by Lindsay Karp
Medically Reviewed by:
Megan Soliman, MD
by Lindsay Karp
Medically Reviewed by:
Megan Soliman, MD
Those of us with chronic illness have already made healthy adjustments to our lives. In January, when others are telling everyone how they’re going to change up their diet and exercise programs, we can focus on what gives our lives more meaning and pleasure.
As someone with multiple sclerosis (MS), I eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is also gluten-free because that allows me to feel my best. Daily workouts on an exercise bike have so far enabled me to maintain my walking ability and cardiovascular health. I made these lifestyle changes when I was diagnosed with MS, and I plan to continue them indefinitely.
Every January, when it seems like the entire world has made New Year’s resolutions, those of us in the chronic illness community can feel left out. We’ve already adjusted our lives according to our disease, and adopting further change isn’t always feasible. My diet and exercise regimen aren’t a trial I’m hoping to maintain as a resolution. They are permanent modifications I adhere to year-round to combat the symptoms of my disease.
If you’re among those who feel that New Year’s resolutions are beside the point, try switching your perspective and incorporating some of the following suggestions for an even happier, healthier new year.
When I fill my free time with activities that bring me happiness, I feel better mentally and physically. Being content reduces my stress, and that lessens my chances of having a disease flare. In the new year, I plan to do more writing, enjoy dinner at new restaurants, and schedule more movie nights with my family.
It’s easy to feel defeated and less inclined to try physically demanding activities when you’re living with a disease that alters your physical ability. But you may find that some activities can be added back into your life with certain modifications.
I once thought I couldn’t hike with my family. I’m not able to do strenuous uphill hikes, but with a little determination, daily exercise, and a lot of rest afterward, I found I could do short, flat hikes and even some short uphill hikes. I bring a small, lightweight, foldable stool that I can easily carry on my shoulder in case I need to rest. (It’s pretty low to the ground, though, so it might not work for everyone.) In the new year, I hope to find new trails to explore with my family.
I find I have more energy when I eat certain foods. A low carbohydrate diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and protein helps me keep my fatigue at bay, which in turn enables me to have a more active lifestyle.
While there are no official dietary guidelines for people with MS, scientists believe nutrition can influence the disease. In the new year, I plan to continue eating the foods that help me feel my best while trying new fruits, vegetables, and proteins I don’t typically choose. Branching out will offer me a wider variety of nutrients.
It can be stressful spending time with people who don’t understand our chronic illness and its effects. In contrast, spending time with those who appreciate our struggles can lessen the impact of our disease on our lives. When we make time for those who care about us most, we feel supported, and that makes all the difference.
In the new year, I plan to have more family nights with my husband and children and to spend more time with friends and family who ask how I’m doing, listen deeply, and care.
One thing about MS is consistent for me — the less sleep I get, the more symptoms I have. That turns out to be true for a lot of people with MS. When a weekend morning without plans presents itself, I take advantage of that time by sleeping later. I feel more energized, and I’m physically able to do more when I get more sleep.
This new year, I plan to put my sleep needs ahead of less important scheduling because the more well-rested I am, the better I am at fulfilling my parenting and work duties — and the happier I am, too!
I’ve been receiving an Ocrevus infusion every 6 months for more than 5 years, and I still have pre-infusion anxiety. I’m afraid the intravenous won’t go in smoothly, and I worry about infusion side effects because both situations have been issues in the past.
In the new year, I plan to reward myself after infusions with a nice dinner out or a special dessert from my favorite gluten-free bakery. Looking forward to a treat can lessen the anxieties that often result from our treatments. We deserve to reward ourselves for taking care of our health.
I have a type A personality, and I often push myself to do more than I should when my body needs rest.
In the new year, I plan to be kind to myself when I’m in a flare. Sometimes, that means canceling plans, putting responsibilities on hold, and asking for help — and that’s not only OK, but it’s also what we need and deserve.
One small 2018 study suggested that anticipation of future events can be great for your well-being and mental health. In the depths of winter, I like to focus on an upcoming event, as it helps me push myself through the season of New Year’s resolutions, dark weather, and less time outdoors.
In the new year, I will plan outdoor bike rides that I hope to complete this spring, and I’ll plan the details of our summer family vacation with anticipation of warmer weather to come.
I often add a new show to my “must-see” list, only to place it on the back burner soon after, as life becomes busy. But each time I find myself wrapped up in the excitement of a new show, I find I have something to look forward to at the end of my days — especially those weighed down by MS symptoms.
As chronic illness warriors, we have already adopted lifestyle changes that help us live daily. As a new year approaches, we may not be able to make further changes — or new resolutions — but if we aim to maintain our current regimens, we’re already a step ahead.
We don’t have the option of letting these lifestyle changes go after a few months. We’re committed to them indefinitely because in fighting against this disease, we’ve found strength we never knew we had.
Medically reviewed on January 05, 2024
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About the author
Lindsay Karp is a freelance writer with a background in speech-language pathology. She writes about parenting, life with MS, the struggle of receiving a diagnosis, and everything in between. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, Stat News, Parents, The Cut, TIME, Salon, Newsweek, Insider, and other outlets. You can follow her on X @KarpLindsay.