There are a number of symptoms you will experience when living with multiple sclerosis. But fatigue has to be one of the most common, if not the most common. It just comes with the territory. It’s a daily struggle. It can be debilitating and exhausting. It’s like the simplest things make you tired. And often it just comes out of nowhere.
You don’t have to be “running a marathon” or doing anything strenuous to feel super tired. Even after a good night’s sleep, there may be times when you wake up feeling very tired and heavy, like you’ve been hit by a truck. It can force you to cancel or postpone your plans and stay in bed all day.
It’s sometimes frustrating when those around you don’t understand what MS fatigue feels like. Or worse, when they think they understand and try to relate to you and say, “I know I feel the same way sometimes,” or “Just sit down for a bit, you’ll be fine,” or “Hurry up did you sleep last night?” And when you explain it to them, they still don’t get it. I always tell them that they forget that I was once perfectly healthy and I know the difference between “normally tired” and “MS tired”. I’m just “out of order”.
When it comes to fatigue, I would say the key to dealing with it effectively is listening to your body. Also, learn to identify things that trigger your fatigue. By paying attention to how your system responds to sugar, salt, fat, dehydration, lack of sleep, and overindulgence, you can develop patterns that can work for you or against you.
It also helps avoid habits that put extra work on your body. For example, eating late the next morning can trigger fatigue. If you think about it, your body spent the whole night digesting food instead of just resting. How will you not feel tired the next day? On the other hand, sometimes not eating your daily meals on time and starving for hours can also lead to fatigue. Everything is out of balance if you don’t eat. These two scenarios are simple examples of how you can get your body to do extra work just by trying to make the machine work properly.
For me, exercising frequently and staying hydrated throughout the day are two of the most effective ways to manage fatigue. When you exercise, you oxygenate and regenerate your cells. They pump your bloodstream, build energy and activate your muscles, making your limbs feel less heavy which translates to less fatigue.
Much of the fatigue is caused by overheating. Drinking plenty of ice cold water throughout the day can make a world of difference. In my case, I feel like all of my “tubes”, my esophagus, my intestines, are heating up without warning. So my trick is to bring an insulated water bottle filled to the brim with ice and water. I fill it up as I go and it stays freezing all day. This keeps my body cool and prevents the feeling that I have 300 degrees inside.
Another thing that changed the whole game for me in terms of fatigue was switching my meds. I had a really hard time controlling my fatigue and managing it with my previous medication. When I switched to my new medication, that was the first symptom to go away. Mind you, I am not recommending one treatment over the other, nor do I offer any type of medical advice. We know everyone is different and what worked for me may not work for you or vice versa. But it’s always worth talking to your doctor and seeing if another treatment can help.
Now let’s talk about the food. This is a big deal. Foods high in sugar, very salty, or high in saturated fat and difficult to digest can create a chain reaction of unbalanced symptoms, even in a person not living with MS. Imagine what they can do to us!
This is where a healthy, balanced diet comes into play. Most of our immune system lives in our gut. So when our digestive system is happy, our body is happy. We put less strain on our bodies by eating foods that provide us with the healthy nutrients we need and fewer toxins for our bodies to fight, causing high levels of fatigue. Our immune system is already on alert. We must do our best to “keep things calm” by providing our bodies with the right foods that create a sense of harmony and balance. This actually has the biggest impact on our overall health.
There is one thing that is critical not only to managing fatigue but also to preventing it: NOT CONVINCING IT. Don’t overexert yourself! There is nothing worse that you could do than push your limits. And I know sometimes we feel like we’re having a really good day, so today we’re going to do everything. Wrong, big mistake. You will unfortunately pay for it. MS takes a lot out of our hands, so on a good day we want to do all the things we normally can’t do, I get it. But it’s never a good idea to try to fit everything in one day and end up exhausted and dysfunctional. It’s about speed and energy saving.
Last but not least, at least 8 hours of sleep a day and naps throughout the day are of the utmost importance. A rested body and mind function better. Sometimes this can be very difficult as MS causes insomnia. Because of this, a nap can be very beneficial.
There are many techniques you can use to improve your sleep habits such as meditating before bed, drinking herbal teas, breathing techniques, listening to peaceful instrumental music, turning off the TV 1-2 hours before bed, disconnecting from all social media , have your last meal by 6 p.m. at the latest and more. Create an atmosphere of relaxation and let yourself slowly relax until you fall asleep. It can help you wake up fresh and recharged the next morning.
You don’t learn all that overnight. It’s a trial and error process. It takes time to adjust to your new body and its new behaviors. But at the end of the day, you know your body better than anyone. I always emphasize, listen to your body, do what works for you, and practice self-care.
Managing your fatigue is vital to your daily functioning. There will be good days and bad days. Sometimes it will unexpectedly get in your way like a wrecking ball and ruin your plans.
Fatigue is one of the many “perks” of living with MS, sadly but true.
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