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Goal Setting And Lifestyle Changes: A New Year, A New You With MS

By Mary Pettigrew
Goals_2020__Sqaure-(1).jpgHappy New Year! This is the time of year most of us tend to reflect on the   past and focus on the future. We think back on the good, bad and the ugly   from last year and for some of us, we begin to take stock of the things we   want to change or do differently over the coming year. Whether you make   resolutions or plans or set goals for the New Year, it’s important to be   specific and realistic in your plans and ideals. If there are certain areas you   want to address, it’s important you are motivated to achieve such changes.   Your goals should be considered a priority, but use caution not to   overextend yourself with too many goals you can’t handle. This will only set   yourself up for frustration and self-destructive feelings. Even if you decide on one small goal, that’s enough – just make sure you are able to devote the time and focus needed to achieve, then begin to take the steps necessary to succeed. Goals are not to be part of a “to do” list as if to be checked off upon completion, goals take time, work, and practice. Like habits, they are to be ingrained into your lifestyle. 

It’s always a good idea to do a general overview of where you are versus where you should be or want to be. Take a look at all aspects of your life (health, family, activities, home, etc.) and decide if things need a change. If change is necessary, make a list of such things and choose those items which you consider to be top priority along with action plans as to how you want to move forward. When setting goals, it’s important they be specific, attainable, relevant, and reasonable to achieve.

In “Centering”, poet and artist M.C. Richards said, “Centering is a verb… an ongoing process…a way of balancing, a spiritual resource in times of conflict, an imagination… an alchemical vessel, a retort, which bears an integration of purposes, an integration of levels of consciousness.” 

Here is a sample list of seven items, most of which many of us will find relatable. When you become cognizant of the things in your life that are troublesome, unhealthy, and in need for improvement (or even a radical change), then you’ve taken the first step towards a healthier you. 

* Clutter Management – This is a biggie for me and it is tops on my list of ongoing goals to achieve as well as implement for the remainder of my life. My closets, computer and paperwork are most problematic. Clutter adds to confusion and injury – if we can’t easily navigate in our surroundings, we’re more at risk of falling, misplacing meds, and important documents. Clutter can negatively affect day-to-day activities, causing such an overload of stimulation, people with MS are left feeling so overwhelmed they don’t know where or how to address anything. Therefore, they ignore it and it becomes all the more hazardous. It is critical patients find a way to address clutter management in order to improve activity, functionality, cognition, focus, stress, and other areas of a physical/emotional nature. If you can’t address clutter on your own, ask for resources or help from your doctor, therapist, friends or family. Jennifer Kalina, OTR/L, CCRC and The MS Care Center in New York conducted an intensive study on clutter management and how it affects people with MS. In 2014 the full report was published by The Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers and can be found here. https://ijmsc.net/doi/full/10.7224/1537-2073.2013-035

* Sleep Hygiene – Sleep is nature’s way of rejuvenating/healing our bodies so that we can function day to day. Sleep is critical for brain health, it cleanses the information we absorb each day and allows room for new information. Lack of sleep can create other health hazards as well, so talk to your doctor if you need help. Avoid potential disturbances which interrupt REM sleep - turn off your cellphones (or keep in another room), turn off TV, keep pets off the bed, don’t eat anything for at least a couple hours or longer before lying down in bed to avoid acid reflux or other GI issues. Full disclosure: These things I just told you not to do, I still do them. But, I’m determined to do what’s needed to break these habits, just not today.

* Time Management – Keep a calendar of sorts to stay on top of important dates and activities. Try not to cram too much into one day. When things start to pile up, be proactive and reschedule phone calls, appointments, or activities which can wait. Stay on top of doctor appointments and other healthcare needs. Set appointments before you’re overdue. Monitor your social media time, are you actively using it or are you mindlessly scrolling? 

* Exercise – Whether you are mobility challenged or not, there are more options and programs which target fitness for people with MS. More findings continue to reveal the importance of exercise and MS as it relates to physical/functional improvement and brain health. Improvement in fatigue levels, mood, cognitive reserve/atrophy, balance, and gait are some examples to consider. Keep moving! Contact your doctor or MS Focus: the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation for assistance (i.e., home equipment, classes, trainers, etc.)

* MindfulnessFind and maintain balance in life. Are your actions and choices working for you or not? Take notice of how you spend your time and ask yourself how they affect your health (mental/physical), goals and areas of social, family and personal life. Balance is key, so is worthwhile productivity, fulfillment, and happiness.

* Self-Care – Ask yourself today, what makes you feel happy or more whole. It could be time to make some changes here. Remove yourself from the things which are unrewarding or cause undue stress – do the same with the people you surround yourself with. Maintain the activities/people most valuable and allow yourself the time and opportunity to explore new territory. 

* Spirituality – Find your peace, feed your soul, and avoid toxic noise. Free yourself from negative thoughts of the past, or things you can’t control. Free yourself by forgiving those who’ve wronged you. Stop holding grudges, it’s a waste of emotional time and energy. Forgive and forgive again. Also, forgive yourself. Embrace your failures just as you would celebrate accomplishments.

According to Richards “The changing, changeful person, finding his way on… For life – I am sure of this – is not transforming energy, but transforming person. Energy is the means. Being is not what but whom. It is presence in whom and before we show ourselves.”