Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword and that is for good reason. With practice, mindfulness can change the way our brains work and instill a sense of calm. Far from its roots in traditional Buddhist practice, mindfulness of today is about taking your focus out from the past which we can’t change and the future which is yet to happen and putting it firmly in the present. This can be done in a number of ways from focusing on the body to the external senses.
Forgive others and ourselves
Holding on to grudges and past hurts has been likened to ‘putting your hand into a fire but expecting it to burn the other person’. It might feel like the right thing to do, but what does it really accomplish? Forgiveness is surprisingly seldom about the other person but about the feelings and beliefs that we carry with us from the precipitating event. Forgiveness is a private decision and it is not necessary to tell the other person that we have forgiven them. Of course, forgiveness of the self is just as important, as feelings of shame can be overwhelming, we are human after all and everyone makes mistakes.
Use positive affirmations
It’s easy to fall into a rut of negative talk, but by changing the wording it can have a transformative effect on how we feel about ourselves. Remember that coach from school or any other supportive and encouraging role model you have had the joy of spending time with? Be your own cheerleader – ‘you can do it, you are worthy and you are loveable’.
Set small goals and complete them
By setting ourselves small achievable goals throughout the week we can begin to see that we can do the things we set our minds to. Whether it is finishing that book, learning to crochet, phoning an old friend or putting time aside for self-care, it shows ourselves and others that we care for and value ourselves.
Keep a gratefulness journal
Log three things you are grateful for every other day, they don’t have to be big things. A smile from the lady in the newsagents, a bird on the windowsill or simply an hour of your favourite TV show. By feeling and acknowledging the small moments in our life that we often take for granted, we can start to build a more accurate model of what our life is really like rather than focusing on the negative parts.
Longstanding volunteer Nigel Watts has been recognised for his contribution volunteering for MS-UK.
Room to Reward, a unique charity created to give something back to those volunteers who do so much for so many, selected Nigel as the recipient of an overnight hotel stay of his choice.
Room to Reward enables registered charities to give something back to inspirational individuals with a well-earned break at no cost to themselves.
The charity partners with hotels across the UK who donate their anticipated unsold rooms to the scheme. Charities are then invited to nominate their Hidden Heroes for a one or two night, bed and breakfast, complimentary break to enjoy with a friend or loved one.
MS-UK General Manager, Sarah Wright, said: “On behalf of MS-UK I would like to thank Nigel for volunteering with us. He has volunteered in multiple departments across the charity, completed set tasks to a high standard and is always willing to help. He really has helped us make a real difference to people affected by multiple sclerosis.”
At a presentation, which took place at MS-UK’s wellness centre Josephs Court, Nigel said: “I’m surprised and pleased that an exterior body had recognised my volunteering efforts. The reward will come in useful when my wife, son and I go visiting my daughter and grandsons, as I have to stay in a hotel nearby for accessibility reasons.”
The countries with the highest population of people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) are located in the northern hemisphere, where sunlight levels can be very low in winter, for example, Scotland. This is often associated with the body not producing enough vitamin D. So, today’s blog is going to look into some facts that you might not have known about ‘the sunshine vitamin’…
1. Sunscreen can reduce vitamin D intake
Although it is important to protect your skin in the sun, sunscreen can block out the suns ultra-violet (UVB) rays, which can lower your potential intake of vitamin D. This means that it may take you longer to reach your daily intake.
It's not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D to meet the body's requirements. This is because there are a number of factors that can affect how vitamin D is made, such as your skin colour or how much skin you have exposed.
But according to the NHS website you should be careful not to burn in the sun and take care to cover up or protect your skin with sunscreen before your skin starts to turn red or burn.
2. We don’t get enough of it
It has been widely reported that approximately 1 billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient or insufficient, that’s around 15% of the world’s population. However, when we compare this to reports of UK vitamin D levels, it’s much higher here. According to this data, 74% of UK adults over 25 have lower levels than they should. That’s quite a difference! So next time the sun is shining, make sure you’re heading outside for some vitamin D!
3. It helps build strong bones
Vitamin D is vital for our calcium intake, which of course is paramount for strong bones. Lack of vitamin D can lead to rickets in children or osteoporosis in adults, which is essentially the weakening of bones.
4. Intake is affected by skin tone
Strangely, pale skin tones absorb more vitamin D from less sunlight than other skin tones. The natural pigment melanin in darker skin tones means it requires more exposure to the sun in order to get the right intake. It has been said that those with darker skin tones need up to 3-6 times more exposure than those with pale skin.
5. You don’t have to get it from the sun
It’s widely believed that you can only get vitamin D from the sun, but you can get it in your diet as well. For Inuit’s who practically live with next to no sunlight, they eat food such as oily fish which is very rich in the sunshine vitamin. So you don’t necessarily need the sun to get your levels up!
Want more information about Vitamin D or other supplements?
Order a free copy of our Diet and Supplement’s Choices booklet today using our quick online order form.
Last week, MS-UK Counsellor Louise Willis looked at what self-esteem is, this week she will look at how we can help to build a healthy level of self-esteem
Stop negative self-talk
We have all done this, whether it’s how we speak to ourselves when we make a mistake or our general internal narrative. When we talk to ourselves in a negative way we have no filter to say ‘hey, that is not true’ or even to question it as we may to a friend if they were to say it. Would you expect someone who is being spoken to negatively to have high self-esteem?
Step up the self-care
You are a valid and unique person like everyone else. Treat yourself with the respect you need and others will too. Spending time doing your favourite hobby, getting a massage, reading a good book, enjoying time outside or a long relaxing bath are all ways to show ourselves that we care.
Being assertive is not about taking control or being aggressive or forceful, but about kindly and calmly stating your needs or wants with respect to both yourself and others. Assertive communication uses ‘I’ statements as a way of owning thoughts and feelings and always calmly listening to and acknowledging the other person. Practicing saying ‘No’, planning conversations in advance and offering alternatives is also helpful in assertive communication.
Develop healthy boundaries
Having stable and reliable boundaries affords us and others the security to know where we stand in relationships. For those with low self-esteem, boundaries can often be weak and the more we allow others to cross them, the more out of control we can feel. Developing boundaries is not only healthy for us but is essential for healthy relationships.
Challenge negative beliefs
We can often adopt negative ‘core’ beliefs about ourselves. These can rear their ugly heads in times of hardship and illness. When challenged, these beliefs are rarely true but because they have been there since early life, we often don’t even realise we have them. When we view our life through the lens of a negative belief, we will see mostly negative outcomes. Happily, these beliefs can be challenged and changed for new, more helpful ones which in turn will begin to build self-esteem.
Check back on the MS-UK blog next Thursday to read the final instalment of this three-part blog series. Click here to read the first instalment if you missed it.
This week the UK is set to see soaring temperatures, with most places reaching temperatures between 34-35 degrees according to The Met Office. They have also reported that the South East of England could see it rise to an immense 37 degrees. Whilst some may bask in the fact that we’d normally have to pay to experience such hot weather outside of the UK, others may have feelings on the opposite end of the spectrum. People who are affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) have widely differing symptoms when it comes to heat sensitivity, which is why we are going to give you some top tips on how to keep cool in this weather…
1 ) Wear weather appropriate clothes
Whilst wearing shorts or loose clothing are apparent ways of keeping cool, changing your choice of footwear is a good way to go too. Wearing trainers or closed-off shoes can affect your whole body in hot weather, as there are lots of pulse points around your feet and ankles. Switching to some appropriate sandals can help your feet breathe, or alternatively, dunking your feet in some cool water when you take off your shoes to cool off!
2) Chilling your sheets before bed
Despite being a short-term solution, chilling your sheets in a sealed bag in the fridge for a couple of hours before you go to sleep can help you feel cooler. Although your own body heat will heat up the sheets fairly quickly, it can help your body cool in that period, which in turn could help you drift off to sleep easier.
3) While you’re out of the house, close your curtains
When you leave your curtains open, it allows sunlight to come through and essentially heat the area like a greenhouse. When closed, the curtains will prevent this greenhouse effect beyond your window sill and keep your house much cooler.
4) Unplug electrical plugs that aren’t in use
Plug sockets that are filled with electronics that you aren’t using will generate more heat. If the plugs become too hot, especially in a heatwave, it increases the chance of a fire hazard as well. So it may be a good idea to lose the unnecessary electricals at this time of year!
5) Invest in Kool-Ties or Cooling Vests
Kool-Ties are simply something you tie around your neck, can work for up to three days, and cool the whole body through cooling your neck. Cooling Vests have special cooling crystals incorporated into the material which are soaked in cold water, then can hold the temperature for a substantial period of time.
Other ways to help keep cool in this hot weather can be taking regular cold drinks and wrapping a cold damp towel around your neck.
MS-UK Counsellor Louise Willis discusses how MS can affect your self-esteem and how you can make improvements in the first of three blogs
What is Self Esteem?
How we feel about and perceive ourselves is often termed as our ‘self-esteem’.
As the psychologist and once close friend of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung once said; ‘the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely’. This is often at the heart of why some of us can find it incredibly difficult to hold ourselves in the same high regard that we do others.
Far from being a stable idea of a sense of self, our self-esteem can be fragile and mercurial by nature, a reaction to our perceived successes and failures. How we view ourselves is an often intangible feeling that has its roots firmly planted in our past experiences and early life.
For some, when self-esteem is unconsciously associated with a particular role that we play or physical or mental attribute, finding ourselves with a chronic illness which can affect this part of our identity can have a huge impact on our sense of self-worth. By putting a value on the part of our being which we believe to have been compromised while ignoring the rest of our attributes, our sense of self or self-esteem can be hugely rocked.
Self-esteem can be knocked or damaged at any point in our lives, from our first beliefs about who we are and what we mean to others and our place in the world to the loss of a partner or an illness in old age.
What can we do about it?
Understanding and accepting that we as humans are never going to be ‘perfect’ is always the first step, but there are some tips that can help us to understand the process of regaining a feeling of self-worth and to build some new strong and healthy self-esteem building habits. These tips are all backed by scientific studies centered on neuroplasticity which is the fancy term for our amazing brain's ability to adapt and change. It is now widely accepted that the brain’s capacity for regeneration and growth never stops no matter our age, so there really is no excuse!
In the next instalment of this three-part blog series we will look into helpful tips to start you on your way to feeling better about yourself.
On Friday morning I set off to the University of Warwick to attend the annual MS National Therapy Centre Conference.
MS National Therapy Centres (MSNTC) is a charity which represents individual therapy centres across England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. These centres provide treatments, therapies, help and support to some 15,000 peop
le living with multiple sclerosis (MS) every week.
The annual conference and AGM is a chance for therapy centres to come together, share best practice and learn from each other. The conference, which was hosted by Frank Sudlow, Chair of the charity, ran over two days and included workshops, speakers and lots of updates about the world of MS.
I was particularly keen to hear Dr Dawn Langdon speak about cognition and MS and I wasn’t disappointed. Dr Langdon is Professor of Neuropsychology at Royal Holloway University of London. Her talk included an update on what research is being carried out to discover the impact of cognition difficulties for people living with MS as well as some useful insights about how people can improve their cognition by stretching their brains. It gave me a lot of food for thought!
The conference was also a chance for me to meet up with other CEOs from the national charities… David from the MS Trust and Nick from the MS Society. It was great to be able to talk to them about their work and how they are supporting people affected by MS as well as updating them on what MS-UK is doing. I hope that we can work together in the future to reach even more people and let them know we are all here to help in any way we can.
I wanted to say a big thank you to the MS National Therapy Centres for inviting us – see you next year!
Amy Woolf, CEO
In 2013 my lovely mother got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). When we got the news of course we were devastated, not knowing much about the condition apart from the fact it was “incurable “ through medication and put her in a lot of pain, we just all did what we could to support her but for years I have felt helpless. She decided not to tell anyone but her close friends and family of the condition she was living with...why you ask?
My mum is one of the most strong, independent, driven and successful women you will ever come across. In 1999 she was awarded the Ernst & Young trophy winning Young Entrepreneur of the Year. From 1992 - 2012 she owned a very successful business expanding world wide in over twenty countries and for years she was on the panel of the DSA and was well respected in the industry she was in. Sadly, I believe because of all of this she put pressure on herself to portray this strong business women, I think she thought people would take pity on her or think she couldn’t get the job done if she came clean that she had MS. So instead she suffered in silence, for a few years she was CEO of a large network marketing business which was an extremely high pressured job and to get her through the pain day to day she would take morphine based pills which again is something none of her colleagues knew about.
In 2017 my mother found herself heading up Europe for one of the largest essential oils company in the world doTERRA, here again she would be working 70 hour weeks, another high pressured role but this time she would be taking over 100 flights a year around Europe. Anyone that has MS will know that one of the biggest struggles is tiredness, so it won’t come as a shock to you when I tell you that she was exhausted. But this time something was different, as she was now part of this essential oil business she discovered natural medicine and in time found the perfect essential oils to support her immune system and pain relief and now to this day is morphine free.
In June 2018, even though my mum was at her healthiest, her strongest, pain free and our “happy mum”, I still felt I needed to do something to help her and others with MS and also families that have lost loved ones through MS. I took the plunge and decided to apply to run the Virgin Money London Marathon 2019 to raise money for MS-UK. They help people and families through some of the darkest times. This journey has been incredible - I have not just been able to raise over £2,000 but I have also learnt so much about myself too, I feel so proud to be a part of it all and to have run for such a good cause with an amazing charity.
Last month my mum told me that I had given her the strength to tell the world what she had been hiding for years, she told her colleagues and thousands of people who work alongside her, friends she had not seen for years that she has had MS for over 6 years. People where stunned, some sad, some happy because her story had also helped them, but most of all no one took pity on her!
So my 'WHY' is my mum, I ran for her, for the strength she has shown, for never giving up, for still pursuing her career even though at times it was nearly impossible to get out of bed let alone run a business, for now helping so many other people with MS find a natural solution that works with them, for having the strength to tell everyone that she will fight and lastly for being the best mum I could wish for!
Applications are now open for MS-UK #TeamPurple places in the Virgin Money London Marathon 2020!
Far from being a substitute for therapy, mental health apps have gained a place in today’s culture of wanting help here and now. They are often seen as an adjunct to counselling and an introduction or a ‘step in the right direction’. People with multiple sclerosis (MS) can experience a range of issues and may not be ready to engage with counselling, but still require a level of help, here is where apps can come into their own. We asked MS-UK Counsellor Louise Willis for some of the best tried and tested apps on the market.
Possibly one of the most popular apps for mindfulness. It offers 10 free sessions that you can use over and over. If you wish to continue and progress with your mindfulness practice there is a one-year membership for £70, giving you access to hundreds of themed, guided meditations and mindfulness exercises although they often have price reduction offers.
A great free app from Mind, the mental health charity. This app features a ‘news feed’ style interactive main page where you can comment, read, or share your own thoughts and feelings with other like-minded users. There is also a private message facility.
This free app is chock full of tools to enable you to manage anxiety and calm an anxious mind and body, as well as objective help and advice on subjects such as anger, depression, self-esteem and stress. There is also an area to keep track of moods and new habits as you make them.
‘Check in with yourself’ with this comprehensive app from Oz, which enables you to track your mood along with hundreds of targeted mindfulness practices for young and old alike. Oh yes, and it’s free!
If interacting with humans is not your thing, MyPossibleSelf might be for you. Bloopy the assistant bot guides you through a free, and rather in depth eight week cognitive behavioral therapy based course. MyPossibleSelf offers the potential to help you work through your issues in the format of a text conversation.
This AI driven app has the option to subscribe and unlock a wealth of personalised mindfulness exercises. From improving mood to lessening anxiety, Aura’s narrators have a dignified sense of calm and the app has an outstanding amount of choice in the paid version.
Another great mindfulness app which you can access both paid and unpaid. A vast amount of exercises and options to choose from for all levels of ability. There is also a handy sound setting option where you can adjust the background volume or turn it off if you prefer.
This app is aimed at Young adults, older teens or anyone new to managing their anxiety. Using a comprehensive mix of CBT tools and interventions to retrain the mind, there is also a space to log the new changes and to do behavioural and mind ‘experiments’.
Endorsed by the NHS, this free app promises to be a helpfully concise addition to the mental health app scene. It gives the user the opportunity to log their mood, check the mood and ultimately change their mood. There are options for depression, anxiety, anger, relaxation, confusion and happiness using CBT.
Action For Happiness
If you can’t commit to either the investment of time or cash, Action For Happiness may be for you. It offers a ‘newsfeed’ of positive affirmations, memes and scientifically proven small daily tasks to improve your mood and sense of well being. There is also a ‘comment’ section under each post to share your successes with other users!
A very gentle free app for everyone. The app focuses on a game in which you navigate a panda around a virtual world. The app uses your phone's camera to take your heart rate, and with both breathing and yoga stretching and gentle exercise, this simple app really does live up to its name.
This week, 17-21 June 2019, is Loneliness Awareness Week. Introduced by The Marmalade Trust three years ago, the theme aims to remove the stigma around loneliness and combat people feeling this way. In order to do this, we need to encourage people to talk about it more.
Research has found loneliness to be an unpleasant, deeply personal experience and emotionally distressing. Loneliness can be for a longer duration perhaps when a change has occurred, or chronic if it is for more than two years. However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be for an extended period of time, it can be brief or occasional. A 2017 report even found that loneliness was as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Specific research into loneliness and MS has been conducted by the MS Society, which shows that out of 869 respondents, 60% said they felt lonely due to being affected by multiple sclerosis (MS). Unfortunately, this figure is up from an average of 50% of people that are affected by any disability generally. So what can we do to combat this, and how do we strive towards pushing this statistic down?
The MS Society found that 78% of people affected by MS see ‘meeting other people affected by MS’ as the most significant aspect of their local group in reducing feelings of loneliness. Such research suggests that strong local community groups are important to people with MS, so we need to continuously build on this.
Alongside the unique information that The Marmalade Trust produce, they have also assembled an interactive map so everyone can see where community events are happening nationally. This can be a great way to meet new people. To see what events are near you, visit marmaladetrust.org/law/#Interactivemap.
Understandably, not everyone will have events listed in their area. This is where we can help. Our helpline team here at MS-UK are available to talk to you, even if it’s just a chat. We would like to remove the stigma around loneliness, and it’s okay to say ‘I’ve been lonely’. We believe that nobody should face MS alone and our helpline staff are here to support you no matter what the issue is.
In 2018, our helpline supported over a thousand people and you can reach out to us knowing you will receive unbiased and professional support. The MS-UK Helpline is open from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. We are available to you on the telephone or online through our live web chat or email – we will support you in a way that’s right for you.
The Marmalade Trust has created a basic guide about what you can do in relation to loneliness, or what you can do for someone who you think is experiencing it. You can find this guide online at marmaladetrust.org/what-we-do/marmalades-3-step-process-to-feeling-less-lonely/.
When we looking at our new strategy, we were told that there was simply not enough support available to the MS community to overcome isolation and loneliness. We are now running a survey to find out more about these issues.
You can share your own thoughts today in our online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/MSUKLoneliness.