Fatigue is the most daunting of multiple sclerosis symptoms. Patients can feel exhausted because of depression or because their symptoms rob them of sleep. Side effects of medications can worsen fatigue; so can the extra energy required for daily tasks. Researchers have even identified a type of fatigue -- known as lassitude -- that is unique to those with MS. It’s more severe than normal fatigue, occurs daily and can even greet you in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Fortunately for those with MS, there are as many ways to boost energy as there are causes of fatigue. Here are seven, from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Nothing is more exhausting than a to-do list filled only with things you “should” do. That’s especially true for those with MS, who need to conserve their limited energy. Instead of saying “yes” without thinking, start with “no.” Make a daily activity log, and prioritize items into those you must do, those you'd like to do and those that would be nice to do if you have the time and energy. Focus on the higher priority items -- those that are truly important to you. When possible, enlist the help of others when tackling that to-do list.
Many MS patients experience a temporary worsening of symptoms when the weather is very hot or humid. Running a fever, sunbathing, exercise or taking too-hot showers or baths can also make you overheat. To boost your energy, be proactive and avoid environments above 80 degrees. Take cool baths and showers rather than warm. Make sure your home, car and workplace have air-conditioning. Avoid the sun, and don’t cover yourself in anything heavier than a sheet at night. Wear lightweight clothing made with breathable fabrics and use cooling products, such as vests, neck wraps and bandanas during exercise or outdoor activity.
Choose Smart Snacks
Depending one what you eat, snacks can help or hurt your energy. Sure you'll get an energy boost from a candy bar that's low on nutrients but high in calories and sugar. But that boost will be short-lived because your energy will plummet along with your blood sugar. For a longer-term energy source, opt for complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and nutritious, starchy veggies, such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Craving something sweet? Choose whole fruit. You'll get a nice sweet fix, plus fiber that helps your body absorb the carbohydrates in the fruit more slowly, so you won’t crash later.
Practice Good Posture
Feeling tired? Do a quick posture check. Are your shoulders slumped forward? Learning to stand and sit in proper alignment can reduce fatigue. Stand with your body properly aligned: legs directly over feet, pelvis “neutral” (neither too flat nor too sway-backed), and hips, ribcage, shoulders and head in alignment. An ergonomic chair is a must at work, but it’s not ergonomic until it's adjusted to fit you. Make sure the headrest, backrest, seat height and armrest are adjustable. The top of your computer monitor should be level with your eyes and it should be facing toward you to minimize twisting your head and neck.
Make Time to Exercise
MS patients, like anyone else, can gain increased energy through exercise. But be careful not to overdo it and exhaust yourself. It’s also important that your exercise program takes into account your symptoms, such as any issues with balance, muscle weakness or dizziness. Choose an exercise that's enjoyable, available and convenient, so you’re more likely to stick with it. A physical therapist can evaluate your capabilities and help tailor a plan to your needs. Any workout program should be approved by your doctor, too. Be sure to drink plenty of water to stay cool and maintain your energy while exercising.
Nothing saps energy like a clutter, whether or not you have MS. But a home designed so that you can maneuver around stress-free can leave you with energy to spare. Arrange cabinets and shelves so the things you need most often are easy to reach. Make sure doorways are wide enough to accommodate crutches or a wheelchair (if you use them). Reduce clutter and remove throw rugs. At work, make sure your files, desk and computer are arranged efficiently. Research the possibility of working at home, at least part time. This will cut down on the energy needed to dress for and commute to the office, and allow you to rest when you need to.
Assistive devices that ease the strain of everyday activities can help you conserve energy, leaving more for the things that really matter. There's a wide range of tools available to help with every area of daily life. Tub and wall grab bars help you get in and out of the shower. Velcro and elastic shoelaces make it easier to get dressed. A food processor in the kitchen simplifies chopping duties. Wheelchairs and electric scooters can aid with mobility, and transfer boards and lifts can help you in and out of a bed, tub or car. Your doctor can refer you to a physiatrist or physical therapist who can prescribe assistive devices to make your life easier.