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6 Ways to Change the Focus

By Gay Falkowski

After an MS diagnosis, it’s common to be focused primarily on finding an effective treatment therapy and learning to manage symptoms. This process can require lots of time and attention as you try to discover what works best for you. However, over time, a wider focus may be needed to encompass all the changes MS can bring. On the brighter side, focusing on other aspects of your life may help you find new ways to improve your quality of life. Here are some areas to consider when you’re ready to change the focus:

Relationships – Your MS affects friends and loved ones, too. The shift in relationship dynamics can happen gradually, so you may want to re-evaluate this aspect of your life from time to time. Ask yourself: Are you honest and open with friends and family about your feelings? Do you help them understand your changing needs? Would everyone benefit from researching information together? Do you want to involve family in treatment decisions? Do you understand how your MS affects their lives? Keep the lines of communication open. Having regularly scheduled family conversations can help resolve small issues before they grow into big problems.

Exercise – MS can slow you down, for sure. You can slip into a very sedentary lifestyle without realizing it. Research has shown the extra effort it takes to exercise goes a long way to improve your general wellbeing. Always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regime. But, you don’t need to sign up at the gym or invest in a lot of fancy equipment to get fit – just get moving! Walking, jogging, riding a bike, or swimming are just some of the options. If walking is difficult, try using an exercise bicycle instead. To make it easier to exercise, schedule your activity. By exercising regularly, you will learn more about yourself and become better at conserving energy, as well as become more efficient and thoughtful about how you are spending your time and energy.

Pleasure – One of the best things you can do for yourself is to become mindful of the people, places, and activities that bring you pleasure. Stop and think about it: What makes you laugh? What lifts your spirits? What makes you feel peaceful? What brings you comfort? Whose company do you like to keep? Where do you like to visit? Can you think of a hobby you’d enjoy learning to do? Focus on bringing these pleasurable experiences into your life as much as possible, especially during more difficult times. It can be reassuring to know your life is still full of many different sources of pleasure.

Diet – A diet that follows an MS diagnosis is often full of good intentions. You pledge to ditch the bad eating habits, make lots of green smoothies, and eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. Unfortunately, the daily demands of living with MS coupled with fatigue can lead to easy fixes such as fast food or frozen dinners loaded with salt, bad fats, and high calories. If you’d like to focus on returning to a healthier diet, there are some easy changes you can make, according to Rebecca Doss, a dietician with the MS Center of St. Louis. To cut down on preparation time, she recommends stocking up on frozen fruits and vegetables, which are just as healthy as their fresh counterparts as long as they don’t contain sauces or other additives. Bagged salads are also a convenient choice, though more pricey than assembling your own. However, many grocery stores mark down prices on these types of items a day or two before the expiration date. Learn when to shop to take advantage of the cost savings. Doss also suggests spending your more energetic days making healthy meals that can be frozen and eaten later.

Positivity – It’s natural to mourn the losses caused by MS, and no one likes to be told to ‘shake it off’ and be happy when they’re not. Sometimes, though, negative thoughts can spiral out of control, casting a shadow on your perceptions. Focusing on the positive aspects in your life can help restore a more balanced perspective. Has MS made you reset your priorities? Do you better understand who and what matters most? Have you been surprised by shows of support, or perhaps by your own inner strength and adaptability? Make a list of what you still can do, including new skills you’d like to develop. Write about your proudest accomplishments so you can remind yourself of what you’re capable of when you’re feeling down.

Environment – Look around your home, focusing on areas where you spend most of your time. Do you see a place of comfort and safety? Do you feel good in your home? If not, you may want to think about what improvements you’d like to make. An occupational therapist can help you organize your home so that it’s practical and adaptive, but you can take care of the aesthetic changes yourself. Here are three suggestions from the University of Minnesota on how to create a healing environment at home:
  • Delight your senses - Choose your favorite colors for your walls and furniture. Place photos and objects with special meaning to you where you see them often. Add artwork you like or an aquarium. If the sound of water is soothing, add a fountain. Disperse essential oils that you find appealing.
  • Enhance the light – Daylight is associated with improved mood, enhanced morale, lower fatigue, and reduced eyestrain. So take advantage of any natural light you have. Supplement it with a variety of light sources, such as a floor lamp.
  • Bring nature in - Studies show that even a short contact with nature can significantly reduce stress, reduce anger and fear, and increase pleasant feelings. So if you have views of trees or other plants or natural elements, place a comfortable chair where you can enjoy them. You can also add indoor plants or art with a nature theme and get much of the same effect.