Self-Development

Normally at this time of year I do a yearly recap and/or setting goals for the new year, but seeing as 2020 did not turn out how anyone expected, it seems unnecessary to recap and hard to want to set goals since we have no idea what’s coming (not that we’ve ever had an idea but there was more optimism in the past). By the way, if you want to watch an extremely funny take on the past year check out “Death to 2020” on Netflix – satire at its finest. Here’s the thing though, I don’t think personal development has to stop because things aren’t going well in the world. At least it doesn’t stop for me. Sure, some things were completely derailed because of the pandemic, and some more so for some people than others but I don’t want to stop living to the best of my abilities, do you?

I read an article on Global News this morning, indicating that 40% of Canadians have been struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse issues since the beginning of the pandemic (and about 30% with weight gain). Interestingly the normal yearly prevalence rates for mental illness in Canada is about 20%, but the lifetime prevalence is 50% (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2020). Our yearly rate is definitely up, and only time will tell how the lifetime prevalence will be affected. I think it is safe to say that this year we all should focus on our mental health. Whether that means going to therapy (check your area for free counselling options or therapists will sliding scales), utilizing crisis intervention services, or just enhancing our self-care practices to try and keep ourselves as feeling as good as possible, we all need to do something. In terms of substance abuse, it’s important to monitor how much you’re drinking and do the occasional detox/cleanse is probably a good idea. Finally, if you’re concerned about your weight, try to come up with ways to exercise at home (I’ve done a lot of this and post a workout video every 3 weeks on this blog).

At home exercise can be as effective as at the gym exercise.

So, in a sense, we kind of do have some goals for this year that are totally realistic, regardless of what the year has in store for us. For chronic illness warriors, I’m adding one additional, totally realistic goal as well. And trust me, I’m going to do these with you as well.

  1. Prioritizing our mental health: therapy and/or crisis intervention services AND self-care (if you can subscribe to my premium posts, they are all about improving self-care).
  2. Watch how much we are drinking: go a week here-and-there without drinking at all; monitor what you do drink; and try not to drink too much. I find tea in the evening is a good substitute for a drink.
  3. Keep in as good of shape as we can: my chiropractor told me he thinks my recovery from surgery has gone so well because I was in good shape before my surgery. Eat healthy and find creative ways to exercise at home!
  4. Continue to monitor and prioritize your illness: go to your doctor appointment (virtually if necessary), take your medications, utilize any other health services you have, and rest as needed.
Self-care can be anything you enjoy doing, that makes you feel good, and it is essential for mental health.

I’m going to link some podcast episodes for you to listen to when you get a chance in order to help you with these goals:

The best goals are SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound – so remember that when actually making your goals for the year. For example, my goal for mental health is: Do one self-care activity every day for at least 5 minutes, 7 days a week for the whole year. If you need help creating some of these goals, feel free to reach out.

Take care of yourself this coming year, and keep on making the most of it.

10-minute (mostly) unguided meditation

This video was shot at Lake Ontario in Kingston during a cold, rainy day in the summer.

I hope you’ve been enjoying these meditations. This one is mostly up to you. I chime in about half way to remind you to let go of any thoughts, but otherwise you are probably getting pretty good at these. Mindfulness has been shown to be very beneficial for both physical and mental health. I hope you’re taking care of yourself this holiday season, and always.

For more on the benefits of mindfulness, check out my podcast episode with Dr. Alex Triendl.

Keep making the most of it. ❤

Connecting for Mental Health

This is my little early Merry Christmas/general Happy Holidays post for 2020. This year has been hard for many people, and the holidays are probably stressful or sad for many people this year, especially without being able to see family as normal. I don’t want to repeat my podcast topic for the week (you can find that here), so I’m not going to talk about stress, I’m going to talk about connecting during the holidays. I will state that I am with my parents. As a single person I’ve joined another household and this is my first Christmas not working in retail as well so I actually have time off (though according to my friends in retail this year is not like a regular holiday season there anyway). We’re also very careful, literally take our temperatures every morning and don’t leave the house to go anywhere. Safety first.

Christmas socks

Now, for this connections thing. Yes, it’s important to be safe and try to avoid cross-household gatherings. But we’ve all heard this in the news for weeks already. What can we do to have connections? How can we still be social or have a normal Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate)? Here are some of my suggestions:

  • use Facetime/Zoom/Skype/whatever video chat service you like to connect with family on the holiday. This could mean eating dinner together while video chatting. Opening presents while video chatting. Playing games over video chat. Or all of the above. It can help make it feel a lot less lonely and a bit more normal.
  • use those video chat services to connect with your friends! Much of the same way listed above. This is how I’ve connected with most of my friends over the past 9 months anyway, so might as well continue!
  • Do some holiday baking and gift wrapping! Whatever you normally do (or maybe this year try it if you don’t normally) and leave it on the door steps of neighbours, friends, or family. Have a socially distanced conversation when you drop it off.
  • Spend time with your fur babies. They are a great way to feel less lonely and connect.
  • If you’re feeling desperate make sure you reach out to a hotline or textline for support. That’s what these lines are for. I signed up for a 2 hour shift on Christmas Day with Kids Help Phone. I have no idea if it will be busy or slow but I do know that this year more than ever, people need support. So use these programs if you need them.
Amazing cuddles with this fur baby.

Remember, you are loved. This year is not normal. It doesn’t have to be terrible. Try to remember the positive, and make as many connections as you can.

Happy Holidays. Make sure you make the most of it!

Daily Stretches: Hips

I had a request to do a video on what I do for hip stretches so here it is! Obviously I made this video before my hip surgery (I planned in advance!). This video includes stretches, strengthening exercises, and range of motion exercises for the hips that are great for tight hips, arthritis, and labral tears (the last 2 exercises were given to me because of the tear, the first two due to hip pain/tightness). Please consult your own healthcare team before trying them out. If you have any video requests please shoot me an email or a DM on Instagram @janeversuspain.

For more on the importance of stretching, check out my podcast episode, “Massage Therapy for Chronic Pain,” where Danielle Potvin explains how stretching can help your body.

https://chronicallyliving.buzzsprout.com/

Keep making the most of it!

Patience

Have you heard the phrase: “Good things come to those who wait.”? It seems silly but it can also be true. Granted, when it comes to chronic illness, the concept of patience can be applied to a variety of things. Patience with ourselves, patience with our symptoms, patience with the healthcare system (like getting an accurate diagnosis or scheduling surgery), patience with our loved ones. And it’s true, that good things don’t always happen. It’s an optimistic, slightly silly concept. In reality, we usually have to do things to make those “things” happen. If we don’t call and bug the doctor’s office for appointments; if we don’t try to do what we can when we can (or in reverse, allow ourselves to rest when we need to); if we don’t try to be proactive and find ways to help our symptoms (holistic/alternative medicine, Western medicine etc.) then good things will never happen. However, the “good things” may only happen after a given period of time even when we are proactive, hence, “good things come to those who wait.”

Photo taken outside of Vernon, BC.

Growing up, I took martial arts. I am going to right now recommend that if you have children and the means to put them into martial arts – do it! It’s not about fighting or even just self-defence (which is a good reason for sure), it’s about the ability to learn patience. When I was 10 through 13, my brother and I took Shotokan (non-contact) Karate (okay, contact kind of happens by accident sometimes when you get to the higher belts). Every class begins and ends with meditation, but where you really learn to be patient is during testing. You must be present at the beginning of the day and watch all the people with belts below yours test before you can leave. Easy when you’re a white or yellow or even orange belt, but when you’re a kid and a green, purple, brown or black belt, that process of sitting, watching quietly, for hours can be testing. But it creates great patience.

My highest rank in karate.

Patience came up for me because as you may know from previous posts, the original practicum opportunity I secured was revoked (mistake by the site) and I had to apply to a new place, and get an extension from school. I secured a new placement, wrote my 34 page application package for the university, then waited nearly a month for an approval (it did get approved!). That left me with like a week and a half to plan and execute a cross-country move. I’ll admit it was hard to stay patient during that month, but, my practice with patience from childhood and with experiences with health made it slightly easier (now I’m just trying not to be too overwhelmed with the move!). The point is, I was patient, and good things happened.

Yay! Approval!

I’m all about keeping a healthy mix of optimism and realism (I always have a backup plan or two) because things don’t always work out the way we want them to (ahem, 2020). Patience can be helpful, and utilizing meditation and mindfulness practices is another way to develop patience if you are struggling. I hope everyone has a good week, and keep on making the most of it!

No one is more patient than a sloth!
(photo taken at an Animal Rescue Centre in Costa Rica)

Exercises for Chronic Pain: Lower Body

As usual I want to stress that I am not an expert or professional in the area of exercising, physiotherapy, or related fields, I’m just a chronic pain warrior who is sharing my own experiences with you when I find things that work! Please always consult your own healthcare team before changing up your exercise! Also, I want to point out that I do modify as needed. For example, I have a lot of pain in my knees when there is weight on them, however that pain goes away with cushioning (so I put a blanket under them for some parts of the workout)! Remember even minimal exercise can be helpful so don’t stress over what you can’t do just focus on what you can!

If you haven’t listened to my podcasts episodes, “Exercise for Chronic Pain,” with Dr. Frank Nhan, or “The Essentials to Health,” with Dr. Stephan Bohemier, and you’re interested in exercise for your chronic pain, it’s definitely the time to check them out.

https://chronicallyliving.buzzsprout.com/

How has your sleep been?

I can’t overstate how important sleep is to daily functioning. For everyone, and definitely for those of us with a chronic illness. I know I’ve written about sleep before, and honestly, that is because it is that important. I wish I was one of those people who could function after 4-5 hours of good sleep. How amazing would it be to go to bed at midnight and wake up at 5. All the things you could do with the day. Alas, that is not the case for me or probably most of you, so I suppose it is not worth dwelling upon.

Spike was a pro at sleeping.

I will admit that I have not been sleeping well lately. And by lately I mean since my hip arthroscopy four weeks ago. Poor sleep is something I’ve experienced before. Waking up in the middle of the night because of pain, or not being able to get comfortable during the night because of pain. Anyone else with chronic pain experience this? I’m betting I’m not alone. The past four weeks have been slightly different. Yes, initially there was some pain from the surgery, and my hip was swollen, so it was difficult to shift around at night. I like to switch sides during the night, and occasionally sleep on my back or stomach as well. Immediately following surgery I could only sleep on my back. Then about two weeks later I could also sleep on my right side. The past few nights I can get onto my left (side that had the surgery) but only for short periods before I get uncomfortable. Technically my sleep has been improving the past few nights, but not to where I’d like it to be.

This giraffe looks like it’s in sleep mode!

Why is sleep important? Well, for one it can actually help with chronic pain. The better the sleep you get, the less pain you can experience during the day. It also helps with fatigue. That’s not to say your illness won’t make you tired during the day, but at least you won’t be starting off the day exhausted. And of course it is important for your mental health. You’ll be more alert, feel more positive, and likely have at least a bit of extra energy to do some of the things you enjoy during the day (self-care!).

Napping outside it always good! (as long as you’re wearing sunscreen).

So how can we improve our sleep, especially in situations where we are limited in how we can sleep (i..e, position)? I think the best way to go about it is just to make sure our sleep hygiene is as good as possible and that we are taking care of all of our medical needs. Sleep hygiene means we don’t drink anything 2 hours before bedtime (except for sips of water), drink caffeinated beverages after 2pm, exercise at night, do anything in our beds except sleep or have sex, and try practices such as meditation or having a hot bath in order to relax at night. As far as medical care goes, have we taken all of our medications as prescribed and at appropriate times? Have we taken any alternative medications (like marijuana or CBD oil for example) that can help with sleep? Can we sleep in if we need to? I know the last one is hard, especially if we have other responsibilities. Initially post-op I gave myself permission to sleep in (basically up until two days ago when I started setting an alarm again). Give yourself permission to do what is best for you and your health needs, because you can’t take care of your other responsibilities if you don’t!

As much as I like hammocks, I think just relaxing in them works better for me than sleep (Costa Rica throwback).

I would also add that consulting with your healthcare team might be useful as they might be able to suggest other strategies, techniques, supplements, etc to help you. Personally I would be wary of sleeping medication as it can be addictive but ultimately that choice is your own. I hope your sleep improves if you’ve been struggling. Feel free to share your own strategies, by commenting! Keep making the most of it everyone!

The Importance of Flexibility

I’ve been thinking a lot about cognitive flexibility lately. It’s often a topic that comes up at school, but beyond that, it’s something we need to think about, not only if we have a chronic illness but also during a pandemic, like the one we’re currently in. Some of you may be asking, what do I mean by cognitive flexibility, so here is my short explanation: it is your mental ability to change your thoughts and behaviour as needed to adapt to different environments and situations. An example would be if you were to move to a different country, with a different culture, and how easily you were able to adapt living there. I’m going to break this post into two parts. First, being cognitively flexible as a chronically ill person, and second, being cognitively flexible as any human being living during a pandemic.

How easily do you adapt to changing situations?

Having any chronic illness or dealing with chronic pain for any reason requires us to be cognitively flexible in order to more easily cope. People with poor cognitive flexibility tend to be more prone to mental distress, though of course that is also a more complicated process. In terms of dealing with chronic illness, I think about how I have to adjust to social outings or exercise or work. Recovering from hip surgery, how am I adapting to being on crutches, and not bending past 90 degrees in the hip. It can be difficult to adjust and adapt to these types of situations. This process is going to be different for everyone. Understanding what your limitations are is certainly important, as is the ability to not give up. One thing that’s important for me is being able to exercise because I’ve found it decreases my overall pain levels. But how do I do that now? Chair workouts is what I came up with. Why? Because they are available on YouTube and I can adapt them to what I can do. Another example from my own life is about cleaning. I’m not a neat freak but I do like a clean house. However, I can’t sweep or mop (I have laminate floors) so in my opinion, my place is a disaster. However, I tend to let that go because it isn’t helpful right now, because I literally can’t do clean the way I normally would (plus I live alone right now so there is no one else to do it for me). I have one good friend who always says, “I know you’re a strong and independent woman but you can ask for help.” What he isn’t taking into account is that I do ask for help when I need it (literally different people bring me groceries, take out my garbage and help me with laundry, including him!). When I don’t ask for help, it’s because I don’t need it, but I am flexible enough to ask for help when I do.

My favourite chair workout channel.

Now, during this pandemic I’ve seen a lot of people post on social media about many things, but I’m going to just use one example for this post, and that is gyms being closed (here in Canada at least). The most common argument against closing gyms (even though it is known that the virus is airborne and we all breathe hard at the gym) is that working out is good for your mental health. 100% it is! As a therapist-in-training I will not argue that fact. What I will say, is how flexible are we being with our workouts? I was someone who worked out at the gym between 3-5 times a week before the pandemic. The first thing I did when the gyms closed was figure out how to utilize the limited space I have in my place to do workouts at home. With zero equipment. Apps, YouTube, online gym programs (my gym literally offered free access to all kinds of stuff to members even though we weren’t paying fees anymore). Yes, it is not the same as going to the gym. It doesn’t offer a social environment, maybe not the same type of workout, but I actually got in better shape working out from home because I didn’t have to go anywhere, just change my clothes. I think it’s important that we look at what we are upset about during this time and figure out ways to do actively make the most out of the situation we are in. I’m not saying it’s easy, nor that there is a solution for every person or situation. For some situations we just need to adapt our mindsets to our current reality.

I hope this give you some food for thought. For now, keep making the most of it!