April is Stress Awareness Month, and we’ve got some useful tips that you can adopt and make your own. Stressful times effect everyone, and each person handles and responds to stress differently. However, it can worsen symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) as stress targets the weakest parts of your body physiologically. Understandably, living with MS can be stressful and worrying at times, but talking about the problems and worries you’re facing can help take the weight off your mind and find a solution. At MS-UK, our helpline can assist you with MS-related issues that you may be experiencing, and you can find out more about our helpline here.
Whilst stress is nigh on impossible to avoid completely, it’s important to know how you can manage it and take steps to combat the symptoms before they worsen and effect your health on a more serious level.
Here’s some tools that you can use when stressful times come around
Meditation and mindfulness
Taking some time each day to reconnect with your mind and body can be incredibly helpful when it comes to managing stress. There’s a huge selection of apps you can use, such as Headspace that can guide you through everyday meditation sessions. If mindfulness is something that you’d like to learn more about in depth, you can sign up to join our mindfulness courses. Starting this month, there’s a four week and a nine week course available where you’ll be taught how mindfulness helps you sleep better, become more relaxed and be more aware of your body. Learn more about each course and sign up here.
Renowned for its overall health benefits, yoga is great for the mind and body. MS-UK now offers chair yoga sessions every week that you can take part in via Zoom. With two different sessions available, there’s a range of exercises for people with varying levels of mobility. Each session is 40 minutes, ending with guided meditation. Read more and sign up to our next class here.
Staying active is a great way to combat stress. It releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone, and gives you time to focus on the one thing that you’re doing, taking your mind away from the stressful situation at hand. Going for a run, a walk, or doing a home workout can make all the difference to your day. Regular exercise can be anything that works for you and MS-UK hosts three different exercise sessions twice a week, catering for different levels of mobility. Each month, Alan Pearson, level four exercise coach also holds exercise masterclasses, focusing on an MS-specific symptom and exercises to help.
Resolutions to stress can also be anything creative that you enjoy. Whether that’s reading, painting, drawing, journaling, knitting or sewing, taking the time to concentrate on your beloved hobby or even taking up a new one is important. Making the time for things that make you happy is a regular thing that you can do for everyday stresses. Creative activities allow you to channel your emotions into that and can help you make sense of how you’re feeling too.
Talking about the problems that are causing you stress with someone who can provide solutions, or just be a safe space for you to talk about what’s on your mind is incredibly important. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health and finding a professional who can help you and your needs is vital.
Every month, our online masterclasses offer insight to different topics and special areas of interest that have been suggested by participants who attend our exercise classes. The masterclasses complement our weekly online exercise classes which take place every Tuesday and Thursday from 11am. The aim of each masterclass is to focus on a chosen topic area that people have identified as needing to know more about.
The masterclasses are led by Alan Pearson, our level four exercise specialist who has nearly a decade of experience providing exercise prescription as a means of managing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Alan structures each masterclasses to first provide the understanding behind the theory of a problem such as foot drop and then demonstrates techniques to help manage the issues experienced through the use of exercise.
Our next masterclass is on Friday 16 April at 11am, which is second in the series of our online masterclasses where we will be focusing on corrective stretching. If you would like to know more about the session or how to register, click here.
See below some of the feedback we have received from our masterclasses that have taken place so far
“I thought the session was nothing less than brilliant. So practical, so reassuring, and so understanding. Alan is amazing.” – Jackie
“Alan's balance masterclass was excellent. I can't tell you how very helpful it is to get these insights into how our brains and bodies work together and the effects that damage can have and how we can work to maintain and improve those links. They are really motivational too.” - Sarah
“It’s so helpful to learn about what’s going on in the brain and body and to understand more about the links between them. It’s obvious that Alan knows his stuff.” - Lisa
Multiple sclerosis (MS) can present an array of symptoms, including muscular and nerve pain, spasticity, and muscle tension. Reflexology is a complementary therapy that many people living with MS have used, and most benefits are often seen after multiple sessions.
Notable benefits of reflexology include a reduction in tension, improved circulation, along with relaxation, thus a reduction in stress levels. Some MS patients have reported improved bowel function after trying reflexology, and sessions can be tailored to individual’s needs and specific areas of pain.
Nigel tried reflexology with MS-UK and said, ‘I first sampled reflexology when I was offered it as a complementary therapy at the wellness centre. As I had no previous experience I agreed and over a period of nine months I began to get feeling back in my right foot. Combined with the use of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) for my foot drop, I developed better control in my walking – a point noticed by Andrea Tavner, who has previously hosted hand reflexology sessions for MS-UK Online. It is hoped I can resume reflexology soon.’ You can find a sample set of guidelines for hand reflexology by Andrea here.
Reflexology may seem similar to massage, however there are some key differences. Massage focuses on larger muscle area, with large movements typically with the whole hand to treat a wider area, such as the back, shoulders, or calf muscles for example. Reflexology uses smaller movements with the fingers and thumbs on a specific area, promoting healing in the areas treated.
Considered a complementary therapy, reflexology is non-medicated and requires an accredited practitioner to deliver the treatment. It is worth consulting with a local practitioner and considering the cost of this complementary therapy as multiple sessions may be required.
You can find out more about the different types of complementary therapies available by downloading our Choices booklet here.
This week, it’s Complementary Therapies Week and we’re sharing information and resources on a selection of different types of therapies available to people living with multiple sclerosis (MS).
If you’ve never heard of it, you might be wondering what APS therapy is and how it’s beneficial to people living with MS. Action Potential Simulation (APS) is a microcurrent sent from a machine into the human body, helping to encourage the body’s own healing mechanisms.
The electrodes are attached to the site where you experience pain, and the treatment is painless and considered safe.
Nigel previously used APS therapy at MS-UK's wellness centre and said, ‘I sampled APS Therapy when it was first offered at Josephs Court and after two sessions on my troubled right leg, the spasms I experienced daily disappeared. I was so impressed with the results that I bought my own machine so that I could use it at home more frequently for free. I did use APS therapy daily for a complete month and followed up with weekly sessions for the following six months. I now need to use it daily for April then drop back to once a week until I feel the need to use it more.’
People who have used this type of complementary therapy have noted that it has helped muscular pain, nerve pain, headaches, restless leg syndrome, chronic fatigue, insomnia and headaches.
You can find out more about how to access APS therapy by visiting Painfree Potential, where you can buy and hire machines to try at home.
To find discover more complementary therapies that may help with your MS, download your free Complementary and Other Therapies Choices booklet here
I was first diagnosed with Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) in 2007 having had my first is MS episode in 2006. In 2017 I discovered MS-UK through their Wellness Centre in Colchester and it was a revelation to me. It put me on the road to accepting and living with my MS positively, which really improved my mental health hugely. I was suddenly able to access so many helpful services, information, complementary therapies. The Social Group and positive support, as well as meeting other MSers and wonderful people who understand MS in all its guises have become firm friends. This new support network became very important to me in keeping me positive, and when the first coronavirus lockdown came and we weren’t able to meet any more, Vicky, Dean and Alan did some fantastic work to help keep us all as fit and well as possible while staying connected.
As well as Alan’s excellent twice-weekly online exercise classes, Vicky set up regular online group catch-ups for us which have been great in keeping our spirits up, especially through the long lockdowns. She’s now developing these into Peer Pods as part of MS-UK's new Peer Support Service and I’ve volunteered to host my one fortnightly on Tuesday afternoons from 3pm. It’s all about keeping connected and having a good old chat, share experiences, ask questions or just listen and get to know everyone. So grab a tea, coffee or your favourite drink and join me anytime between 3pm and 4pm on alternate Tuesdays. Hope to see you there!
My name is Andrea Chapa and I’m running the 2021 London Marathon for MS-UK. I hail from across the pond, but my story began in 2014 when I was studying abroad in Australia. Very early on during my summer term, I ended up at the hospital due to severe eye pain and partial blindness. I had an MRI done and some other tests when the doctors found spots in my brain. I still remember feeling alone and frozen in panic as I heard the doctor say ‘multiple sclerosis’ for the first time. The doctor said there wasn't enough evidence to fully diagnose but warned me that I could have more symptoms come up. But when? There was no way to know...
The following year sent me into a whirlwind of emotions and I was constantly living with the thought of MS creeping up around the corner. A year later it arrived. I had just graduated from college and moved to Los Angeles to start my career when I woke up with the room spinning. Vertigo paired with my history of optic neuritis gave me the diagnosis. I have multiple sclerosis.
I didn't know what that meant at first. Like many people I went online and saw and read things I wish I hadn't. Wheelchairs, canes, loss of motor function, mystery symptoms, shorter lifespan... I was scared and felt lost. It’s a feeling that I do not wish on anyone, but what got me out of it was the immense support from my family and loved ones. After that, I started reaching out to other people in my position and we shared advice, stories, sadness, and hope.
In 2018, I decided to do something that, to me, felt absolutely impossible. I wanted to run the six World Major Marathons before I turned 30. I was never an active person, even before MS, but I knew I needed to take control of my life. That year I ran New York Marathon and raised over $7,000 for the MS Society. I ran the Berlin Marathon in 2019 and was set to run the Chicago one in 2020 before the pandemic cancelled that.
This year, I’m taking on the London Marathon and I’ll have a partner to run with me! My girlfriend, Marette has been by my side since my diagnosis and has helped me immensely. I convinced her to take on London (our favourite city!) with me and we are both proud to be raising money for this amazing organisation. I truly believe that MS is not something one should have to face on their own and I feel honoured to represent an organization that is there to help out.
Today marks the first day of Complementary Therapy Week and all this week we will be sharing resources to inform you on the different types of complementary therapy available and real-life stories from MSers who have used complementary therapy.
There are different ways to manage multiple sclerosis (MS), including a range of disease modifying drugs and complementary therapies. Complementary therapies are typically non-medicated and include practices such as reflexology, acupuncture and alterations to your diet.
The aim of Complementary Therapy Week is to raise awareness of the other methods available to practice alongside medicines, and MS-UK offers comprehensive information on a variety of these that can help people living with MS, with some services available for you to access from home. The information available is there to help you make the right choices and evaluate the options that may work for you.
It is estimated that around 70 per cent of people living with MS use complementary therapies, with reflexology and massage therapy being two of the most used and beneficial. If complementary therapy is something that you’d like to try, ensure that the therapist for your chosen option is reputable, a member of a professional body and fully insured. It’s also worth noting how the cost may impact you, especially if it requires multiple sessions to become effective.
Mindfulness is one of the many complementary therapies noted to be beneficial to those living with MS. At MS-UK, there are two mindfulness courses available for you to try. The practice of mindfulness helps you become aware of your body and sensations through breathing techniques to help manage them, rather than be overwhelmed by them.
A healthy and balanced diet is essential for everyone, and as March is National Nutrition Month, we’re sharing how diet can affect multiple sclerosis (MS).
Many people use their diet to complement other therapies, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing MS. Typically, inflammatory foods are known to be a trigger to the gut and result in a sometimes unhealthy gut microbiome, which can worsen the symptoms of MS. Whilst inflammation generally is the body’s barrier against infection, for people living with MS, it can be painful and ongoing as the myelin neurons are incorrectly recognised as pathogens, thus the inflammation continues and oxidation results in damaged cells.
However, your food choices can impact the levels the inflammation and can be a way to control the way in which your gut reacts. Fruit, vegetables, oily fish, and nuts and seeds are great direct anti-inflammatory foods.
Several diets have been specifically designed for people living with MS. There’s the Overcoming MS (OMS) diet, The Swank Diet, the Wahls Protocol, and the Best Bet Diet, to name the most notable options.
The OMS Diet is one of the most popular amongst MSers that are using diet to help manage their health, and it follows a largely plant-based diet, with the addition of fish. It is built from the foundations of the Swank Diet, which encourages a low consumption of saturated fats. Kellie Baron reveals how the OMS Diet helped her MS after she was diagnosed with MS in 2013.
At the time Kellie was working part-time due to fatigue and other MS-related symptoms. Several relapses eventually led to diagnosis, by which time she had just discovered OMS through a random Google search of the exact words ‘Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis’. She attended Professor Jelinek’s one-day conference in Brighton in 2013 where she learned all about the OMS Recovery Program, and the science behind it, and adopted the recommendations immediately.
“The diet was a huge change because I was eating absolute rubbish before that, lots of meat, dairy and saturated fat,” she said. “But it was like a switch went on in my mind. I don’t miss the old way of eating. I’m cooking a lot now which I never used to do before, and I’m eating amazing food.”
Since adopting the OMS way of life, and choosing to take the disease modifying drug Copaxone, Kellie has remained relapse free and seen improvement in her general health. Her Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score has dropped from 2.5 down to 1, with blurry vision in one eye her only remaining symptom.
“I’m back at work full-time now, have had promotions, and I’ve run a triathlon and cycled 100 miles,” she said. “The fatigue has gone, the numbness has gone, and I’ve had no more relapses. It has made such a huge difference to my life.”
There are also similar stories like Kellie’s from followers of The Best Bet Diet and Wahls Protocol, but one thing they all have in common is reduced fat and clean eating.
For more detailed information about these MS diets you can download our free Choices booklet surrounding the topic of diet and supplements. Always consulting your GP, neurologist and MS nurse before making any changes to any disease modifying drugs.
We all love a good night’s sleep but living with a long-term health condition can present obstacles when it comes to get a restful seven hours a night. Multiple sclerosis (MS) can bring on fatigue in some people, along with insomnia and other symptoms that may impact the quality of your sleep. Pain, bladder issues and spasticity are common causes of disrupted sleep for those living with MS and your GP or MS nurse will be able to help find ways to manage those particular symptoms.
Around 85% of MSers reported to have sleeplessness, with 79% saying that this is a weekly occurrence for them. Poor sleep can worsen other symptoms of MS too, which is why we’ve got a few suggestions below to help bring some harmony to your bedtime routine and drift off into a peaceful slumber.
Choosing relaxing scents can change the atmosphere of your environment, and a diffuser is a great way to do this. There are a few essential oils that help with great sleep, including lavender, valerian, bergamot, chamomile and clary sage. You can create your own dreamtime blends and turn it on a little while before you go to bed. If a diffuser isn’t your thing, try a pillow spray for a simple solution.
Avoid screens directly before bed
It’s all too easy to scroll social media before bed these days, but it’s recommended that you put your phone or laptop down 30 minutes before bed. The blue light emitted from electronic devices can affect the amount of melatonin, the sleep hormone, that is produced. It’s time to pick up that book from your bedside table for some time to unwind!
If you’re a light sleeper or often wake up in the night, you may find blackout blinds or curtains and an eye mask a worthwhile purchase. Being exposed to light sources makes you more likely to stay awake after waking during the night as it can affect your circadian rhythm and melatonin.
A comfortable bed
It goes without saying that a good mattress and comfortable set of pillows makes getting those z’s in much easier. Refresh them every so often so that your back and neck are well supported. Seasonal duvets also help if you regularly wake up hot or cold, and a 13.5 tog duvet is a good option to use all year round. If you’d like to win a new set of pillows, make sure you head over to our Instagram account, where we’re running a giveaway to win a plushy pair of pillows, courtesy of the Mattressman.
Praised by many for a whole host of reasons, a weighted blanket could become a life changing investment to better sleep. Weighted blankets should be 10 per cent of your body weight and have been reported by many to improve the quality of their sleep and how quickly they fall asleep. The results relating to MS will differ from each person, however it may benefit those with symptoms such as spasticity and restless leg syndrome.
Derived from hemp, cannabidiol (CBD) is non-psychoactive and known to help relax muscle pain and spasms. Available from high-street retailers, it is available as tinctures and topical varieties as a health supplement. You can find out more about cannabinoids and MS with our Choices booklet here.
If your MS is affecting your sleep daily, due to medication side effects or other symptoms, speak to your GP or MS nurse. They can advise the best course of action for you and help get your sleep back on track.
In July 2021, I am taking on The National 3 Peaks Challenge in aid of MS-UK.
These are the three highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales. Considered one of Britain’s toughest outdoor challenges, the National 3 Peaks Challenge takes in the dizzy heights of Ben Nevis (1,344m), Scafell Pike (978m) and Snowdon (1,085m). Over the course of two days, we will trek around 26 miles and ascend to a total height of almost 3,000m!
I continue to give myself these challenges as my sister Patsy was diagnosed with MS at an early age of just 14. This had a tremendous impact on her and also my family. Seeing my family crumble around me at the time of Patsy’s diagnosis was just heart breaking. It was Patsy that got us all through it, no matter what she was facing and the pain she was in, she smiled her way through it.
Patsy inspires me to push myself to the limits in all aspects of my life. She’s just purely amazing. I will continue to support the charities that helped Patsy throughout her MS Journey as without the brilliant work that they do, Patsy wouldn’t be where she is today and for that, I will always be very thankful. I wish we knew about MS-UK when Patsy first got diagnosed.
Since December 2020, I have raised over £2,200 for MS-UK and over £7,000 for different MS Charities. This year has been the toughest yet as I have had to fundraise through the pandemic. I was determined to reach my target so just had to think outside the box!
Most of my fundraising at this time has been done over social media and Zoom. I raised £700 through selling lucky numbers and football cards for £10 each. Half of the money went to the winner and the rest of the money donated to MS-UK
Raffle – I contacted friends/family/colleagues/anyone that I could possibly speak to and asked if anyone could donate a prize to his raffle. The items donated included unwanted gifts and presents, along with some very generous donations such as a running machine! The raffle was done online, with ticket donations being made to the fundraising page and pictures of the prizes being shared on his social media.
Online quizzes – This is a great way to raise a quick £50 or £60. This can be done via zoom one evening with some friends and family and will bump up your fundraising nicely.
Bingo – This is great to do with your colleagues, and again can be done online while you are still working remotely (speak to your workplace and see if they will help you to organise something with your colleagues!)
An Incentive to reach a target – I came up with a wacky idea to reach £1,500 with my fundraising. I promised to complete a run dressed in a dress, wig and makeup if his total reached £1,500 by a certain date. The sponsors came flooding in and the outfit is now being decided! (I will completing this run before MS Awareness week!)
Thank you so much to everyone that continues to support Patsy and my family. It’s very moving that even through the pandemic, donations have been made.
I am absolutely honoured to be Patsy’s brother and I will continue to spend my life fighting for hers.
If you would like to make a donation to my fundraising page I would be very grateful: