Living with someone who has MS is not always easy. At times, it can be difficult and frustrating. But as a family member, the first thing we need to understand is that our difficulties pale in comparison to our loved one who has MS. For them just getting through the day is difficult and unless we have experienced it, we don't understand it. But we have to accept it.
Here are some ways that we can help reduce stress for our loved ones:
1. Understanding. There is so much that we need to understand. The more we understand, the better we will be at helping our loved one get through stressful situations as well as not becoming the cause of a stressful situation ourselves. We need to understand the disease itself and that it has affected our family member in ways that are out of their control. We need to be sensitive to how their symptoms effect them and what they need from us to help them. We ultimately need to understand that we cannot completely understand what they are going through and must therefore accept what they tell us and then do our very best to remember that life is different for them. They do not always experience or process things in the same manner in which we do. Therefore, it is up to us, at times, to alter our way of thinking so that they may be able to better manage particular situations in life. Understanding and appropriate actions and reactions on our part is key to less stress for the person with M
2. Patience. I cannot stress this one enough! There are times that your loved one may frustrate and exasperate the bejeebers out of you! But this is not about you. This is about your family member and your role in reducing or helping to eliminate stress for them. There will be times when your loved one can't keep up with your pace, is too tired to go out, can't think straight or put words together correctly to express a thought. Sometimes you will ask a question and get no response. This is not because they don't want to answer or don't have an answer...they're just waiting for the neurons to fire that will help them put the answer together and get it out. Our natural response, as healthy individuals, is to push them harder. But this is exactly what they don't need! Pushing them harder may cause extra stress and the situation could deteriorate quickly. It is at times like these that we, as family members, need to step back and allow the process to take place at whatever speed works for them. The less pressure we put on a person with MS, the better they will be able to function.
3. Know their stress triggers. Refer to #3 in the section above. By knowing a person's triggers, we can help to diffuse or eliminate situations that may bring about stress. Sometimes, we may recognize triggers that the person with MS does not.
4. Know your boundaries. Our natural instinct is to help others in need. Sometimes this is not a good idea when it comes to a person with MS. Our good intentions could actually backfire and create a stressful situation for them. Just because a person with MS may react more slowly and/or less efficiently than you do, doesn't necessarily mean that they need or want your help. A person with MS is no different than anyone else when it comes to the desire of being self sufficient or having the satisfaction of achieving something on your own. Know when to help and when not to. Work together to develop a system of communication that will allow each of you to know when it is time to step in and when it is not.
5. Assurance. A family member with MS wants to know that it is okay that they have MS. Many people with MS carry the stress of feeling like a burden to their loved ones. They feel like they have let their families down or are holding them back. It is important to let them know that you love them regardless. Continually assure them verbally, with your actions, body language and demeanor that they are a vital and integral part of your family
6. Back Off! This is a tough one as it involves egos. It is also something that has taken me a while to learn. Sometimes a family member may feel ignored, unimportant or like they are in the way of the person with MS. This can be due to the fact that it can be very easy to misread or misinterpret the actions and responses (or non-responses) from this person. Remember, a person with MS has a lot to deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes it takes every ounce of energy they have to deal with a particular symptom(s) and just get through the day. Just because you may not get a response (or the response you wanted) doesn't mean you are being discounted or trivialized. This person is just trying to cope at the moment. If you have ever experienced a migraine headache, I believe you can relate. So sometimes, in order to avoid creating stress, we will need to put our ego aside, back off...and not take it personally.
The Role of a Trainer
It is critically important that we, as trainers, understand how stress affects people with MS if we are going to be working with them. The first three sections of this article provide you with a lot of crucial information and it is important that you understand each section. But your role as trainer means that you will be working with a person on a different level than anyone else and in a different arena. Therefore, there are several other factors that you must be aware of to aid you in helping relieve and avoid creating unnecessary stress for your client.
1. Get to know your client. If you are a trainer worth your salt, then this is something you already do. But I want to remind you that a person with MS has issues that are unlike your other clients. And to complicate the situation, each client with MS has their own unique set of issues. Find out as much about your client as you can. But don't just focus on their MS. They are more than MS. They are a person. They have likes and dislikes. They have family. They have hobbies. Get to know them and they will be more comfortable around you. You do need to understand their MS, however. What type do they have? What are their symptoms? How often do they have flare ups? What are their triggers? What works to calm their stress? These are all things you need to know. Showing a client that you care about them and want to understand them goes a long way in helping them ease their anxiety and feel comfortable with you.
2. Alleviate your client's apprehensions. This may be the first time that your client has ever entered a gym. For them, just opening the doors and walking into the unknown could be very stressful. Many people carry the perception that gyms are for big, strong, muscular people that like to throw around weights and grunt a lot. There is a great possibility that your client is dreading entering through those doors because they believe they will be totally out of their element. Will people stare at them? Will they be made fun of? Will they feel self conscious? Will exercise hurt? Will they be able to do what is required of them? These are some of the questions that may be flying through their heads. It is up to you, the trainer, to make sure that your client has their fears and apprehensions eased as quickly as possible.
First impressions go a long way in relaxing the client. When a client walks in to your place of business, they should feel welcome and at ease. Make sure that there is someone there to greet them, direct them or answer any questions they may have. This person, whether it is you or someone else, should be polite, friendly and knowledgeable. The clients immediate impression should be that they have come to the right place.
The environment should not feel sterile or impersonal. It should be inviting as well as neat, clean and orderly. Restrooms should be clearly marked. Many people with MS suffer from bladder issues and locating bathroom facilities is one of the first things they do to put themselves at ease upon entering a new environment. If your restrooms are not visible from the point of entrance, make sure that directional signs are clearly visible.
The overall atmosphere should help your client understand that this is not a clinical setting such as a hospital. Your client should feel as though they were eagerly expected, that their time is a precious as yours and that they are the only person that matters during their slated sessi
It is imperative that you answer every question your client has. The more they know about what is going to take place will allow them greater comfort. You may also need to address questions they may be afraid to ask. Many of these people may be silently wondering how they will ever be able to exercise when just climbing a set of stairs drains them of every ounce of energy they have. It is a good idea, even if they don't ask, to explain to them that the program you will be developing for them will meet them where they're at. Let them know that the exercise will start light and the pace will be slow until you both discover what they can handle comfortably. Explain that this is a process that happens over time and that through this process you hope to help them find renewed energy, strength, mobility or whatever else their particular symptoms may require. But make sure they know that for the process to be effective it will take dedication on their part.
Always be conscious of your clients body language and signals. If you notice apprehension on your client's part, take some time to set them at ease and make sure you constantly assure and encourage them.
The ultimate goal in working with your client is to help them improve their quality of life. For this to happen, they will need to continue returning to your place of business. Therefore, make sure when your client is done with their session that they leave happy and convinced that they made the right decision choosing to work with yo
3. Assure them of your abilities. Your client may have a lot of questions about your credentials and your experience in working with people who have MS. Be truthful with them. Tell them about your training, certifications and experience. If you have not had much or any experience working with people who have MS, let them know that too. But make sure to present it in a professional and confident manner. Explain to them that each of your clients is an individual that comes to you with their own set of unique circumstances and that you have had to work with many different types of situations and ailments over the years. Share with them testimonials from some of your other clients. Whatever you do, don't be apologetic for lack of experience. Be sure of yourself.
The best way to be sure of yourself is to learn as much about MS as possible. Experience will be an awesome teacher. But until you gain that experience, you need to take it upon yourself to read as much as you can about the disease and its effects on people. Go on-line and search for people's stories about how MS has affected them and what they have done to battle it. Talk to trainers who you know have experience working with people who have MS. Don't stop learning as this is a disease with a lot of unknowns and new information is always being released.
MS Fitness Challenge (MSFC) and American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA) have partnered together to produce a specialty certification course for fitness trainers who would like to work with people who have MS. You may find out more about the MS Fitness and Wellness Specialist course at one of the following links:
Remember, as a trainer, your client has come to you as the professional. They are seeking your expertise to help them change their lives for the better and they are putting their health and welfare in your hands. Do not take this lightly. Be prepared and be the best that you can be so that you can help create a positive difference in the life of someone who needs your help.
Feel free to contact me at any time. I am happy to talk to anyone about defeating this disease.
Thank you for joining in the fight to overcome MS!
To health, happiness and continued success,