Basic Occupational Therapy: Smaller Tasks
With time, your multiple sclerosis (MS) may start to cause tasks that were once done with ease to become quite difficult. MS may also affect just how much you can handle doing before burning out. Both these factors tend to determine your level of productivity, so MS commonly causes people to feel like they just can't get anything done! But you have to, right? Other people with MS get stuff done, right? But how? How do people with a chronic disease like MS maintain their lives when they sometimes may feel like the idea of simply getting out of bed seems like too huge an endeavor?
Thinking back to the advice from my occupational therapist
When I realized that I was asking myself this on a daily basis, I thought back to all the work I have done in occupational therapy and the number one rule my occupational therapist (OT) talked about: energy conservation. Finding ways to make tasks easier so they don't cause so much fatigue that you can not complete them.
Focusing on energy conservation
This involves finding an easier way to complete a task so that it does not overwhelm you with fatigue. A lot of the time, this will involve how you physically do something. Maybe you find it difficult or impossible to stand long enough to do the dishes or prepare a meal. The task of operating in the kitchen can be made easier by using a chair/stool to allow you to sit rather than stand. They sell adjustable stools with back support and armrests specifically for this purpose, and they cost just a little more than a shower chair!
Breaking up a task into manageable chunks
An OT can help you find many similar solutions to many different tasks. But what I find especially helpful is the concept of taking a large (or sometimes even small) task and breaking it down into several smaller tasks. I often find myself avoiding doing something that really needs to get done because just the idea of it overwhelms, me so I will end up just avoiding it altogether.
I’ll use the cleaning of my desk area as an example. After a while, I will be sitting at my desk and realize that there is just a lot of clutter, a fine layer of dust has settled over everything, my stack of unopened mail is spilling onto the floor, and the trash needs to be emptied. As a whole, it just looks like too huge of a mess to try to tackle right now so “maybe I will get it done tomorrow because maybe tomorrow I will be feeling better?” But surprise! Those MS symptoms that were bugging me are still there!
Overcoming the desire to procrastinate tasks due to fatigue
Once I remember that this is typically just how I feel most of the time and that if I put off getting something done until I feel perfect I will never get it done, I try to look at the task the way I learned to look at it in occupational therapy: as several smaller tasks. This helps me feel less overwhelmed because instead of seeing this as a huge disaster in need of a professional cleanup crew, I can now see it as multiple smaller “projects” that I can complete at my own pace with rest breaks in between.
One task at a time
Even if I don’t get them all done in one day, I can still cross them off the list which means I am that much closer to a clean work environment than I was yesterday. Now I no longer feel overwhelmed because I am just thinking about one task at a time: take out the trash; dust; open all the mail; throw the envelopes away; shred what is trash; file what I need to keep. It’s a lot easier to tackle a task like this when you don’t look at the mess as a whole but instead focus on “open each envelope” and nothing else.
Divide and conquer.
Does your employer provide workplace accommodations due to your MS?