Everyone needs to look after their general health, both body and mind, but this can be more important when you have been diagnosed with a long-term condition like multiple sclerosis. Living MS can be the prompt to look at all those aspects of your life, including diet, exercise, stress, smoking and work-life balance.
Any changes don't have to be made instantly and it's best to be realistic about what fits into your lifestyle. Living well with MS still means doing things that you enjoy like having a treat and a good time with family and friends.
Making a start
Learning to live with MS can take a while. However, you might like to begin thinking about your lifestyle.
- Do you smoke?
- How well balanced is your diet?
- Do you drink too much alcohol or take recreational drugs?
- Do you exercise enough or has MS affected what exercise you can do?
- Are any symptoms causing difficulties?
- Are you feeling stressed?
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What are the positive things in your life?
- Is your work-life balance where you'd like it to be?
- What are your priorities in life?
If you'd like to explore making changes, you could think:
- What would you like to happen?
- How could this be achieved?
- Where could you most easily make a start?
- Is there something urgent or important that needs doing first?
- Who could support or advise you?
Living with MS day to day
When it comes to lifestyle, the advice for people with MS is the same as for everyone – eat healthily, exercise sensibly, try not to drink too much alcohol and don't smoke. Also, listen to people who know about MS. You may encounter a wide range of opinion but use your judgement and choose wisely.
There is increased evidence that smoking is a significant risk factor in MS. It has been linked to an increased risk of getting MS but also to faster progression of the disease.
There has been a wide range of views on what might be a good diet for people with MS. It is a difficult area to reseach but overall, government advice on what makes a good balanced diet is relevant to people with MS.
It is important to take regular exercise to improve your overall fitness and maintain a healthy weight, but it can also help your MS symptoms. In partnership with a specialist neurophysiotherapist, we've developed a range of exercises that you can adapt to your own needs.
You may experience fatigue (a type of exhaustion which is out of all proportion to the task undertaken) which can be mental as well as physical. If fatigue is an issue, then it is important to learn to pace yourself and to give priority to the most urgent or important tasks.
Depression and anxiety are common in MS. This can be a consequence of dealing with major life events, including a diagnosis of MS, or as a direct result of an MS lesion in part of the brain which controls mood. We often focus on ur physical health but looking after our mental health is also vital to our sense of wellbeing.
A diagnosis of MS, particular symptoms or other things in your life, such as work, can all be stressful. It can be helpful to take a practical approach and think about the causes of stress and what changes you might be able to make that would decrease your stress.
You may have difficulty getting sleep or staying asleep. Daytime sleepiness can then impact on your work and personal life, so it is worth addressing the causes of poor sleep including getting better treatment for any symptoms that disrupt your sleep patterns.
About half of all people with MS will have cognitive problems - things like memory, attention span or concentration. A healthy brain can help you remember, learn, plan, concentrate and maintain a clear, active mind.
Maintaining overall health will also allow you to continue to do the things you enjoy, and the things you need to do, such as work or studying. Going to work has benefits in addition to being paid. Being in education is more than gaining skills and knowledge. You can socialise, meet new people, feel valued and pursue your goals in life. All of these things can be incentives to work or study well after a diagnosis of MS.
Living with MS in the longer term
Do as much as you can, or want to, as this will help you to keep as active and strong as possible. Sometimes making a small change can make a big difference to getting things done. For example, doing more shopping online, sitting down to do the ironing or bulk cooking items on a good day and freezing them.
There may be times when yuo need some practical support. It's alright to ask for help as it's better to be open about your needs rather than pretending that everything is ok all of the time. Asking for help can be hard at first, especially if you are used to being independent. However, a little help can go a long way particularly if you are having a relapse or a bad patch of symptoms.
Perhaps your family could lend a hand more around the house, you might employ a cleaner or gardener, or get the eavy grocery shopping delivered. Would colleagues at work take on a few things that you now find difficult or let you sit near the window if heat makes your symptoms worse?
It's likely that your friends and family want to assist. They may not be sure what they can do or don't realise the impact of symptoms, especially ones that may be invisible. Consequently, it is worth asking people for help rather than waiting for them to offer. Make your request very specific, clear and reasonable and they are more likely to understand what you need and then say yes. For example, you could say "Are you able to look after the children for three hours on Saturday afternoon?" rather than "Could you look after the children sometimes?"
MS is a very active area of research and treatments for MS are improving all the time. You'll have choices and can take personal responsibility for how you manage your MS such as keeping up physiotherapy exercises or taking medication as prescribed.
Although professional help is important, there's lots that you can do yourself. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can be part of managing your MS well. Also, you can learn from others who are willing to share their experiences and tips for living with MS. Hearing about your experiences may help them too.
Take control. You don't have to be a superhero who deals with everything perfectly or a victim of MS. You're a person who just happens to have MS. Many people with MS say "I have MS but MS doesn't have me". This can be a good mantra to live by.
Last updated: September 2017
Last reviewed: September 2017
This page will be reviewed within three years.