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Julie  Stachowiak, Ph.D.

Q. What does "take it easy" mean, exactly?

By September 13, 2010

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I got this question from a reader just this morning and have really been thinking about what the answer is. To paraphrase: "My doctor told me to 'take it easy.' I guess I need a definition. What does that mean? Does it mean total bed rest or just do less than I usually do? What do you think?"

A. Wow. That is a good question. Unfortunately, I think the answer here is "it depends."

When we are recovering from a sprain, "take it easy" usually means stay off the injured part for a specified time (i.e. "don't put your full weight on that ankle for two weeks and keep it wrapped"). Easy enough. Pregnant women are also given very specific instructions, depending on the circumstances (i.e. "you are on modified bed rest - can get up for meals, to shower and for appointment - until you reach 37 weeks gestation"). Also very clear.

For those of us with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis, "take it easy" can get pretty fuzzy and can mean different things for different circumstances:

  • During a Solu-Medrol treatment course: Here "take it easy" might mean to avoid stressful situations (and people) for a week or so, to prevent 'roid rage. Stay home and be quiet. Distract yourself with nice movies and books.
  • After your interferon injection: You may feel like you have the flu. Take some Tylenol or Motrin and stay in bed a couple extra hours. Don't push yourself the day after your injection.
  • If you have fatigue (or more than usual): Maybe it will help to lay low and conserve your strength. Yes, this may mean a day in bed for some people. For others, examining your schedule and to do list and scratching off the non-essentials may be enough to get through a rough patch.

Bottom line - without knowing the exact situation, it is hard to say what a doctor means when they advise someone to "take it easy." They may not even know themselves until they are asked to really give specifics. I would recommend asking the doctor two questions: 1) What does that mean, exactly? 2) Why?

I ask "why?" for all recommendations like this to see if there is really a reason. Clearly, if I am healing from a procedure or recent infection, I can see the benefit of rest. If I am just MS-y and a doc (especially one that is not a neurologist) tells me to "take it easy," I am a little more hesitant to take that advice until there is a good reason. People with MS have built-in "brakes" in the form of fatigue, pain, muscle weakness, cognitive dysfunction and all sorts of other little malfunctions that force us to "take it easy" all the time. I need to know that this is a true "doctor's order" and not just something to say to a patient with a chronic disease that the doc cannot "fix."

Just my two cents. Anyone else want to jump in here, leave your comment below.

Read more on How to Communicate with Your MS Doctor.

September 13, 2010 at 6:14 pm
(1) Matt says:

I have a hard time multitasking so whenever I’m busy concentrating and think of something else I need to do I tell myself “don’t talk” which means to put that other thought on hold until I have time to think about it.

“don’t talk” is a joke from the movie Bullets Over Broadway

September 14, 2010 at 2:16 am
(2) Deb says:

It is so easy for a non-ms person to think resting would be better and maybe easier. I have such a hard time resting because my mind is so focused on what I see needs to be done, and realize that it may take a very long time to do even a simple task. I just can’t seem to give up trying. Should I?

September 15, 2010 at 11:58 am
(3) Colleen says:

Yeah, the resting thing. I joked with my neuro, “How do I know when I need rest, or when I’m just being a lazy butt??” She laughed and said it didn’t matter. JUST REST.

September 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm
(4) Gwen says:

I’ve just recovered from a 6 week bout of fatigue. Rest meant really rest. I couldn’t even be a passenger in a car- just getting to the car was hard, but I couldn’t do 20 minutes sitting and had to put the seat down to lie down. I couldn’t wait to get back to my bed and just lie! I’m now over that and have amazing energy, or so I think. I’m back at work full time but the legs are warning me each night and each morning that I’m over doing it. The problem is I prefer to go till I can’t, I struggle to stop before it’s too late. My fear is that people will think I’m just being lazy. When it’s too late and I’m just so tired I don’t bother what people think. Am I the only one that struggles with this?

September 17, 2010 at 7:40 am
(5) Patricia says:

This is a good question. I would think it to mean to reflect on what my situation is, i.e., has my MS been bothering me?, have I had stressful situations crop up recently?, or maybe to
remember not to push myself…no longer try to be Superman & “leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Of course, like you said, I would ask specifically what he meant, but overall, it would mean to be “MINDFUL” of and for myself.

September 18, 2010 at 5:53 pm
(6) Luisa says:

The subject and the comments in this post are real insightful.
I have MS for 18 years, althought the dx was only 6 years ago. I now work helping others MSers at the portuguese MS society. But can’t help to remind a day years ago when a young boy that loved to ride his bike on mountains and go to the nights with friends asked me what the doctor meant when he said “You have MS and now take it easy.”
How do we say to a young soul to take it easy?! To slow down a bit doesn’t mean a complete stop, to enjoy life by looking inside to his body and mind and emotions, to learn meditation and nutrition… well it’s all great but sounds bla bla bla to a 18 year old!
It reminds me how blessed I was not to know that I have MS probably before my 14′s.
Because a lot worse than MS is fear and isolation. The couple years after dx were hell because I didn’t know what to do and where to find peace. The world was upside down. Now everything is smooth regarding to MS and I just wish to help others on their quest.
My contribution here but is everyone’s experience that counts. Thank you so much for bringing this subject up

September 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm
(7) Pam says:

Resting in the middle of the day or before things are done is synonymous with laziness. I’ve been trying to convince myself this is not so but easier said than done. I keep on trying, though.

October 8, 2010 at 12:42 am
(8) Emily says:

I was just diagnosed with MS! And am finding it very difficult to deal with it started with my eyes, worked with my legs, and numbness and a irratation. I was wondering if anyone can help me get through. Need a email buddy that is going through the same thing.

February 9, 2014 at 5:26 pm
(9) Mike says:

could also mean dont bother coming back to work.

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