Daily Yoga: Twists

Yoga has been one of the ways that has helped me a lot with my well-being in the past year or so. These are two versions of one of my favourite poses for the back – seated and laying twists. Yoga not only has a lot of physical health benefits (such as improving flexibility) and mindfulness benefits (such as mindful movement) but also mental health benefits as therapeutic yoga is used as an embodiment approach to mental health. As always, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professionals before changing your exercise routine.

For more ways to improve your well-being, check out the podcast. And for more mindfulness practices check out the meditation channel. Keep making the most of it everyone!

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Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are super important for all of us. With work, relationships, even ourselves. While boundaries are important for everyone’s mental health, I think that for Chronic Illness Warriors, the key is to be able to set boundaries that still allow you to ask for help when needed. I would say that I am pretty good at setting boundaries, but that was definitely a skill that I developed over time. I was reminded of boundary setting as I was preparing for group counselling that I’m co-facilitating as part of my practicum. So I’ll admit I’m borrowing some of this information from Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). The group has a few pscychoeducation components as well as counselling, including mindfulness (you know that’s my favourite), emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal relationships. Though I’m not a “DBT-er” (I’m clearly happy to be co-facilitating the group though and learning all of this) I think that many bits of information from DBT and this course have great applications for many of us! (For those of you wondering I am drawn to existential therapy as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).

My best llama impression.

Okay, so why should we set boundaries? Boundaries allow us and others to know what we are okay with and what we are not. For example, some people are huggers while others don’t like to touch (granted Covid, so many of us are in the non-hugging category right now). The person who doesn’t like to be touch needs to tell the other person (politely, if possible) that they are not okay with that. The tough part with boundaries is that if they are crossed, it can be awkward or feel rude to point that out. However, your mental health is important and if you’re really not okay with something it’s good to be vocal about it. Another example is a work one. Is it okay for your work to contact you when you’re not there? I was in a position about 6 years ago where I told my work it was totally okay for them to contact me when I wasn’t there. About two years ago (same company, different store) I told them I wasn’t okay with it. I set the boundaries and stuck with them based on the level of stress I was able to handle at the time.

Costa Rican jungle.

When it comes to chronic illness, setting boundaries can revolve around many different areas, but I’ve found two are the most important: others, and ourselves. With others, you can decide how much or how little information those in your lives get about your illness/health, mental health, etc. I totally believe in sharing but everyone has different comfort levels with sharing, and I totally respect that, as I expect others to respect mine. Boundaries can also include what other people get to help you with. I loosened my boundaries after my hip surgery because I acknowledged I needed more help. Now granted I found myself feeling more grumpy at the time, but it wasn’t because I changed my boundaries, it was because I couldn’t as much myself! And that ties into our boundaries with ourselves. What are we okay doing? Saying? When we push our boundaries are we doing it to help ourselves or because we “think we should”? Sometimes it’s okay to push personal boundaries. With phobias for example, it’s possible to get over them by stepping out of your comfort zone and confronting the feared animal/situation/whatever it is (best to do it with a professional but I’ve known people to do this on their own). Getting over a phobia can be helpful for overall mental health. Saying yes to a night out with friends when you’re not feeling up to it is an instance of crossing your personal boundaries when it is not okay.

Castle in Ghent, Belgium.

I’ve been sharing example from a “personal bill of rights” (Linehan, 2015) throughout and if you’re struggling with boundaries, I would say create your own (or use which ones of these resonate with you). Even stick it somewhere that you’ll see it often. Remember, that boundaries while important should be flexible because they lead to healthier relationships (including the one with yourself). I would love to see what you come up with so feel free to share on Instagram and tag me (@janeversuspain)!

Have a great week and keep making the most of it!

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!