MS Symptoms Flaring? Try These Feel-Better Strategies
A bad day for someone with multiple sclerosis (MS) usually means pain, fatigue, muscle spasticity, brain fog, or muscle weakness. It could also mean dizziness, numbness, or tremors.
But learning to cope with bad days is a skill that you can improve over time, says Kevin Alschuler, PhD, a rehabilitation psychologist at the UW Medicine's Multiple Sclerosis Center in Seattle.
Here are some suggestions for managing multiple sclerosis when symptoms are flaring.
Don't Overdo It
Wendy Durand, BSN, RN, OCN, the lead infusion nurse at UW Medicine's Multiple Sclerosis Center, tells her patients who are feeling bad to limit family and friend obligations and spread out the housework and yard work over multiple days rather than trying to get it all done in a single day or over a weekend. She also suggests doing physically and mentally taxing work in the morning when your body and mind are most rested.
In addition, Dr. Alschuler recommends "pacing," which means alternating activity with rest in order to be productive while giving yourself a chance to recover.
When You Hit a Wall, Rest
Durand's patients describe severe fatigue as "hitting the wall" — meaning the level of extreme exhaustion has gone beyond what most people consider to be fatigue. Although some of them try to push through it, most say that pressing forward during this time is impossible. At times like this, it's important to take time off from work, get rest by taking naps, and reschedule plans to give your body time to recover, Durand says.
Feeling overheated often makes MS symptoms worse. To cope, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society suggests having a cold drink or frozen treat, wearing light clothing, and using bandanas and neck wraps that are specially designed to keep you cool. Staying in air conditioning should also help. In fact, an AC unit could be tax deductible if a doctor writes a prescription for it, and Durand urges patients to reach out to the MS Society to get a free room air conditioner if they can't afford one.
Lean on Family and Friends
Alschuler tells his patients to educate family and friends about MS early on so that they have an MS support system to turn to in a crisis, like those days when multiple sclerosis symptoms are at their worst. If you need it, he says, ask for help with day-to-day tasks and see if someone will come with you to doctor's appointments so you have a companion while you receive care.
Restore Your Energy Supplies
Jill Marie Conway, MD, a neurologist at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, N.C., advises her patients with MS to rely on restorative practices to help themselves feel better physically. That might mean spending some quiet time alone with a cup of tea, taking a walk outside, or doing something else that relaxes you.
Send Stress on Its Way
Although you can't always control the stressors in your life, you can control your reaction to stress, Dr. Conway says. Stress management techniques like mindfulness meditation and yoga can help you do just that. In fact, a review of six studies and six surveys that was published in 2014 in Neurology Research International found that all of the studies showed benefits to using meditation to manage MS symptoms, including improving quality of life and managing pain, stress, fatigue, and depression symptoms.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
"It's easy to get dragged down by negative things over the course of a bad day," Conway says. Making an effort to stay positive may help. Keep a gratitude journal and read through it when you're struggling. Or, use it for writing out three things you're grateful for when you're having a negative moment. Try to focus on what you can do rather than what you can't do, she says.
Join a Support Group
"Many of our patients who attend support groups mention that the most valuable part is being able to interact with other individuals who have lived a day in their shoes," Alschuler says. "Some individuals find that piece alone makes the experience valuable." A support group is also a place to learn more about MS, share your story, hear others' stories, and find the emotional support you need for the bad days.
Stay on Top of Self Care
People with MS are affected more than the average person when they don't take care of themselves, Conway says, and they're also more likely to have frequent bad days. Whether it's a bad day or a good day, do your best to eat a healthy diet, get some exercise, and sleep well. You'll function better over time when you do.
- Last Updated: 10/22/14