There’s an array of symptoms you’ll experience while living with multiple sclerosis. But fatigue must be one of the most, if not the most, common one. It just comes with the territory. It’s a daily battle. It can be debilitating and exhausting. It’s like the simplest things make you feel tired. And many times, it just comes out of nowhere.
You don’t need to “run a marathon” or do anything strenuous to feel super fatigued. Even after a good night’s sleep you can wake up feeling very tired and heavy, like you were run over by a truck. It can force you to cancel or reschedule your plans and stay in bed all day.
It’s frustrating at times when the people around you don’t understand what MS fatigue feels like. Or even worse, when they think they understand and try to relate to you and say: “I know, I feel like that sometimes, too,” or “Just sit down for a little bit, you’ll be fine,” or “Did you sleep last night?” And when you explain to them, they still don’t get it. I always tell them that they forget that I was fully healthy one time and I know the difference between “regular tired” and “MS tired.” I’m simply “out of order.”
When dealing with fatigue, I would say that the key to managing it effectively is to listen to your body. Also, learn to identify things that trigger your fatigue. Paying attention to how your system reacts to sugars, salt, fat, dehydration, lack of sleep, overdoing it, can help you establish patterns that can work for you or against you.
Avoiding habits that cause extra work for your body helps, too. For instance, eating late can trigger fatigue the next morning. If you think about it, your body spent all night trying to digest food, instead of just resting. How are you not going to feel tired next day? On the other hand, sometimes not eating your daily meals on time and starving for hours can also cause fatigue. Everything is out of balance when you don’t eat. These two scenarios are simple examples of how you can cause your body to do extra work by just trying to keep the machine working properly.
For me, exercising frequently and staying well hydrated throughout the day are two of the most effective ways of managing fatigue. When you exercise, you oxygenate and regenerate your cells. You pump your bloodstream, build up energy, and activate your muscles, making your limbs feel less heavy, which translates into less fatigue.
A lot of the fatigue is caused by overheating. Drinking lots of iced-cold water all day can make a big difference. In my case, I feel like all my “tubes,” my esophagus, my guts, heat up without warning. So, my hack is to carry with me an insulated water bottle filled to the top with ice and water. I refill it as I go, and it stays freezing cold all day. This keeps my body cool and prevents that feeling like I’m 300 degrees on the inside.
Another thing that changed the entire game for me when it comes to fatigue was switching my medications. I had a real hard time keeping my fatigue under control and managing it on my previous drug. Once I switched to my new medicine, that was the first symptom that subsided. Mind you, I’m not recommending one treatment over the other, nor I’m giving any kind of medical advice. We know that everybody is different and what worked for me might not work for you, or vice versa. But it is always worth bringing up with your doctor and seeing if another treatment may help.
Now, let’s talk about food. This is a big one. Foods that have lots of sugar, that are very salty, or that have a high percentage of saturated fats, and are hard to digest can cause a chain reaction of unbalanced symptoms, even for a person who doesn’t live with MS. Imagine what they can do to us!
This is when a healthy, balanced diet comes into play. Most of our immune system lives in our gut. Therefore, if our digestive system is happy, our body is content. We add less stress on our bodies by taking in foods that provide us with the healthy nutrients that we need and with fewer toxins that our body would have to fight, causing high levels of fatigue. Our immune system is already on alert. We must do our best to “keep things quiet” by putting in our bodies the correct foods that will create a sense of harmony and balance. This actually has the greatest impact on our overall health.
There’s one thing that’s crucial not only for managing fatigue, but also for preventing it: NOT OVERDOING IT. Avoid overexerting yourself at all cost! There’s nothing worse that you could do than surpassing your limits. And I know, sometimes we feel like we’re having a really good day, so we’re going to do it all today. Wrong, big mistake. You will pay for it, unfortunately. MS takes a lot from us, so on a good day we want to do all the things we can’t usually do, I understand. But it’s never a good idea to try and fit everything in one day and end up exhausted and dysfunctional. It’s all about pacing yourself and energy conservation.
Last but not least, sleeping at least 8 hours a day and taking naps throughout the day are of paramount importance. A body and mind well rested will function better. Sometimes this can be very challenging since MS causes insomnia. That’s why napping can be very beneficial.
There are many techniques you can use to improve your sleep habits, like meditating before going to bed, drinking herbal teas, breathing techniques, listening to peaceful instrumental music, turning the tv off 1-2 hours before sleeping, disconnecting from all social media, having your last meal no later than 6 p.m., and more. Create an ambiance of relaxation and allow yourself to slowly unwind until you fall asleep. It can help you to wake up next morning feeling fresh and recharged.
You won’t learn all of these from one day to the next. It’s a trial-and-error process. It takes time to adapt to your new body and its new behaviors. But at the end of the day, you know your body better than anybody else. I always emphasize, listen to your body, do what works for you and practice self-care.
Managing your fatigue is essential for your daily functioning. There will be good days and bad days. Sometimes, it will get in your way unexpectedly, like a wrecking ball, knocking down your plans.
Fatigue is one of the many “perks” of living with MS, sadly to say, but true.
To connect with other people living with multiple sclerosis join our MS Facebook Support Group.
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