With the constant and ever-changing advice about what to do in the current COVID-19 outbreak, you might feel like you are struggling. You might worry about having to self-isolate or getting ill yourself. Here, Helena Jidborg Alexander, from the MS Trust's Information Team, takes a look at ways to look after your own mental wellbeing during these strange and scary times.
Every time you turn on the news, listen to the radio, watch TV or go on social media, you will hear new things about the coronavirus and how many new cases there are, restaurants and shops are closing, you must start social distancing etc. Advice and people's opinions are raining down on us!
It's all so confusing! I have MS, I am on a DMD, should I be self isolating for 12 weeks or not? Here at the MS Trust we have seen this question so many times now. If you look at the list of vulnerable conditions, MS is there in black and white. Having to deal with all the stress of what is going on in the whole world is quite enough, but when you are living with a condition like MS, there can be a whole added level of worry.
So what can you do yourself to make sure you aren’t struggling with your wellbeing? Together with the lovely members of the MS Trust Facebook group, I have pulled together some ideas to help you if you are struggling with your wellbeing.
Before we start, if you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed or depressed it’s really important to speak up and seek support. We have several resources on these topics, so please take a look at them, and do make sure you reach out to your MS team or friends and family.
Research shows that going outside in nature has many mental health benefits. Walking has been proven to be effective in reducing anxiety and depression, and there is also evidence that walking in nature improves things even further.
I once spoke to a lady with MS, who talked about how she loved earthing or grounding, which is when you walk barefoot on grass and how that calmed her and worked wonders on her mental health. As a child I ran around barefoot all summer, I am all for this, and as soon as it is warm enough I am out there in the grass without my socks and shoes. Obliviously don’t do this is you have grass allergies!
I went for a walk (all be it in my wheelchair bike) in the forest yesterday. It was lovely to be out. We didn't have to keep socially distant as there was hardly anyone about
Caroline, MS Trust Facebook group
Obviously if you do go out for a walk do remember to social distance yourself from other people that might be out doing the same thing.
If you are having to stay put and not leave your house, go into your garden or open a window to get some fresh air and see a bit of the sky.
Get crafty with it
When I asked the MS Trust Facebook group for ideas, lots of you talked about arts and crafts. People are knitting, painting, doing needle work or even some DIY or jobs around the house.
Being a big kid, to help me and my brain I buy Lego technic and city sets
Darren, MS Trust Facebook group
For more ideas on things to do, have a look at our blog about keeping the mind active when you have MS, which can be found here.
When I was a teenager I would hog the phone and spend hours talking to my mates. We don’t do this much anymore, do we? But how about actually phoning someone instead of texting? Or use video calling so you can see them. This is really lovely and can cheer both of you up. Because of Coronavirus, I randomly video-called a friend in Texas who was self isolating and feeling lonely. I haven’t spoken to her in ages, shame it had to be something as weird as a pandemic to make me call!
In the past, people with MS were advised to avoid exertion. It was felt that since many people with MS experienced fatigue and found their symptoms worsened when hot, it was best to avoid activities that could be seen as tiring.
It turns out that this was not good advice. Regular, moderate exercise is now known to be an important part of maintaining good health and wellbeing for people with MS. There is evidence that exercise can help with many MS symptoms, and also with general quality of life.
So if we can’t go out what can we do? Well, there are plenty of ideas on our website.
We also have several videos on our YouTube channel for gentle Pilates, aerobics with Mr Motivator and even an inclusive dance video.
There are also several apps out there like Fiton that offer free versions of their exercise programmes. Try it out!
Free online gentle Pilates/yoga classes from YouTube keep me mobile and strong while clearing my head.
Julie, MS Trust Facebook group
The opposite to getting sweaty in your home gym (my home gym is in my kitchen, great to have a counter top to grab for balance) would be chilling out. With so much going on, it is easy to get your mind spinning. Too much news, too much media, too much everything. So maybe try to shut it all off and try some mindfulness or meditation? If you don’t know where to start, there are plenty of online courses (yes, I get the irony of asking you to shut off to log back online!).
Speaking of online, the word chill is often used together with Netflix, why not find a new box set to binge watch, or perhaps catch up on all those movies you wanted to see at the pictures but never got around to?
It’s got to include a few box sets of Outlander, while under the duvet on the sofa -
Eileen, MS Trust Facebook group
There are also lots of online audio books, I am a big fan of listening to books or a good podcast while relaxing in a bubble bath. As we have a toilet paper shortage in the shops, nobody should complain if you hog the bath in order to stay clean! Plenty of libraries have services where you can download e-books, audiobooks and podcasts straight to your device.
OK enough of smart phones and online! There are of course good old-fashioned normal books too, have a look in the bookshelf, maybe reread an old favourite or perhaps now is the time to finish Gone with the wind?
Get some kip
If you are feeling anxious, getting to sleep is not going to be easy, and as sleep troubles are common in MS anyway, it is extra important to try to get some rest. This page gives lots of advice on getting the best possible sleep.
No, sadly not G&T’s in the pub, but water! If you don’t drink enough water it can make the urine in your bladder more concentrated which can lead to UTI’s. Visit this page for more info.
Look after the house
People will tell you “Tidy house, tidy mind” which would perhaps explain a few things about my own messy brain, but that’s not what this blog is about. There is of course truth to this, you are less likely to feel anxious in an environment that is not filled with mess.
I’m looking forward to de-cluttering and reorganizing some photos, expect I'll have time to reminisce along the way
Joanne, MS Trust Facebook group
We mentioned getting crafty before, perhaps this is the time to de-clutter the house? Get rid of that box that has stood on the landing since you moved in, or paint that spot on the wall by the kitchen table that annoys you when you are eating breakfast.
If you are still able to go out, why not help those who can’t?
I have started a shopping service for local elderly folk who can’t get out - a few healthy (60-65 year olds) are helping with errands for them and any disabled friends. - it keeps me busy and stops me worrying all day (I’m a carer for my son who has complex needs)
Anne, MS Trust Facebook group
And even if you can’t get out, maybe check in on your friends by calling or video calling to see how they are doing. A lot of people will be struggling and seeing a friendly face is always a nice thing.
Finally, make sure you take your medications, keep in touch with your MS team and go to any hospital appointments (although some will be via the phone now) that you need to.
This weird situation might be the new normal for a while, but remember this too shall pass!
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