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 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!

Sources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507245/
https://centrespringmd.com/the-benefits-of-magnesium-for-mood-mental-health/
https://www.healthline.com/health/magnesium-anxiety
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7352515/#:~:text=Some%20epidemiological%20or%20observational%20studies,symptoms%20%5B50%2C51%5D.

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.

Selfie with headphones (and/or a hat, and/or sunglasses) = me on a walk.

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

Introduction to the challenge
Please subscribe to the Aligning Mindfully YouTube channel if you like the challenge!
More challenges coming soon

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.

Being self-compassionate allows me to do more.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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!

Myths & Misconceptions about Fibromyalgia

A few weeks ago I wrote about the myths and misconceptions about UCTD, one of the diagnoses I have. Another diagnosis I have is fibromyalgia. This is because some of the pain I’ve experienced is not joint related, and the best explanation that could be given for it is fibro. While there are a ton of misconceptions about UCTD, I think there may be even more about fibro, particularly from the medical/healthcare community, which is unfortunate. So I wanted to see if I can help clear some common ones up.

  1. It isn’t a real illnessalso known as “it’s all in your head” or “you’re just depressed” or “you’re just tired.” In actuality it is a real diagnosis as designed by the American College of Rheumatology. Though it can be summed up as chronic, widespread pain, there are actual diagnostic criteria for it. Part of the reason people think it isn’t real is that the cause of Fibro is mostly unknown, though there have been some fascinating studies recently about possible markers found, and there are many theories (such as those by Dr. Gabor Mate) that suggest that it is at least partially trauma-related (think biopsychosocial approach – biological causes, psychological causes, sociological causes to illness). While there are many associations between fibromyalgia and depression (fibro can lead to depression, depression can also lead to pain/fibro), there is nothing to suggest that pain isn’t real or that it’s depression or general tiredness. (It also doesn’t lead to depression in everyone, nor does everyone that is depressed have fibro).
  2. It’s a catch-all diagnosis – on a related note, many people just assume that if a symptoms can’t be explained, then it has to be fibro. While I mentioned some of my own symptoms weren’t explained by UCTD, that doesn’t automatically mean they are from fibro. There are actual diagnostic criteria such as: (1) pain and symptoms over the past week, based on the total number of panful areas out of 19 parts of the body plus level of severity of fatigue, waking unrefreshed, and cognitive problems; (2) symptoms lasting at least three months at a similar level; and (3) no other health problem that would explain the pain and other symptoms. (American College of Rheumatology) More info. Interestingly, my previous rheumatologist told me that about 1/3 of people with SLE, RA, UCTD, etc. also have fibro.
  3. Tender points are needed for diagnosis – on the final related note, this is old news. While the diagnostic criteria does state that there are 19 areas checked, and doctors may look for tenderness, that has been removed from the diagnostic criteria (see the above more info for that too).
  4. It can’t be treated (or just take some medication and you’ll be fine)also known as “alternative treatments don’t work,” “you can’t do anything about it,” and “you shouldn’t exercise.” Apparently medication for fibro only works some of the time (I’ve read between 20-40%) so while it may be helpful it isn’t the best bet. I was put on Lyrica/pregablin for fibro symptoms, and I would say it helped some. You know what helped more? All of the alternative treatments and exercise I did – massage therapy, naturopathic medicine, chiropractic adjustments, physiotherapy. In fact I managed to get off of Lyrica because of exercise. I’m not the only one either. There are tons of reports of these things being helpful. And please note, I’m saying helpful, not a cure.

Hopefully this helps you feel better about your diagnosis, and/or this is something you can show friends and family who maybe have trouble understanding what you’re going through. And most importantly, keep making the most of it!

Video: Daily Mindfulness – Acceptance of Sadness and Grief

Sadness and grief are common emotions to experience when dealing with chronic pain and illness. Illness grief consists of grief of the loss we once had. (Here’s a podcast episode about it). When sadness is particularly strong, depression can set in. Finding effective coping strategies is important for all chronic pain/illness warriors. This meditation is one that can be quite helpful.

Keep on making the most of it!

What Foods are Good for My Mental Health & Chronic Illness?

I was reading an industry magazine put out by my association (British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors) and this issue was heavily focused on mental health for chronic illness, which I was obviously excited about. In it there was a 1 page article/ad for a book about BRAIN Foods, or which foods are specifically good for mental health. I noticed some overlap with foods that are good for autoimmune disease as well, so I decided to do a little more research and try to figure out which foods would be good for both. While having this knowledge can definitely help my clients, it is also helpful for myself.

Vegan dark chocolate mousse was my birthday dessert in Costa Rica in May 2019.

Before I get into what I’ve found as overlap (not everything does overlap to be clear, there are a lot of foods that came up for one or the other), I want to state that a lot of this depends on what kind of diet you follow. Someone who does AIP vs. Paleo vs. Keto, etc. will all look at this list and find things they can or cannot eat. What I’ve found works for me is to just cut out foods when I notice they don’t make me feel well. So I don’t eat gluten or dairy or meat (except fish) because those are the main things that bother me. However, knowing what can have more benefits from the list of things I do eat is helpful to know. I also want to say, that I am not perfect, nor do I try to be. I went to my brother’s wedding in another city, and while I did try to eat from my go-to list as often as possible, there were times (like at the wedding itself) where I did indulge in dairy, meat and gluten (I surprisingly didn’t hurt too badly after). I personally find it easier to stick to my diet (or rather, way of eating) if I don’t put pressure on myself to be perfect all the time (when I cook for myself I really do stick to it though).

All that being said, here are the overlap mental health and autoimmune foods I found from several lists and articles:

  • Fruits, such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc. (basically all the berries) – I love berries
  • Vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and cauliflower – broccoli is often a staple for me
  • Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines – all of which are high in omega-3s and salmon is my fave
  • Nuts and seeds – sunflower seeds specifically came up on a list and I was like ooh reminds me of playing softball as a kid.
  • Sweet potatoes – literally another staple for me
  • Healthy fats, such as avocados, olive oil and coconut oil – I usually cook with avocado oil and I love avocados
  • Turmeric – my former naturopath recommended turmeric tea, which I find to be a lovely way to have more of it.
  • Green tea – I go through periods where I drink a lot of green tea
  • Dark chocolate – pretty much the only “snack” food on the lists and honestly, I got used to the taste (though I still prefer milk chocolate)
  • Whole grains – again, not something I eat anymore, but it’s definitely a better option than “white bread,” etc.
  • Coffee – I was surprised by this one, and I do love me my morning coffee. I do recommend no coffee after 2pm though as it can drastically affect sleep.

So, while you don’t have to eat everything from this list, it is probably helpful to try to include some of these foods regularly to improve brain functioning, decrease depression (depression is linked to inflammation in the brain much like AI is linked to inflammation in the body), and decrease illness symptoms. It can also be really helpful to practice mindful eating – check out my guided version here.

I love food, so hopefully this also helps you to make the most of it!

Video: Your Mind Thinks It’s a Mind-Reading Machine

We tend to believe everything our minds tell us. This is completely natural. However, our minds are not actually great mind readers. Watch the video for more on that.

As always, keep making the most of it!

Why Do You Feel Shame About Your Pain?

During my last supervision session with my clinical supervisor (which is recommended for all practicing therapists/counsellors to have), she asked me to think about how I address shame in session with clients and we could discuss it next time (unless I have more pressing topics I need to talk about). Interestingly, just a few days later I stumbled upon an article about shame, and then a podcast. Both around shame and illness. Shame is a natural human emotion that we all experience. Myself included. I’m trying to remember if I felt shame around my chronic pain/illness and if I did, I would say it was near the beginning of my healing journey, which almost feels like a distant memory. Yet, I think it’s really important for us to talk about shame because it is one of (if not the) most uncomfortable emotions to experience.

Shame, like all of our emotions is important. We wouldn’t have evolved all of these emotions if they weren’t useful in some way. If we go back to that caveman mind metaphor I’ve written about before, shame helped to keep us alive. As cave people, if we got kicked out of the clan, we would die because there would be less protection. So shame helps keep us in check with the expectations of those (clan members) around us so that we don’t get “kicked out.” The problem with that is, we will probably physically survive if we do get “kicked out” in 2022. It also, maybe even more importantly at this point in our history, lets us know when we’ve done something that contradicts our values (those qualities of action that determine how we treat ourselves, others and the world). When we don’t follow our values, we often experience shame.

Shame and chronic pain can often coexist. Many people with chronic pain experience higher levels of shame than in the general population (Boring et al., 2021). Part of the reason this happens is because chronic pain, especially if the cause isn’t quite yet known, is often invalidated – by family, friends, and healthcare professionals (especially medical doctors). When our pain is constantly invalidated by others, we are more likely to question the severity of our pain, hide our pain, and disregard our pain and other feelings. The more we do this, the more internalized shame develops. There are several problems with this:

  • shame can lead to depression – there is a huge correlation between depression and chronic pain as they can amplify each other. If shame leads to depression then…
  • pain not only increases but can also stick around longer – yes chronic pain means it’s sticking around, but to what intensity, to what end? and does it have to be that bad all the time?
  • it can also change our beliefs about ourselves – this can lead to increased substance use and other behavioural problems that just increase shame and pain
  • shame also causes stress, and we know from research by people like Gabor Mate and Bessel van der Kolk, this can cause physical symptoms such as chronic pain, as well as a myriad of other illnesses

How do we deal with shame? I mean, I’m always going to say that therapy/counselling (they’re interchangeable terms) is a good route to go because many therapists can help you talk through and give you skills to deal with these feelings. Brene Brown, who has done a ton of research on shame, has said that empathy is the best cure for it. Empathy is our ability to share in the feelings of others. Based on the definition of empathy, we need that support from others. What can we do for ourselves though? Kristin Neff, who has done a ton of research on self-compassion, has unsurprisingly found that self-compassion is an effective antidote to shame. As a clinical counsellor I am able to offer empathy to my clients, while not hiding away from shame when it comes up in session, which is generally effective. And then I teach my clients to be more self-compassionate so that they can deal with those feelings when they come up when they are alone. Try any of these self-compassion practices from my Youtube channel.

I hope this helps bring you an understanding of the natural experience of shame you may be feeling with your chronic illness. Keep making the most of it.