don’t wait until you have to pee to figure out where the nearest bathroom is. Scope out the bathrooms as soon as you arrive at a new place so you won’t have to stress about getting there on time. Or check out one of the new downloadable apps for locating bathrooms wherever you are.
If you’re stressed out about an upcoming event, take time to plan it out in your head (or write it down if that makes you feel better). Try to sort out what you’re worried about and rehearse your strategy for dealing with it. Mastering something successfully in your head is the first step to mastering it in real time.
Keep a firm hold on your sense of humor. Your humor can get you through a lot of stuff and can help you defuse stress along the way.
The examples are endless. What they all have in common is the fact that they help you feel more in control, which means you feel less stressed. For many more ideas, take a look at the book, 300 Tips for Making Life with Multiple Sclerosis Easier, second edition, by Shelley Peterman Schwarz (Demos Health).
Another good way to relieve some of the pressure on yourself is to make the best possible use of your available resources. No matter what problem you’re trying to solve, you can bet that someone or something out there can help. It may be a person with the expertise that you don’t have, a tool or mobility aid that you’ve never considered before, or just a ready source of good information.
Any time you’re feeling as though everything is sitting smack on your shoulders, let your fingers do the walking — in the phone book and on the Internet — to see what’s out there for you. Call the National MS Society (800-FIGHT-MS or 800-344-4867) for help in locating national and local resources. And visit your local bookstore because you’re likely to find a For Dummies book on just the right topic.