Receiving news of a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis is incredibly difficult. Afterward, it can be challenging to think about what lifestyle changes you’ll need to make in order to improve your condition and day-to-day living.
Do I have to give up my current lifestyle habits in order to slow the progression of my condition? What exactly do I need to give up to achieve that?
How can I make living with MS easier for myself and my loved ones?
The best way to begin is by making small lifestyle changes rather than focusing on big ones, which can be overwhelming and lead to anxiety — something that should be avoided.
Below are a few tips to help make the early stages of living with MS easier and a little more comfortable.
1. Eat a healthy diet and avoid certain foods
One of the best ways to take care of yourself is through diet.
Many people with MS choose to avoid gluten and dairy and focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Some feel that gluten, dairy, and grains make their MS symptoms worse. A major complaint is an increase in fatigue levels.
- saturated fats (red meats, dairy, butter, cheese)
- trans fats (fried foods, cookies, cakes, pastries)
- foods high in sugar (candy, fruit juice)
- foods high in salt (soup, pizza)
- grains (rice, bread, cereal)
- foods containing gluten (noodles, bread, baked goods)
- processed foods (fast food)
While you don’t need to quit all these foods at the beginning, start slowly by cutting out gluten or dairy and see how removing those foods affects your symptoms.
For example, does not eating gluten increase your fatigue levels or provide you with more energy? You know your body best. You’ll need to decide what’s best for it.
Lastly, you’ll want to drink plenty of water, at least 64 ounces per day. While this may seem like a lot, an easy way to up your water intake is by carrying around a refillable water bottle and keep refilling it as it empties. You can also download a water intake app on your phone to help track consumption.
2. Include exercise in your routine
Depending on your personality, you may embrace or scream at the thought of exercising — but exercise doesn’t have to be running 3 miles or enduring a grueling CrossFit class at your local gym. It can be very simple.
On the days when you feel like you have energy, go outside for a walk, tend to your garden, or do yoga. These are all great ways to get active.
If you don’t want to be alone while doing these exercises, you can always invite your friends or family over. Try your best to do at least 15 minutes of exercise when you’re having a good day.
If you’re having a not-so-good day — when symptoms are too much to cope with and exercise seems out of the question — try doing some simple, light stretches in bed, or try some seated exercises.
Don’t push yourself too much, as it may worsen your symptoms. Limit these exercises to 5 or 10 minutes depending on how you’re feeling.
3. Plan your days ahead
Life with MS can be unpredictable. You’ll have good days and bad days. While you can’t anticipate what will happen, you can plan your days ahead.
Planning ahead can begin with setting a weekly or a monthly schedule. You can:
Schedule your doctor appointments at the same time every month
If you have the option, try to schedule appointments the same day of the week, too. This way, you can anticipate and get into a routine without feeling overwhelmed or confused about when and where you need to be.
You can also prepare any questions you may have about MS treatment or your symptoms.
Plan times to relax and rest
MS can make you feel fatigued or exhausted. One of the best ways to fight it off is with rest and relaxation.
Carve out part of your day to unwind and rest. You can select a time that works best for your needs. Some people take afternoon naps, while others may take an hour to themselves and spend it in silence.
Pick a few times of the month when you can meet with friends or go out to social gatherings
Planning ahead for a social event is almost like planning a wedding: You need to pick the best time to get everyone together while taking into account how you’re feeling yourself.
A simple way to schedule social gatherings is to pick a date in advance and pay close attention to how your body is responding closer to the event. Tell your friends how you’re feeling. Don’t feel bad if you need to cancel.
Another option is to host an event at your house and ask friends to bring over snacks and drinks. It helps you conserve energy without having to do much prep.
Living with MS can be difficult and challenging. You may feel like you need to give up all of the things you once loved in order to help cope with your new condition. However, that’s not the case.
The above changes can help you today and in the future. Remember that these are just a few simple ways to help manage your condition and its symptoms and to get you on track to the lifestyle you want to have.