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

Getty Images / Marcin Wiklik

Times can get tough when living with depression and chronic illness. Self-care can help to make the dark clouds dissipate.

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 you think you might suffer from depression, you should discuss a treatment plan with your doctor.

Even if you're not clinically depressed, there will be times when you feel low, and this, although perfectly normal, can be difficult. A condition like multiple sclerosis (MS) 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. I would spend hours in despair during the night, 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 realize afterward that I had been living under a dark cloud. My thought processes were not "normal."

How to recognize 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 to brush his teeth and get his shoes on at least five times. 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.

When things like this happen, I 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 to make gradual adjustments, like prioritizing your health and looking after yourself first.

Here’s what I do:

1. Pause and prioritize

Stop for a moment. Take a breath. Prioritize. 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 rushing to get to work, but I force myself to take these 10 minutes because they are hugely beneficial. They alleviate my fatigue and calm 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 lunch away from my desk. Who's guilty of eating at their desk or 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. Sit down for five minutes if you are on your feet. If you have a bit more time, take a stroll around the block. Increasing your step count is beneficial, and the fresh air will give you renewed vigor.

2. Invest in hobbies and me-time

Hobbies are the ideal opportunity to spend time doing something you love and 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 doing the exercise. The time gives me the headspace to think without being interrupted.

3. Eat healthily and consciously

I have only recently recognized a link between what I eat and how I feel physically and emotionally. I feel good when I eat more vegetables and 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 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. I will still have treats, but they will be just that - a treat, now and then.

4. Maintain a healthy sleep routine

We all know getting enough sleep is a biggie. Unfortunately, mental health problems often impact your quality of rest 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 I am grateful for that day. It reminds me of little achievements, moments that made me smile, times I've been 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 on Youtube. My two favorites are singing bowls or ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). It helps me to wind down and fall asleep in no time.

Learning to meditate can be a good thing if you struggle to stay asleep, as I do. When I wake in the early morning hours, I can easily spend over an hour feeling wide awake, which massively impacts 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 around and around in my head. Before I know it, I am asleep again. It really works!

The takeaway

It is essential to recognize 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 a vital part of your daily routine.

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

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 


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