It’s simple: Overload your schedule, and you'll feel stressed. For those with multiple sclerosis, making a too-long to-do list is an easy trap to fall into. It can be hard to accept the fact that tasks you used to complete quickly now take longer. But trying to do too much can be counter-productive and even harmful to your health, since stress exacerbates MS symptoms, such as depression, fatigue, sleep problems and muscle stiffness.
The key to being productive and avoiding stress is to practice smart time management. “Don’t expect as much from yourself as you did before you got your diagnosis,” says Shelley Peterman Schwartz, who has MS and is the author of Multiple Sclerosis: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier. Giving yourself extra time for tasks means you can feel happy about what you accomplished rather than frustrated at what you didn’t.
Try these time-management tricks to keep stress at a minimum:
• Use organizing tools. A loose-leaf organizer makes a good information center. Create sections for appointments, to-do’s, phone numbers, etc. You can augment with electronic tools, such as smartphones and tablets with reminders, alarms and calendars.
• Set a realistic schedule. Start by considering all your daily activities, chores and goals. Then rate your tasks by how important they are, and focus your time doing things high on the list. Schedule challenging tasks for the time of day when you have the most energy. Don't forget to include daily “down time” for reading, reflection or fun.
• Delegate chores to family members. Everyone should pitch in, but also realize that chores may not be done exactly as you would do them. And that's OK.
• Say "no." You can’t volunteer for every worthwhile cause, and your kids don’t need to participate in every after-school activity. Research shows that it’s healthiest to limit volunteer activities to no more than two hours per week.
• Build in efficiencies. Decide on a “home” for everything and put things where they belong. Keep duplicates of frequently used items, such as cleaning supplies in the kitchen and each bathroom, to save steps.
• Don't put things off. Use the 3 D’s: Deal with it, delegate it or dump it.
• Accept that life won’t be perfect. It’s more important to have a relaxed home than a spotless one, and it’s more important to make time to rest than to scratch off every item on your to-do list.