Practicing self care is important for people in all situations and from all walks of life. Some individuals face challenges that make it especially crucial.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one such challenge. MS is a condition that affects the central nervous system, causing wide-ranging symptoms throughout the body.
And it may be more common than once thought. Most health organizations estimate around 400,000 Americans live with MS. Recent research, though, shows that the real number could be as high as one million.
So during MS Awareness Month, we wanted to do our part by taking a close look at this condition. In doing so, we can see how the act of caring for yourself and finding your moment of zen can help to improve both your physical health and your mental outlook, no matter what obstacles you may face in life.
The Challenges of Multiple Sclerosis
Many people have heard of MS. But unless you or someone close to you is affected by it, you may not know what the illness entails or how it can impact a person's life. So to better understand it, let's break MS and its effects down.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition where the body's immune system attacks myelin, the protective layer around nerve fibers. These attacks cause inflammation on the nerves as well as lesions, which can become lasting over time. When this happens, it hampers the brain's ability to send signals to the rest of the body.
As of now, we don't know what causes a person's immune system to turn on them like this. Researchers think that the cause may be environmental, caused by a virus or toxins entering the body. But no single agent has been linked conclusively to MS.
The damage associated with MS is caused by the inflammation of the nerves. The condition can go into remission as the destroyed myelin is replaced. However, chronic episodes can lead to lasting damage and scar tissue forming over the nerves.
Once scar tissue starts to form, lasting neurological impairment becomes probable. And because of how integral the nervous system is to almost every bodily function, its effects can be wide-reaching.
The Symptoms of MS
Because of the nature of MS and how it impacts the nervous system, two individuals may experience the illness very differently. The severity can likewise vary year to year, month to month, or even day to day.
It's one of the aspects that makes MS so challenging. You could be doing quite well one day, and then much less so the next.
So the illness doesn't only take a physical toll, but a mental one as well. It's one of the reasons why blocking out time to devote to oneself is so important to a positive prognosis.
Common symptoms of MS may include the following:
Fatigue with MS
Fatigue is the most common MS symptom. About 80% of individuals living with MS report major episodes of fatigue.
It's to the extent that it can interfere with a person's ability to go about everyday activities. And it's one of the leading causes of a person's early exit from the workforce.
To make the fatigue itself more challenging, a person's loved ones may misinterpret the symptom as depression. Or even worse, some may think that it's laziness.
These misunderstandings go to show why efforts like MS Awareness Month are important. Managing MS is difficult enough already. But when it seems like not even your loved ones are on your side, that obstacle becomes all the more insurmountable.
Difficulty Walking and Balancing with MS
Because MS affects the nervous system, mobility impairments are common as the illness progresses. Though the form these impairments take may vary from one person to the next.
Difficulty maintaining balance is one of the more common forms. This manifests as something called ataxia — the tendency to walk with a swaying, imprecise gait.
Excessive muscle tightness is another common symptom. This tightness can make it difficult or even impossible to walk normally. And in some cases, it can manifest as painful muscle spasms.
And one symptom that causes indirect mobility difficulty is numbness. People with MS may experience loss of sensation throughout their bodies. But when they lose the ability to feel the floor or where their feet are, it can result in what's called sensory ataxia.
However it manifests, these mobility issues make falls a constant risk for individuals with MS. Facilitating the ability to walk and move around while preventing falls is essential to living with MS.
Vision Problems with MS
In many cases, vision problems will be the first warning sign of MS. They may come and go with time or get worse as the illness progresses. And the may affect one or both eyes at a time.
The cause is the inflammation of the optic nerve as the body's immune system indiscriminately attacks the nervous system. The inflammation may manifest itself as aching pain with eye movement, blurred vision, dim vision, or loss of color vision.
As frightening as loss of vision can be, however, it usually returns. Symptoms tend to be worse when a person is overheated or fatigued, so rest and cooling down may help.
MS Awareness Month
Here at Pure Placid, MS isn't something that exists in a vacuum. Rather, it has a personal significance to us and our founder, Marcy Miller.
Marcy's husband Dennis lives with MS. And the ways he has chosen to confront the disease and the challenges it poses informs a great deal of our philosophy.
And it's in his honor that we devote so much energy to MS awareness.
Like many who face this illness, Dennis struggled with the diagnosis. But improvement came with acceptance and a determination for Dennis and Marcy to both "claim their calm", no matter what life could throw at them.
It was Dennis who came up with the idea of a moment of Zen. It means to take a few moments each day to dedicate to self-care.
What that moment of Zen looks like may vary from one person to the next. It could be rest, relaxation, or meditating on one's blessings.
And it's in that spirit that we dedicate our special MS awareness candle available during MS Awareness Month. Each year, Pure Placid produces a limited run of these exclusive candles, with proceeds benefiting the Multiple Sclerosis Society. It's a great way to incorporate soy candles into your moment of Zen while contributing to a worthy cause.
Using Self-Care to Help Manage MS
Getting prompt treatment for MS is essential to a positive outcome. Although no cure currently exists, therapies exist that can slow the illness' progression, lower relapse rates, and improve a person's overall quality of life.
But how people care for themselves in their everyday life plays an equally large role. Whether you live with MS or not, anyone can benefit from making these self-care techniques a part of their routine.
Meditation is linked to a variety of physical and mental health benefits, reduced stress levels being one of the most prominent.
Carrying excess stress over long periods is linked to a litany of health issues. It tends to go hand-in-hand with depression, causes increased blood pressure and risk of cardiac events, and a weakened immune system, to name only a few.
And high-stress levels also tend to exacerbate the issue posed by MS.
De-stressing while living with a chronic illness may seem like a Sisyphean task. But regular meditation help to manage symptoms and induce a greater sense of overall wellbeing.
That was the finding of a randomized trial. The study randomly assigned 139 people with MS to receive an online meditation course or an educational course combined with exercise.
The meditation intervention consisted of eight weeks of a mindfulness-based stress reduction course. The control group was given the standard educational course and exercise regimen. The results showed that the meditation group enjoyed a higher quality of life and reduced anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.
The caveat was that the benefits tapered off six months after the course. So the implication appears to be that to see continued benefits, you need to continue to make time for self-care.
Fortunately, it's easy to make time for meditation. Breathing techniques are a very simple form that you can practice even while you're engaged in an activity. For an example, check out our guide on the 5-5-5 breathing technique.
One of the most important things you can do to help ensure a positive MS outcome is to stay active. But that can be a lot easier said than done considering the symptoms that come with the illness.
Tai chi is one potential solution. Based on classical Chinese martial arts, this form of exercise involves slow, controlled movements and deep, rhythmic breaths. In many ways, it functions as another form of meditation.
Tai chi may help alleviate anxiety and depression. It also encourages better sleep patterns and an elevated mood.
Like meditation, practicing Tai Chi is linked to a higher quality of life for individuals living with chronic conditions like MS.
Similar to Tai Chi, yoga is a form of exercise that trains the mind and spirit as much as it does the body.
The stereotype of yoga usually consists of a lot of exotic poses and stretches. Something more akin to a contortionist act than what the average person could do. And when you consider the mobility challenges MS poses, it may seem even less practical.
But that's a common misconception. Yoga is a flexible practice, and anyone can adapt its teachings to meet their particular needs. And yoga for MS is no exception.
Rest and Relaxation
The simplest way that you can care for yourself is to take time out for appropriate physical and mental rest.
We often put ourselves under unrealistic pressure to always be active and engaged in some way. To always be moving and producing.
Human beings were not meant to operate at that high of a level for indefinite periods. We need opportunities to decompress.
That's especially true for those of us living with chronic illnesses. And it's one of the things that we can struggle with the most.
In a culture that prizes productivity, we're taught to feel self-indulgent for taking time to merely exist. Defeating that toxic idea and allowing yourself to rest when you need it is one of the biggest steps forward that you can take.
Soy Candle Benefits for Self-Care
So we understand the importance of self-care and have even explored a few key ways to practice it. Where do candles fit into the equation? To put it simply, the use of soy can enhance many of your self-care practices.
Using scented candles in this way follows the same principles as aromatherapy. Aromatherapy was used in ancient China, India, and Egypt for all manner of medicinal applications.
And the practice is still popular to this day. Using scents as a form of therapy is said to help relieve pain, reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and boost mood.
And it makes sense why this would be the case.
Our mood and sense of smell share a close link. Our ability to process scents is handled by the region of the brain called the limbic brain.
This region of the brain plays a major role in handling emotions, thoughts, and memory. If you ever noticed that a certain smell can take you back to a strong memory, that's why.
Scent molecules are also small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier — the border that keeps the brain separate from the rest of the body. These molecules may then interact with the central nervous system.
How scents interact with the brain and nervous system explains how they can influence things like stress levels, mental clarity, and our ability to focus. And it's why scents can amplify the benefits of mindfulness-based self-care like mediation as well as encourage general relaxation.
Soy Candles Versus Other Candles
So candles in general have a litany of ways that they can help you find your moment of zen. But why would you choose soy candles specifically?
As it happens, not all candles are created equal. Here are only a few advantages offered by soy candles that alternative materials can't compete with.
Soy Candles Are All-Natural
As the name would suggest, soy candles are made from refined soybean oil. By contrast, the most common candles are made from paraffin, which is a by-product of refining gasoline.
Which is a stark contrast when you put it in those terms. Which would you rather have in your home: a natural product raised from the earth or the leftovers from an oil refinery?
And because soy wax is a natural product, it's biodegradable. The same can't be said for petroleum-based paraffin.
Soy Candles Are Healthier
Not only are soy candles made from a renewable resource as opposed to fossil fuels, but they burn far cleaner as well. Soy candles produce a fraction of the smoke of paraffin candles. And what smoke they do generate has lower levels of toxic particulates.
Paraffin candles produce dark soot that stains walls, tarnishes linens, and cause respiratory irritation.
And if being derived from petroleum wasn't bad enough, many paraffin candles have extra additives to make them look, smell, and burn better. Petroleum-based microcrystallines are a common one, used to improve the texture of the wax. And polyethylenes produced from natural gas are used to add a glossy finish to candles.
Those are only two common types of additives. Various polymers, mineral oils, and noxious compounds can all make their way into your paraffin candles.
Candle wicks are another potential issue. Because of how paraffin wax burns, candlemakers usually need to add some kind of stabilizer to the wicks. As recently as 2003, one of the most common such materials was lead.
By contrast, soy candles — including the wicks — may be made with all-natural and non-toxic materials. It's a safe, clean process that responsible candlemakers pride themselves on.
And it requires so few specialized materials you could make your own soy candles in your home kitchen if you wanted to. And being natural, soy wax is also easier to clean up if a spill happens. Rather than harsh chemical cleaners, all you need is a little warm water and soap.
Soy Candles Last Longer
Soy wax burns more slowly and evenly than paraffin wax. Hence, between two candles of equivalent size, you'll get more value out of the soy candle.
The wax also has a lower melting point and thus tends not to get as hot as paraffin wax. If you ever let a paraffin candle drip on you by accident, you know how painful it can be. In severe cases, they can even cause significant burns.
But because soy wax doesn't get as hot, the risk from accidents is a good deal lower.
As a side-effect of paraffin candles burning as hot as they do, their scents tend not to last very long, either. The wax gets so hot the fragrance starts to burn off.
Soy candles don't have that issue. Burning at a lower temperature, they release their scents gradually rather than all at once. So you can enjoy their scents far longer, further increasing their value relative to paraffin candles.
Soy Is Vegan and Plentiful
Soy isn't the only natural source of wax. Beeswax and bayberry are two other popular alternatives.
But both of these materials have issues of their own.
While some vegans may make an exception, most will avoid using beeswax because it is an animal product, after all. And bayberry wax takes a great deal of effort to produce. On average, it takes four pounds of whole bayberries to produce one pound of wax.
In both cases, the materials are in short supply, making them expensive and less renewable.
Soy wax, on the other hand, is plentiful. Farmers raise it in bulk in almost every corner of the world. In the United States, they're the second-biggest crop, behind corn. So as a fringe benefit, by buying soy candles you're helping to support farming communities while you go green.
Choosing the Right Soy Candle
While soy candles are undeniably better than common paraffin candles, there're not all created equal.
For one, you'll need to consider the space in which you'll be using your candles. Which in turn depends on what your moment of Zen looks like.
Meditation, for example, can be done in any space with enough room to sit. Tai Chi and yoga, not so much. So while you might enjoy the aesthetics of a series of pillar candles of different sizes all lined up, bear in mind how much space they take up and how much you plan to be moving around in that space.
Another aspect to consider is the exact scent that you want in your space.
Scents like lavender, eucalyptus oils, chamomile, and sandalwood are prized for their soothing qualities. This makes them ideal for your relaxation and mediation space.
On the other hand, scents like ginger, rosemary, peppermint, cinnamon, and citrus tend to have the opposite effect. They energize the space that they're used in, making them ideal for light exercises like tai chi or yoga.
Or you could split the difference with our candle for MS awareness. It has a base of mountain air, balsam, pine needles, cinnamon, and cedar, accented with notes of peach and lily. Combined, it creates a majestic woodsy scent that's equally at home in your yoga studio or private space of meditation and contemplation.
Finding Your Moment of Zen
When facing a chronic condition like MS, your mindset can have a huge impact on your prognosis. While that may sound like a cliché, it's an observed medical fact.
So in this MS Awareness Month, and in the months and years to come, try to carry that lesson with you. We can't control the cards that life deals us with. But how we play our hand is completely in our control.
And if you are living with MS, one way you can start is to check out these five ways you can start living a better life today.