In this self-compassion practice, we use guided imagery to fill ourselves with the same warmth and kindness we more readily give to others others. Research shows that self-compassion is beneficial for mental health – improving mood, reducing anxiety, and increasing resilience – and there is some recent research showing it can improve tolerance to chronic pain. Most of us aren’t very self-compassionate, and it’s normal to be resistant to self-compassion. It may be worth for you to explore so that you can keep making the most of it!
Video: Yin Yoga for Hips (mini class)
In this 25 minute mini yoga class, I take you through a sequence of hip openers, which have helped me with my hip pain (and anxiety) over the past several years.
I hope this helps you to keep making the most of it!
Video: Daily Mindfulness – Clouds in the Sky
One way to create distance between us and our thoughts is to help move them along (which in turn changes the way we perceive our thoughts) so that we don’t get hooked by them. This is done through a visualization, imagining you are looking up at the clouds drifting by and you can just place your thoughts onto them.
Keep making the most of it everyone!
How to Navigate Christmas (or whatever you celebrate) with Chronic Pain
The holiday season is a stressful time for most people. It’s often financially draining. Physically draining when trying to attend all of the events. And for many people it can be a lonely time or a triggering time or a time when there is more sadness or anxiety than the rest of the year. When I lived in Toronto from 2015-2020, I spent 1 Christmas with just my partner at the time (and my dog), followed by 2 Christmases with just my dog, followed by 2 Christmases with a friend and his family, and then finally a Christmas with my parents. Last year I was with my brother and his wife and stepkids (and my SIL’s brother and his family). This year I get to spend it with my parents, other brother and his wife (and 2 dogs). I know what it’s like to have a lonely Christmas. I also know what it’s like to have a busy Christmas. I spent many years (including with chronic pain) working in retail and working 45+ hour weeks throughout December, doing a lot of standing and running around. This year I’ve gone to so many holiday events already that even though I feel a lot better physically (and emotionally) than I have in the past, I still notice a bit more pain than I had. How do we navigate all of this?
Emotions: Loneliness, Sadness, Anxiety & Stress
First, I think that recognizing what you’re feeling is important. I’m a big believer in not trying to repress emotions (while also not getting swept away by them). Making some room for this experience is actually okay. You’re not alone in any of these feelings and remembering that is so important. Giving yourself a lot of compassion can help a lot. Also trying to connect with others as much as possible – even if its short durations, or online instead of in-person can help ease a lot of these feelings. If you can muster up a gratitude practice, I find it can be helpful. Of course, reach out to local helplines for support if you’re in crisis. Maybe try this self-compassion/Christmas gratitude practice I released last year.
Pain and Other Symptoms
Noticing your triggers for pain – as I’m sure many of you are aware – is important. There’s no point pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion. Taking breaks and pacing is extremely important, even if you’re “in charge” of buying presents or cooking meals (actually this is when it’s most important). Think about who you can share some of these responsibilities with and ask for help (making room for uncomfortable feelings that may come with it). Try not to schedule too much for yourself in one day and keep all the days with as equal amount of activity as possible. I know that the amount of events I’m attending is actually winding down over Christmas and all of the cooking is shared between myself, my parents, and my brother and SIL. My New Years’ plans are pretty chill – my partner and I are just going to a brewery (just us). Maybe try some relaxation practices throughout the holidays when you’re taking breaks. Something like yoga nidra.
All in all, just doing what is within your control to make this a good holiday and allowing what is not in your control to just be there, without it overtaking you. I know from experience that this is easier said than done. Just keep on making the most of it everyone!
How Can Magnesium Help My Physical and Emotional Pain?
It’s not a secret that I like natural methods for helping physical and mental health. I’m not against medication – I take it for my AI disease and additional for pain as needed, and I often encourage clients to take it for their mental health issues if needed – I just prefer a combination of Western medicine and natural healing. People see me as a clinical counsellor because they want coping skills for their mental health. Coping skills are a natural way to heal. Sometimes supplements can also be very helpful, especially ones that tend to help both physical and mental health. So this week I thought we could talk about the benefits of magnesium (something I take) for our holistic health. Did you know that approximately 50% of Americans (likely Canadians too) don’t consume enough magnesium (Centre Spring MD). “Enough” magnesium would be between 300-420mg per day and up to 600mg per day.
Mental Health & Magnesium
Magnesium is something I typically take around my period. I tend to get bad cramps and it helps to relieve them (particularly the type of magnesium I take) and I’ve also noticed a lot less PMS-type symptoms since doing this. While the research doesn’t mention PMS, it does talk about depression and anxiety. According to research by Botturi, et al. (2020) magnesium has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms and even reduce the risk of developing a depressive disorder, if taken orally. Low magnesium levels can also be a cause of anxiety (or worsen anxiety) and cause difficulty with sleep (which often overlaps with anxiety and depression) (Ferguson, 2020, Healthline). It seems magnesium plays at least a partial role in the onset and/or maintenance of anxiety and depression (in some people at least).
Physical Health & Magnesium
As I mentioned magnesium has helped me with pain. The type I take (glycinate) is a muscle relaxant. In general people with low magnesium have been shown to have more muscle pain then those with sufficient amounts (Ferguson, 2020). There is also research to support that magnesium plays a role in the “prevention of central sensitization and in the attenuation of established pain hypersensitivity” (Na, Ryu & Do, 2011). Many of us with chronic pain are (or become) hypersensitive to pain. This seems to suggest that increasing our magnesium intake can help with the reduction of pain. These researchers also looked at certain types of pain such as perioperative pain, neuropathic pain, dysmenorrhea, tension headaches, and acute migraines and found that increasing magnesium helped with these.
How Can We Get More Magnesium?
I was listening to a podcast that suggested even using lotions infused with magnesium is helpful. However, most of the research seems to say that we need it orally – either as a supplement or as part of our diet. Some ideas of foods to eat include leafy greens (i.e, spinach and kale), avocado, dark chocolate, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Personally there are lot of things on that list that I eat regularly and enjoy consuming. If you don’t like those foods (which have a lot of other health benefits that I’ve blogged about before) there is always the supplement route!
Do you take magnesium? Have you noticed a difference with your physical or mental health? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And everyone, keep making the most of it!
How to Practice Deep Breathing for Chronic Pain
I recently wrote a post on my meditation teaching blog about deep breathing and how to do so in a way that will stimulate the vagus nerve. This is really important for chronic pain as well. The Vagus Nerve, and specifically deep breathing to affect it, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, putting us in “rest and digest” mode. This often leads to a decrease in sensations of pain. (And if you also have anxiety, this may mean a decrease in both anxiety and pain for you). Check out the blog post here.
I’ll be back from vacation with some new posts next week! Keep making the most of it!
Why Walking is Beneficial for Your Chronic Pain & Mental Health
I LOVE WALKING. Truly. I aim to walk 10,000 steps every day (give or take 1000) and will often end up on a hike that pushes me past that. Walking is something that I believe has really helped me move from being in a lot of pain and more ill, to being in remission. It’s not the only factor of course, but it is a very big part of my lifestyle. The easy part for me is that I actually enjoy walking. I’d rather walk than take transit (if I’m going somewhere “walkable” – 45 minutes or less). I even have friends that live nearby – transit takes 30 minutes to get there, walking takes 35 – easy answer for me. That being said, I know that not everyone actually enjoys walking. However, if you can get yourself to do it (or any other mild to moderate exercise), especially if you have pain, you also might start to see the benefits.
There is a lot of researching showing that the greatest benefits of exercise, including walking, on chronic pain are mid- to long-term. So we can’t expect immediate results (as with many things). These benefits include reduction in pain, improvement in quality of life, less fear avoidance, and a decrease in disability. Some of the reasons that these results occur are due to movement promoting healthy nutrition of the cartilage (connective tissues) in our body, and engaging with the endogenous opioid system and other parts of the brain known to decrease pain. Basically all of our bodies natural pain killers are activated, which I think is pretty cool. Walking and exercise also decrease stress, and stress is a trigger of chronic pain and illness flares for many people.
As far as mental health goes, in addition to decreasing stress, study after study shows that walking and especially aerobic exercise (like jogging) can decrease anxiety and depression/improve mood. There are some other benefits such as improving self-efficacy (our belief that we can do things), improving social interaction (especially when walking with others), increasing our self-esteem (we feel better about ourselves), improving our overall cognitive functioning (memory, concentration, etc.), and improving sleep (being outdoors and exercising are both on sleep hygiene recommendations). A benefit that is good for both physical and mental health is weight reduction – though this certainly doesn’t have to be the goal/intent. There are a few reasons all of this happens: walking and exercise can serve as distraction from thoughts and feelings, and I think more importantly, it gets a lot of those natural happiness boosters activated, like serotonin.
Of course, make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise plan, including walking (and your physio/physical therapist, etc. as well). Start slowly and work your way up – even if this means just walking around the block once! Make sure you have comfortable shoes, possibly a friend to go with, and water to drink. And try to make it fun! Take different routes, listen to music or a podcast, or try some mindful walking. With all the benefits, it’s worth at least giving it a shot so that we can all keep on making the most of it!
Video: Daily Mindfulness – 5 Day Meditation Challenge
Meditation has been shown to help a lot with physical health and mental health. It can help with pain, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and more. It’s also difficult for most of us to get into a meditation habit. That’s why I created this 30 day challenge where we only practice for 5 minutes each day (and if you miss a day, that’s also okay). I’d love to hear how it goes for you and what you notice by the end. Full playlist here.
Just another way we can keep making the most of it!
My Favourite Self-Compassion Practices
We all struggle with self-compassion. I’ve written about it before on this blog, talked about it on the podcast, written guests posts on other blogs about it. I do self-compassion work all the time with my clients. And most importantly, I do self-compassion work all the time with myself. Self-compassion has been shown to lessen chronic pain, improve resilience, and keep us motivated – all of which are important when you have a chronic health condition. It can also help when experiencing trauma symptoms, anxiety, and depression. Being honest, while my pain is much, much less than it used to be, self-compassion has and continues to help me deal with it. More recently I’ve noticed the great effect it has for me during trauma triggers and anxiety. Self-compassion is also hard – at first – eventually it becomes a lot easier and more natural to do (though there is always effort to be put in). When I notice (using my mindfulness skills), I’m able to pause and ask myself what would be helpful now. More often than not I end up doing a self-compassion practice, which helps me regulate, centre, and continue on with my day.
There are tons of different self-compassion practices you can do. I do highly recommend the Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. I bought it, used in on myself, and now use the exercises with my clients. Beyond the ones from the workbook, I have some other practices that I quite enjoy, use often, and really help. Without further ado, here are my 4 favourite self-compassion practices.
- Lovingkindness Meditation – this is actually a really old Buddhist practice that is used secularly now. It involves generating feelings of warmth and kindness towards ourselves and others (typically someone we care about, someone we feel neutral about, a difficult person, and everyone). We then repeat lovingkindness phrases, sending them first to ourselves, and then to each of the others. The reason I like this practice is because it is easier to send compassion to other people, and we still get to practice giving it to ourselves.
Typical lovingkindness phrases include:
May I be happy.
May I be safe.
My I be healthy.
May I be at peace.
But can include any phrases that resonate best with you.
Try it here.
- Kind Hand – this is a practice I actually learned from a counselling textbook (ACT Made Simple) and find I use it a lot with myself because it’s such an easy gesture and quick way to offer myself compassion. (My clients tend to like it too). Basically you imagine your hand filling with the same kindness and care you offer others, and then place it on the part of your body you feel the most pain (emotional or physical) and let the kindness flow into it and then all around your body.
Try it here.
- Heart Opening Yoga – this is working with the heart chakra, which helps with self-compassion and self-love. I’ve done this both as a vinyasa class and a yin class (I personally prefer the yin class, especially when I’m feeling anxious/activated because it’s more grounding). This usually includes a lot of chest openers, expansions and back bends to help us make room in the physical, emotional and spiritual bodies for compassion.
I personally recommend Yoga with Kassandra on YouTube for some great practices (I’ll be launching my own as soon as I finish my Yoga Teacher Training).
- Compassionate letter writing or journalling – if you’re open to writing and/or like journalling, this can be a very effective practice. My former therapist had me do this once and I did find it helped (and of course, I’ve had my own clients do this as well). It can be quite difficult if you’re not used to giving yourself compassion, so I actually recommend trying any of the above 3 practices first. The formula for the letter is pretty simple:
-mindfully write what happened – being open, curious, and nonjudgmental about your experience, thoughts and feelings (who, what, when, where, maybe why).
-write some words connecting yourself to common humanity – we all experience pain, hurt, emotions, etc. and telling ourselves something like, “everyone feels this way sometimes” (etc) can help us remember that we are not alone.
-write something kind to yourself – imagine what you would say to a friend who was struggling. What kinds words would you offer? Just write those down, offering them to yourself.
Try it here.
Self-compassion is a powerful and useful practice. The more I integrate it into my life, the easier my life becomes. And of course I want the same for all of you, so that you can keep making the most of it!
My Top 5 Relaxation Tips for Stress (and chronic pain)
So many of us struggle to relax. To actually induce feelings of relaxation in our bodies and minds (which typically go together). And yet relaxation has been found to be very helpful for chronic pain. When the nervous system is dysregulated, the immune system goes into overdrive, causing inflammation, which causes pain, which then further dysregulates the nervous system. While there are many ways to break this cycle, relaxation is one.
Relaxation is different from mindfulness. While many people do feel relaxed after meditation or some other mindfulness practice, the goal with mindfulness is not feel present and aware (relaxation is a common byproduct). The goal of relaxation practices is literally to relax. And so, mindfulness can be done pretty much anywhere, whereas relaxation needs to be done somewhere safe and comfortable. All that said, from my experience with chronic pain, here are my top 5 relaxation tips:
- Deep breathing – sending the breath into the belly activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) moving us out of the sympathetic (fight or flight response). Closely related is sending the breath to areas of the body that need help relaxing. This is quick, easy and technically overlaps with mindfulness so it can be done in more places than some of the other suggestions. Check it out.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – PMR is done when we tense and then relax different muscle groups in our body. I have been practicing PMR for years (former therapist taught it to me) and have always found it helps to relax me and often decreases pain. Check it out.
- Yoga Nidra – newest one on my list as I’ve only more recently started practicing it. It sends you into a deep meditative state that is extremely relaxing. There is some evidence that the use of a sankalpa (resolve) can also help to promote healing. Check it out.
- Exercise – believe it or not but exercise often helps with our emotions and can help us feel more relaxed. It can be more intense to less intense depending on what you need in that moment. I’ve found when I’m anxious, for example, going for a walk can ease a lot of it.
- Social connection – in person is better, though any type of connection with a friend, partner, family member, etc. – especially one that is regulated – can help us move back into regulation because our nervous systems like to co-regulate with each other. Sometimes when I hang out with certain people, even if I was tense or stressed or anxious before, I feel calm and chill during and after the hangout.
There are many more ways to get ourselves into more of a relaxed state. These are just some of my personal faves. I hope that helps you to keep making the most of it!