In this mindfulness practice, we reflect on goals and how to goal set mindfully so that they are realistic and achievable for us, regardless of our physical and mental health status. When we practice values-based behaviours, we tend to feel better. Doing all of this mindfully can improve our overall well-being.
I hope you can make the most of it with your mindful goals!
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.
This practice can help us create distance between ourselves and any unhelpful thoughts we have about our pain and illness. Unhelpful can include just dwelling on the fact that these occur for us (that often contribute to anxiety and depression).
Hope this helps you to keep making the most of it!
Last week I wrote about macro self-care – doing something “big” for yourself as a way to recharge. These things are important, but also a little harder to do, especially for Spoonies/Warriors. The other side of macro self-care is micro self-care. These are little moments you can spread throughout your day in order to get that oh-so-important self-care in. Micro self-care can take as little as a few seconds, up to several minutes. Not only is micro self-care easier (and less expensive) to engage in, it can be done on various energy levels (so important for anyone with chronic pain and illness, as you all know) and it has more benefits than macro because of the frequency of it.
If you Google “micro self-care” you will literally see hundreds of different ideas for what you can do. Here are a few of my favourites:
Meditation or deep breathing (or grounding, and so on). You don’t need to sit and meditation for 20+ minutes. In fact to start it’s actually better to just do 3-5 minutes. And it’s something you can find time to do at any point in your day.
Gratitude Practice – say out loud or write down 3-5 things you’re grateful for (it’s been shown to boost happiness)
Journal – you don’t have to write down every thought or everything that’s happened. When I journal I often reflect on something specific (i.e., use a prompt) or look at my physical, intellectual, spiritual and/or emotional bodies and see if there’s anything to reflect on, limiting beliefs I can forgive myself for and/or something I’d like to work on today.
Stretch – stretching is something most of us can do more of as it’s really good for our bodies. Take a few minutes to do a few stretches is a great way to care for your body.
Do some sort of quick exercise – walk around the block (my favourite) or even just marching in place or do 5 minutes of some sort of strengths-based chair workout.
Read – set a timer for 5 minutes and read (or just read a poem, or a set a page goal for a book – 5-10 pages for example).
Go outside – even if it’s chilly out, spending a few minutes just being out in the fresh air is great for our bodies and minds.
Drinks a glass of water or tea – we often under hydrate so water is always the best option. Alternatively I always feel good drinking some of my favourite tea.
Make your bed – this seems silly and simple and yet I (who often doesn’t make my bed) feel so good when I make it (and also feel better when I get into a made bed at night… actually I’m going to make my bed now).
Make plans with a friend – this doesn’t mean you actually have to go out with this friend at this moment but even just making the plans via text or phone call can make us feel good and give us something to look forward to.
These are just some ideas to get you started with micro self-care. There are many more that I do. Some of these daily, many of these within a day, and some of these less often. I know that the more I do, the better I feel (mentally and physically). What are your favourite micro self-care practices?
My AI disease has more or less been in remission for about 6 months (the doctor officially gave me that status in July). As such, I was very optimistic about my travel plans to Turkey and Egypt for November. I mean, I would have gone on the trip regardless, there was just less planning around how to manage than there would have been before (I almost wrote worry instead of planning, but truth be told I am able to limit my anxieties around travel because it is a values-based activity for me). Travel for me, means going on adventures – doing as much as I can, eating whatever I want, and just having as amazing an experience as I possibly can…
And I did. I ate my way through Istanbul. Did 2 walking tours, climbed a tower, went on a boat ride down the Bosphorus, had drinks on a rooftop patio looking out at the Galata Tower. In Egypt I went on a Nile dinner cruise, saw the Great Pyramids of Giza, had an authentic night out with friends (1 of which is a local) in downtown Cairo, went to the Citadel, the Egyptian Museum, Temple of Karnak and Luxor Temple, Valley of the Kings and Queen Hateshpsut’s Temple, and did a hot air balloon ride over Luxor. Literally packed so much in. And then came home to some body aches and pain, an upset stomach, and a cold.
To be fair, the cold could’ve been (a) because there is one going around that I’ve been told about many times, or (b) because I was up for almost 36 hours (minimal plane sleep due to crying infant) and had to run through an airport in order to catch my last flight home. However, what is important for me to remember is that remission could go away if I’m not careful. So, here are three lessons I’ve learned when travelling while in remission from AI.
Getting enough rest. Sure, if your vacation is all about laying on a beach, it’s easy to pace, get enough rest and enough sleep. If you’re like me and prefer an adventure vacation, then it’s important to not overdo it. To be honest I think I overall paced well. Only 1 (maybe 2) activities per day – until the last day, in which I crammed more in. I struggled with the sleep part, again, particularly at the end of the trip. Being awake for 23 hours before boarding my first flight was perhaps not the greatest idea. And while I don’t regret the activity I did that sacrificed sleep, I think that squeezing in some rest/nap time, as impossible as it seemed, would have helped me a lot. So don’t forget to (a) Pace your activities, (b) rest between activities, and (c) get 8ish hours of quality sleep every night (and don’t stay up too long!)
Watch what you eat. I had cut out dairy and gluten and meat last fall, which has really helped me a lot. On the trip I ate a lot of dairy, gluten and meat. It is possible to have limited some of this (the gluten would have been hard). And I did have days where I limited the meat and dairy in particular because I could tell it was rocking my body in all the not good ways. While I think it’s important to always be flexible (including with diet), flexible doesn’t mean swinging to the opposite extreme. Lesson learned.
Keep stress low. Theoretically my vacation was relatively stress free. At least the vacation part of the vacation was. The travel part was not. Pretty much every plane was delayed, and/or we were running through airports to catch flights. Much of this was out of my control, of course, and yet taking more time to meditate, ground or recharge (on the flights for example) would likely have helped me get my stress levels back down much faster. I did keep up my meditation practice (for the most part) throughout the trip, which was likely helpful as well.
Staying in remission is a delicate balance. I got here through a change of diet, consistent exercise, and stress reduction, so it makes sense that changes away from those things that have helped me could lead back to AI flares. As Alanis Morrissette once said, you live you learn and that’s all any of us can really do. I’m going to continue to pay attention to and honour my body in anyway I can (at home and while travelling) – and I hope you do too – so that we can keep making the most of it!
Acceptance is hard. Embracing pain is hard. Especially for those of us who experience chronic pain. And yet, there is a lot of research that shows acceptance practices can help us manage pain much better. I have used many meditative (and non-meditative) acceptance practices on myself over the past several years and it has really helped me cope.
I hope this also helps you to keep making the most of it!
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!
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!
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!
This practice is particularly good for anyone finding themselves in a caregiving role. This may be as a healthcare practitioner, doctor, nurse, or as someone taking care of an elderly parent, a partner or child who is chronically ill, or really any other caregiving role. Sometimes the best thing we can do is offer compassion to another, while also taking care of ourselves.