Mindfulness is a skill we want to develop because it can help so much with chronic pain and a lot of mental health issues. Meditation is the best exercise for that muscle. Looking back, I wish I had started practicing meditation when I was much, much younger. However, I’m glad I did start because there have been so many improvements for my overall wellbeing.
It It is extremely therapeutic for chronic pain and chronic illness warriors to get into our bodies. Yes, this is the opposite of what we want to do (run away from being in our bodies) but there is a lot of research that shows this is far more helpful for both our physical and mental health. In this practice we can gently get into our bodies, while using the breath as an anchor. If you haven’t listened to this episode of the podcast on achieving a sense of accomplishment (with Darren Radke), check it out.
I hope you enjoy this practice, and keep making the most of it!
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I attended a few sessions from the virtual Collective Trauma Summit last month. I’m always looking to further my knowledge and professional development, especially as I start to practice as a psychotherapist. There is an overlap between trauma and chronic illness, which I think can also be important for us to understand. And by us, I don’t just mean healthcare professionals, but also persons with lived experience. Why do I think it’s important? Because I’ve seen a lot of people (mostly online in support groups) wonder about the whys. Does knowing why actually help? I think that can be a difficult question to answer. For some people yes, for others no, and some fall into the “kind of” realm. Regardless, there was some information that I gathered that can be helpful to us all. So, without further ado, here it is:
Application of Polyvagal Theory for Safety and Connection with Others – Stephen Porges and Deb Dana For those of you not familiar with polyvagal theory or the vagus nerve, I don’t do a great job explaining it, but check out this YouTube link featuring Stephen Porges explaining it, and for more on the vagus nerve, check out this podcast episode with Melanie Weller. This session of the summit spoke a lot about embodiment. We can learn to coregulate each other – connection is essential for humans. Learning to both sit still to feel our bodies (without a narrative) and how to come back to our bodies is important for healing – but also a slow process and should only be done with a trained professional. Building an awareness of what’s happening in our bodies, as well as what we are thinking and feeling is important. Trauma can be passed down intergenerationally through our nervous systems. They also have a Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) that sounds super interesting and I’m going to probably learn more about. If you’re in therapy, it can be good to find out whether your therapist is “polyvagal-informed” because of the amount of research backing the theory.
How Our Nervous System and Real Connection Are the New Frontiers to Healing Trauma – Daniel J. Siegel This session also focused a lot on embodiment, which I’m a huge fan of anyway (especially for chronic illness/pain). Dr. Siegel talked about resonance between people (again, connection is important) and also the ideas of intraconnectedness (wholeness of everything) and interconnectedness (with others through our bodies). As a species we tend to be disconnected from nature (and thus why we have some many environmental issues). He talked about how integration is health – not just at an individual level but also at a collective level, and what trauma does is impair that integration. He suggested that the plane of possibility is achieved through connectedness (with each other and nature), open-awareness, and love (compassion). Self-compassion and developing awareness is something I talk about a lot both on the blog and the podcast (and I have a few meditations for both on my meditation channel), again because of the amount of research supporting them for both physical and mental health.
Returning to Ourselves After Trauma – Gabor Mate Okay, we all know by now that I’m a huge fan of Dr. Mate’s work, so of course I attended this session. He gave some interesting statistics that I’m going to share with you. (1) Women with severe PTSD have double the risk of ovarian cancer; (2) Indigenous people have 3 times the risk of rheumatoid arthritis than non-indigenous people; and (3) with Covid-19 with see that indigenous people, POC, and the elderly are most at risk because they are the most oppressed and traumatized. In other words, we’re looking at the sociological issues of disease which are often ignored. He also talked about embodiment in his session. In this case he referenced how we often are split between an intellectual awareness of things and an embodied awareness, which can be a traumatic imprint (in other words, the body remembers). Again, we should be asking ourselves “what does this feel like inside my body” instead of just “what do I know intellectually.”
So, what can we do with all of this information now that we have it. For one, if you don’t see a mental health professional to help you with your struggles with the mental health components of illness, that might be something you want to look into. Alternatively there is a lot of self-help out there (including by all of these healthcare professionals who have written many books on these subjects) and do things like build awareness, self-compassion, and embodied experiences (again, I offer these on my meditation channel but you can also find them by others various places online). Healing is possible. Healing is slow. Take care and keep making the most of it everyone!
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This guided mindfulness practice can help you be calm, relaxed, focused, and ready for your day. It allows you tao take a moment to stop and be present. Mindfulness has so many benefits to both mental and physical health. To hear more about the benefits of mindfulness, please check out this podcast episode with Dr. Alex Triendl!
If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I’m quite into mindfulness practices. I’ve found them to be quite helpful. Whether you’re dealing with a chronic physical illness, mental illness, or just daily life stresses, mindfulness can be amazingly helpful to get yourself centred and present. Just doing 10-15 minutes of meditation a day, or going for a mindful walk (especially if that gets you out in nature) can reduce anxiety and increase focus and attention. There has been tons of research done on the subject if you don’t want to take my word for it.
I was introduced to mindfulness first by my naturopath, who suggested downloading an app (such as Headspace or Calm) and trying to do some meditations through there. My psychotherapist was not far behind to recommend it as well. I started slow and progressed as I became more comfortable doing the practices. 5 minutes turned into 10 which turned into 15. This is basically how I suggest starting if you haven’t done so yet.
So what are these lessons from mindfulness. I have three for you today.
Distinguishing “future problems” from “today problems” – I used to worry a lot more and have a lot more anxiety about the future than I do now. One of the best lessons mindfulness taught me was how to stay present enough to focus on today, rather than worry about tomorrow. As I just moved across the country, this has been very helpful. Many people have asked if I will stay out here after practicum. “I don’t know” is my answer. Why? Because that’s a future problem. A today problem is setting up my apartment or another is getting prepared for practicum (which starts tomorrow!). I no longer worry about future problems until that future is right around the corner. There’s enough on my mind as it is. Mindfulness can help you develop this skill.
Appreciating the moment – this totally ties into being present as the above lesson does. In the past few days when I have been stressed because there is so much to get done, I’ve gone outside for a moment and appreciated that I am literally in the middle of the gorgeous Rocky Mountains. The Okanagan valley is surrounded by stunning nature and I’ve found that to be instantly calming. Even if you don’t live somewhere quite as visually pleasing, mindfulness can help you appreciate the things that you do enjoy. When I lived in Toronto (which is literally the opposite of where I am now), I was able to appreciate the liveliness of downtown (pre-pandemic) and the closeness of Lake Ontario. When I lived in LA, I could appreciate the constant sunlight and beautiful whether. The point is, there is always something to appreciate, whether in nature or in your life, and staying present can help you do that.
The final lesson is non-judgment – I used to be way more judgmental, of myself, of others. Of course, it’s completely human nature to judge and I don’t think it’s possible to be nonjudgmental 100% of the time. However, mindfulness can help with non-judgment more often than not, and it can help you catch yourself when you are being judgmental. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, no one is perfect. Hell, my mindfulness aren’t perfect, and they aren’t supposed to be. By letting that judgment go, you can feel more at peace (at least I do), and that is a really good lesson.
I hope you have some takeaways from today, especially if you haven’t tried mindfulness. I’m not saying that it’s a cure for anything or that it works for everyone. And it definitely requires patience (you might need to practice consistently for a month or more to see any results). What it can do is help you lead a better life and make the most of it (if you give it and yourself the chance).
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.
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.
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!
Welcome back for another, and a little bit longer, body scan. Body scans can be excellent for relaxation, improving mindful awareness, and even pain management. Join me in this 10-minute scan, which can be an amazing way to start your day, take a break half way through, or even end it.