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How I Use Self-Care with MS to Stave off Bouts of Depression

Reading time | 4 mins

Whether you live with a chronic illness or not, there can be many reasons for people to sometimes feel down or depressed. The complexities of life and the high expectations we set on ourselves can lead to difficult emotions and the line between feeling down and having full-blown depression often becomes blurry. If your symptoms persist, and if you think you might be suffering from depression you should speak to your doctor about a treatment plan.

Even if you’re not clinically depressed there will be times when you feel low and this, although perfectly normal, can be difficult. Add a condition like multiple sclerosis into the mix and it can complicate things even further.  As someone living with MS I have gone through dark times with my mental health. I was incredibly hard on myself and just one innocent comment from someone close to me could send me over the edge completely. At night, I would spend hours in despair having the most disturbing thoughts.

It would take weeks to feel better and regain my usual positive outlook on my future and belief in my abilities. I would realise afterwards that I had been under a dark cloud and that my thought processes were not normal.

How to recognise when you are starting to slip

For me, it usually begins with feeling overwhelmed.

It’s Monday morning and I feel tired, even though I am still in bed. I’ve been lying awake for too long, worrying about the day ahead and everything I need to do. I am already feeling some pain and discomfort, but I get on with it. As I am getting my son ready for school I have to remind him at least five times to brush his teeth and get his shoes on. It never stops. When I finally sit down to start work, I see an email from my boss about something I forgot to include – again – in a report I sent on Friday.

By this time I just want to get back into bed and pull the duvet over my head. Life is too much to handle. This is the point where I have to start looking after myself. Self-care is much more than what we see on social media. It’s not fancy spas and candles. It’s taking time and making small adjustments – making your health a priority and looking after yourself, first.

Here’s what I do:

Pause and prioritise

Stop for a moment. Take a breath. Prioritise. Make a list that includes more than work and household tasks. Remember, the most important priority is your health. Identify small things that will make you feel better and spread them throughout your day.

I meditate for 10 minutes when I get back from the morning school run. I am always in a rush to get to work but I force myself to take these 10 minutes because they are hugely beneficial. They alleviate my fatigue and calms my busy mind. Nothing comes close to meditation. I use a simple app on my phone for a different guided meditation session every day.

Later in the day, I sit down to eat my lunch away from my desk. Who’s guilty of eating at their desk or while staring at their phone? Give yourself a proper break from everything. Find somewhere to eat your lunch in peace. Daydream and take a moment from your busy day.

Schedule small breaks throughout the day. Get up and walk around if you sit a lot in your job. If you are on your feet a lot, sit down for five minutes. If you have a bit more time, take a stroll around the block. It’s beneficial to increase your step count and the fresh air will help you tackle the rest of the day with renewed vigour.

Hobbies and me-time

I have written about why it’s important to have a hobby. It’s the ideal opportunity to spend some time doing something you love and to meet like-minded people.

Exercise also belongs in this category. I’m talking about doing something you like, not about getting super-fit, which is why I view it as a hobby rather than another chore. I love swimming on a Sunday morning when there is a quiet hour at my local pool. It’s alone time with physical movement thrown in. Endorphins are released and I feel good about myself for doing the exercise. The time gives me the headspace to think without being interrupted.

Eat healthily and consciously

I have only recently recognised a link between what I eat and how I feel physically and emotionally. I feel good when I eat more vegetables, less meat and when I control my portions. I love food – and I also love ‘bad’ food, but I make conscious choices to fuel my body with healthy food. It’s definitely a work in progress, but I’m starting to understand that it’s not worth spending a whole weekend eating bad food only to feel sluggish and moody for three days afterwards. I will still have treats, but they will be just that: a treat, now and then.

Create a healthy sleep routine

We all know getting enough sleep is a biggie. Unfortunately mental health problems often impact sleep first. I’m very aware of how important it is to not allow things to get out of control so I have a few things I do when I can’t sleep.

When I go to bed, I often write in a gratitude journal. I try to write down at least three things that I am grateful for that day. It reminds me of little achievements, things that made me smile, moments of being proud of my son, etc. It helps me finish my day on a positive note.

I also use hypnosis videos, meditation sessions and soothing music, all available on Youtube. My two favourites: singing bowls or ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). It helps me to wind down and fall asleep in no time.

If, like me, you struggle to stay asleep, learning to meditate can be a really good thing. When I wake in the early hours of the morning, I can easily spend an hour or two feeling wide awake, which has a huge impact on how I feel the next day. Here meditation has proved very helpful. By concentrating on my breathing I can disrupt the cycle of endless thoughts going round and round my head. Before I know it, I am asleep again. It really works!

The Takeaway

It is important to recognise when you are feeling low and not to be hard on yourself. Whatever the circumstances, it is not your fault for feeling this way. This doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to make yourself feel better. Make self-care an important part of your daily routine.

Remember there are times when all the self-care techniques and good mental health routines in the world are not enough. If you are struggling with low mood and feelings of depression, and this is stopping you from living your life, please seek help.

UK/MED/19/0097 May 2019