Living Well with Multiple Sclerosis
What is Wellness?
The start of a new year is an opportune time to identify a new goal, or two, that will help you live well; to thrive! What is wellness? Wellness can take many forms: emotional well-being, cognitive well-being, home life, work life, nutrition, exercise, health behaviors, relationships, and spirituality. What does wellness look like to you?
Living with a chronic condition like multiple sclerosis (MS) can present challenges, however lifestyle modifications–modifications to any of the dimensions described above–can improve your state or sense of wellness. New symptoms, progression, even typical aging may bring about a ‘new normal’. This may be different than a previous ‘normal’, however, this does not mean you are defined by MS. You are still you; full of purpose with a life to live. Lifestyle modifications can help you tackle the ever changing new normal; they can improve your physical and mental resilience. Regularly checking in with current circumstances, desired goals, and potential lifestyle modifications becomes a dynamic and active process through which you become aware of, and make choices toward a more successful existence.
Identify A Wellness Goal
Living in a state of optimal health and wellness might mean adjustments in your physical, spiritual, social, emotional, or cognitive health. For example, do you have other health conditions besides MS that have been neglected such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure? Better management of these co-occurring medical conditions could have a positive impact on MS symptoms. Perhaps depression or anxiety symptoms are disrupting your sense of self or your relationships. These symptoms may be creating fear of new experiences, causing you to withdrawal from loving relationships, or triggering doubt that changes will be helpful. Grief or disappointment in the ‘new normal’ may prompt thoughts that it’s not worth trying to work on wellness goals. Improving emotional health often creates a cascade effect: increased motivation, better relationships, and more active participation in all areas of life. What is one wellness goal you would like to set for the new year?
Becoming and Staying Motivated
For most of us, the greatest challenge to incorporating a new lifestyle change is motivation to start and maintaining motivation over time. Below are a few tips for becoming and staying motivated:
- Start Small…Really Small. Often our initial goals are too big. When we don’t accomplish them we lose momentum, get disappointed, and give up. So start small. Small wins build a sense of accomplishment and success. They create a stepping stone towards the larger goal. For example, if nutrition is a goal, identify one small goal you know you can accomplish. Maybe it is reducing your two medium sodas per day to two small sodas per day. After a week or two of success, identify the next step. Can you replace one of those sodas with a more nutritious option? Identify small steps you know you can accomplish and maintain over time.
- Make Your Goal a SMART Goal. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. A SMART goal is NOT, “I want a better relationship with my daughter.” It IS, “For the next 3 months, when driving home from work on Monday afternoon, I will call my daughter and ask about her weekend.” When making your SMART goal keep the following in mind. How will you know when you’ve accomplished the goal – make it measureable? Is it realistic for you, at this point in life, with your current circumstances? Additionally, you are more likely to maintain a new change if it is time limited.
- Identify Internal (e.g., self-defeating thought patterns) and External Barriers (e.g., finances, time, distance) to Success. You can start by asking yourself questions such as: “What is my biggest challenge to adopting this new change?”; “What would need change to ensure success with my new goal?”
- Tell Others About Your Goal. Research shows that disclosing your goal publicly is associated with a greater chance of success. Share the goal with your physician, therapist, family member, or close friend. If any of those individuals are willing to provide feedback or check-in on progress, your chance of success also increases.
Always keep in mind that reaching a state of optimal wellness isn’t only for those who are absent of any health condition, but can be obtained by anyone who works toward it. We encourage you to believe in yourself, knowing that you can live well with MS!