As COVID-19 cases continue to rise during these cold, winter months, the majority of Canadians are facing strict lockdown measures including restrictions on social interaction. 

While it is a difficult time for everyone, those managing MS are facing a unique set of challenges, including mobility restrictions due to limited help and a decline in mental health related to isolation.

Despite all of the struggles COVID-19 has presented, there is still so much to look forward to in the New Year.

Here are a few tips to consider using as you manage the negative impacts of social isolation and maintain your happiness and cheer in 2021.

  1. Design a daily routine that works for you
    For your 2021 new year’s resolution, consider focusing on creating a routine that brings you joy.

    To keep yourself busy and remaining positive, design a routine that instills joy in your day. Set time aside each day to work on something that fulfills you and digitally connect with others to maintain social connections. By waking up with a set plan, you have the ability to check off your accomplishments as you complete them, allowing you to feel busy and active every single day.1

  2. Learn a new skill
    As we remain isolated from one another, social events and obligations have disappeared from our calendars, leaving us with more free time on our hands.

    Instead of sitting in front of the TV throughout the day, try to learn a new skill.2 This can include crafting, joining a virtual painting class, or learning a new language. Keeping busy by practicing difficult mental puzzles, such as sudoku or word games, can also be a great way to expand your knowledge, as well as improve memory and concentration.
    Over time, you may find that you have a new skill, passion project or hobby to share with your loved ones in-person.

  3. Give back to your community
    It can be easy to focus on our own personal issues during this difficult time in lockdown. However, remaining in a negative mindset can be harmful for our long-term mental health and wellbeing.

    According to a study by Jorge Moll and colleagues, individuals who give back by volunteering, giving gifts or donating to others experience activity in the “pleasure centre” of their brain, meaning they experience feelings of warmth, happiness and optimism.3

    If you have noticed an increase in negative emotions due to social isolation, it might be time to focus on ways you can give back to those around you. It can be as simple as donating small monetary amounts to your favourite organization or donating used coats to a local charity. With the vast majority of charities collecting donations or second-hand items by porch pick-up, this is a great way to remain connected to your community in a safe and socially distanced manner.

    “…this is the lesson: Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
    - Winston Churchill

  4. Keep up with your doctor’s appointments
    As healthcare providers limit the amount of patients who can visit the office at one time due to COVID-19, it can be difficult for Canadians to see a doctor face-to-face. For the vast majority of patients, wait times have increased significantly and reduced mobility assistance or compromised immune systems may also deter individuals from leaving their home for appointments.

    However, it is more important than ever to keep up with regular appointments to ensure one’s health does not decline and emergency room visits are not warranted. Canadians are becoming more and more reliant on virtual healthcare and doctors are increasing their number of virtual appointments to meet this need.4 To ensure your physical and mental health is maintained during isolation, make sure you are keeping up with your regular doctor’s appointments through video conferencing or phone call.

  5. Focus on staying active at home
    While it can be hard to stay motivated when working out at home, especially if you are alone, continuing physical exercise can have major positive effects on the management of physical symptoms and improved mental health.

    Taking at least half an hour a day to engage in mild-to-moderate exercise can be vital for coping with mental distress, such as anxiety or depression, caused by social isolation.5 Try to pick the activity that you enjoy the most and that works for your physical capabilities. Activities such as yoga, light bodyweight exercises, stretching, pilates and mild cardio can all be beneficial to physical and mental wellbeing.

    If you find it difficult to get motivated to workout by yourself, there are a wide variety of group virtual fitness classes led by instructors who can help you learn new exercises and remain social from home.

Advice from Dr. John Cline, Medical Director of Cline Medical Centre

Working closely with MS patients utilizing PoNS TreatmentTM in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Dr. Cline sees the impact that stress and other external factors can have on his patient’s mindset as they go through the 14 weeks of treatment.

While recently working with a client, they both discussed the heightened anxiety, depression and overwhelming stress that most people face this time of year due to the lack of sunshine, colder weather and greater isolation. Specifically for those starting a new program or working on a new goal this time of year, such as PoNS TreatmentTM, it can seem overwhelming to take the first step.

To combat this, Dr. Cline suggests focusing on accomplishing small steps at a time, as opposed to tackling one large goal all at once. Remain strong in your goals and never give up. Focus on surrounding yourself with people who will encourage you and support you through all of life’s challenges. Together, even if it must be virtually, we can all start 2021 with perseverance and strength.

As we move into 2021, reach out often to loved ones who may need someone to talk to, or want to help you if you are experiencing distress due to prolonged isolation. Most importantly, never be afraid to speak to your doctor if further support is needed.

For additional MS support and information, check out our MS Community Resource pages and contact your nearest clinic to see if PoNS Treatment™ is right for you.

To stay up-to-date with PoNS Treatment™, follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter.

1 “6 tips for coping with social isolation and multiple sclerosis.” Healthline. May 28, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/6-tips-for-coping-with-social-isolation-and-multiple-sclerosis#The-bottom-line

2 “Coping with social distancing and self-isolation.” MS Society. 2020. https://www.mssociety.org.uk/care-and-support/ms-and-coronavirus-care-and-support/coping-with-social-distancing-and-self-isolation

3 “Good giving: Why helping others is good for your heart and your health.” Providence Health Plan. December 2014. https://healthplans.providence.org/fittogether/find-your-fit/emotional-well-being/self-care-caring-for-others/good-giving/

4 Macleod, Meredith. “New normal: Are virtual doctor’s appointments here to stay.” CTV News. May 14, 2020. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/new-normal-are-virtual-doctor-s-appointments-here-to-stay-1.4939255

5 C, Teresa., C, Antonio., P, Maria. “”The effect of COVID-19 lockdown on mental health in patients with MS.” Neurodiem. October 22, 2020. https://www.neurodiem.ca/news/the-effect-of-covid-19-lockdown-on-mental-health-in-patients-with-ms-2wkBmNLOeDoDytMjk7gzfS