Keeping up with life’s demands can be challenging, but according to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, those daily rigors are even tougher for the more than 75% to 95% of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who struggle with fatigue. MS directly impacts and damages the nerves’ ability to transmit information between the brain and spinal cord to various places in the body. The extent of the damage and severity of the symptoms varies from patient to patient. Whether triggered by the disease or a secondary cause, fatigue can impact a patient’s quality of life because their energy levels can range from slight sluggishness to a complete inability to function.
If you’re living with MS, utilizing the following strategies and lifestyle changes can help you manage fatigue and maximize your energy:
Although physical exercise is safe and effective for people with MS, it is important to talk with your physician before beginning any exercise regimen. Your physician may recommend that you consult with a physical therapist to create a plan that is beneficial for you. By combining stretching, aerobic, and strength-building exercises several times per week, you can improve your overall health, reduce stress, and increase energy levels. Relaxation exercises like deep breathing, yoga, and tai chi can also improve your body’s response to fatigue.
Several short naps or rest periods each day can reduce fatigue without interfering with nightly sleep patterns. Because you want to rest before you begin to feel tired, think about the times each day when your energy begins to wane and plan your rest periods accordingly. Keep pillows, blankets, and stimuli-reducing items like ear plugs and eye masks available to make your naps more effective and be sure to set an alarm to avoid oversleeping. Even if you’re not able to fall asleep, resting a few times per day can improve energy levels.
Make healthy decisions
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is important for everyone, especially those with MS. To gain the greatest energy benefits from your meals, eat high protein dishes an hour before major activities and stay hydrated throughout the day. Despite the stimulant benefits of caffeine, limit your intake to prevent energy crashes and bladder irritation. Avoid smoking because it puts additional strain on the lungs and can make fatigue worse. Before taking any over-the-counter fatigue-reducing herbal or dietary supplements, consult with your physician or pharmacist as some have been found to trigger other more problematic side effects for MS patients.
Working smarter, not harder can help you conserve energy when completing everyday tasks. When running errands, park close to entrances and avoid taking the stairs. Depending on your current physical condition, consider utilizing a mobility device like a cane, wheelchair, or scooter to help you preserve energy while moving around. At home, remove clutter and reduce unnecessary trips room to room. Simple strategies like stowing frequently used items near your seating area or gathering all the ingredients before you start cooking can help you conserve energy. If other MS symptoms make completing tasks difficult, talk with an occupational therapist about adaptive equipment options.
Heat and humidity worsen fatigue for MS patients, so keeping cool is important. Wear light-weight clothing and stay in air conditioned buildings whenever possible. Drinking plenty of liquids will help you stay hydrated and improve energy, especially when temperatures are warmer outside. Limit time spent outdoors, particularly in the summer, and use fans and spray bottles to keep cool.
Lower the bar
Being patient with yourself is the most important strategy for managing fatigue, but it is often the hardest to do. In many ways, MS can affect personal independence and prevent you from completing daily tasks you previously took for granted. You may not be able to accomplish everything you used to or want to in a given day, so it’s important to make concerted decisions about how and where you exert your energy. Don’t be afraid to seek help from friends and family or pay for services that allow you additional time and energy to do what matters most.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society—Fatigue: What You Should Know
Multiple Sclerosis UW Rehabilitation Research—Fatigue and MS