Sometimes it’s hard to handle a daily routine when living with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:
- trouble breathing
Even simple tasks like chopping vegetables or combing hair can be discouraging on bad days. When symptoms of MS get worse, they are called flares or exacerbations in the medical community.
Because of the physical side effects of the disease, people living with MS are forced to become some of the most creative and clever individuals around. They must come up with new ways to adapt their lives to the challenges. In addition to taking precautions and prescribed medications from your doctor, here are a few other things you can do to try and minimize the occurrence and impact of MS flares.
1. Say YES to less stress
We all know this can be easier said than done, but decreasing everyday stress as much as possible needs to be a priority for anyone with MS. Daily stressors can be challenging enough, and larger, troubling life events can make MS flares worse. If you anticipate going through something stressful in the near future, prepare accordingly. Whether this means speaking with a therapist or setting aside time to Zen out, remember that investing in stress reduction is worthwhile. The negative effects of stress can be as powerful as the beneficial effects of your MS drugs!
2. Practice mindfulness daily
A 2006 survey showed that up to 67 percent of people living with MS use at least one form of complementary and alternative medicine in addition to conventional treatments. Another study showed that meditative exercises improved fatigue and depression symptoms in patients with MS for up to six months. Mindfulness practice means mentally training your mind to be aware of each experience without judgement. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s definitely a good skill to have to fight against the harder days with MS.
3. Keep it clean
Several viral infections — like the common cold, mononucleosis, and even the flu — are associated with MS flares. With that in mind, take precautions to prevent getting infections in the first place. Create a daily routine to avoid germs and keep your body strong: wash your hands, get enough rest, don’t smoke, and avoid others who are sick. And get the flu vaccine every year to decrease your chances of influenza.
4. Pack your bags!
MS flares tend to happen more in the springtime and less in the winter. This trend especially holds true the closer one lives to the equator. So if you already live in a warm climate but have the means to travel in the spring and summertime, try taking a trip to a cooler place. This could decrease your chance of getting an MS flare.
5. Find your tribe
Lastly, don’t forget that you are not alone! The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation estimates that more than 400,000 people in the United States live with MS, with 200 new cases diagnosed each week. Reaching out and joining a local community group or an online forum like Healthline’s Living with Multiple Sclerosis Facebook page can provide emotional support to keep you motivated and educated.
There are many treatments out there for the management of multiple sclerosis, especially when a flare happens. Make sure you see your doctor immediately and get the help you need to get you through the flare. The most common treatment for an MS flare is steroids, but there are a whole range of medications that can keep your MS controlled and decrease your chance of additional flares.
If you end up getting a flare despite your best efforts, don’t feel discouraged! Living with a chronic illness will have its ups and downs. Be patient with yourself, hang in there, and remember that you WILL get through this!
Priyanka Wali is a board-certified internal medicine physician and stand-up comedian. You can follow her on Twitter @WaliPriyanka.