Self-Care Challenge 2021 Begins!

Daily Mindfulness: Loving Kindness Meditation

This week we’re going to do a loving kindness mediation. I’ve done one of these on the podcast as well, in our self-compassion episode, which you can access here. It can greatly improve our mental health to show ourselves some self-love and self-kindness. This meditation is a way to do that. Many therapy modalities use loving kindness in their mindfulness practices. Though mindfulness isn’t for everyone, I discuss the benefits of it in another podcast episode, which you can find here.

Use this meditation as often as you need so that you can keep making the most of it!

The Power of Words

I know most of us are probably familiar with the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and I definitely think that is true. Not just because I’m a writer (I love to write everything – this blog, self-help books, fiction novels and short stories, poetry, screenplays/teleplays) but because there is research that shows that writing (and very specifically journaling) is good not only for our mental health, but our physical health as well. This is one reason Chronic Illness Warriors might want to jump on the journaling bandwagon.

Apparently I’ve always been a writer.

So the whole reason I wanted to write about this is because I was re-reading a textbook for my practicum (basic counselling skills, etc) and one of the interesting things that I read was that a researcher named Pennebaker found that people who record “troubling experiences in diaries showed better immune system responses and significantly better health than those who did not.” Now, I’m not saying I think that any kind of writing is going to suddenly magically cure any of us and we’ll just feel 100% better by doing so. The research though is super interesting. I think that most people can acknowledge the mental health is helped by sharing our story – through therapy, support groups, and writing/journaling. I personally find it just good for my mental health to do any kind of writing, including creative writing, whether or not it directly has to do with my struggles (let’s face it, every writer has a character who is more like them). It can feel good to journal because it can allow you to process, be reflective, and just get something off your chest, and it’s particularly effective if you are struggling with your mental health on top of your physical health.

This kind of journaling has many benefits including self-compassion.

In terms of physical health, researchers have found journaling to help with viral infections such as Hepatitis (so yes, potentially even Covid-19 as well). There was also a study that looked at gratitude journaling by those with heart failure, and found that morbidity was decreased and inflammation was reduced in the majority of patients. Now obviously more research always needs to be done but it is an interesting and promising start. How exactly does it all work? Well, that’s not 100% clear but journaling can lessen overall stress (for those reasons I stated for mental health) and stress and immune functioning are related, so it kind of makes sense that like some other mindfulness activities, journaling (or perhaps other forms of writing) can be helpful. I’m all about the “even if I just feel better today” (or for a few hours) attitude. Why not help ourselves in the present moment? All we really have is this moment, because the next one doesn’t exist yet, and the last one has passed. In this moment, if journaling helps me feel better and potentially helps my body and mind function better, than maybe that’s a good reason to make today the day you start a journal.

I think this tattoo of mine really sums up how important I think writing is (because why else would I have tattooed it on my body!)

Have a good week and keep on making the most of it!

Self-Development

Normally at this time of year I do a yearly recap and/or setting goals for the new year, but seeing as 2020 did not turn out how anyone expected, it seems unnecessary to recap and hard to want to set goals since we have no idea what’s coming (not that we’ve ever had an idea but there was more optimism in the past). By the way, if you want to watch an extremely funny take on the past year check out “Death to 2020” on Netflix – satire at its finest. Here’s the thing though, I don’t think personal development has to stop because things aren’t going well in the world. At least it doesn’t stop for me. Sure, some things were completely derailed because of the pandemic, and some more so for some people than others but I don’t want to stop living to the best of my abilities, do you?

I read an article on Global News this morning, indicating that 40% of Canadians have been struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse issues since the beginning of the pandemic (and about 30% with weight gain). Interestingly the normal yearly prevalence rates for mental illness in Canada is about 20%, but the lifetime prevalence is 50% (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2020). Our yearly rate is definitely up, and only time will tell how the lifetime prevalence will be affected. I think it is safe to say that this year we all should focus on our mental health. Whether that means going to therapy (check your area for free counselling options or therapists will sliding scales), utilizing crisis intervention services, or just enhancing our self-care practices to try and keep ourselves as feeling as good as possible, we all need to do something. In terms of substance abuse, it’s important to monitor how much you’re drinking and do the occasional detox/cleanse is probably a good idea. Finally, if you’re concerned about your weight, try to come up with ways to exercise at home (I’ve done a lot of this and post a workout video every 3 weeks on this blog).

At home exercise can be as effective as at the gym exercise.

So, in a sense, we kind of do have some goals for this year that are totally realistic, regardless of what the year has in store for us. For chronic illness warriors, I’m adding one additional, totally realistic goal as well. And trust me, I’m going to do these with you as well.

  1. Prioritizing our mental health: therapy and/or crisis intervention services AND self-care (if you can subscribe to my premium posts, they are all about improving self-care).
  2. Watch how much we are drinking: go a week here-and-there without drinking at all; monitor what you do drink; and try not to drink too much. I find tea in the evening is a good substitute for a drink.
  3. Keep in as good of shape as we can: my chiropractor told me he thinks my recovery from surgery has gone so well because I was in good shape before my surgery. Eat healthy and find creative ways to exercise at home!
  4. Continue to monitor and prioritize your illness: go to your doctor appointment (virtually if necessary), take your medications, utilize any other health services you have, and rest as needed.
Self-care can be anything you enjoy doing, that makes you feel good, and it is essential for mental health.

I’m going to link some podcast episodes for you to listen to when you get a chance in order to help you with these goals:

The best goals are SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound – so remember that when actually making your goals for the year. For example, my goal for mental health is: Do one self-care activity every day for at least 5 minutes, 7 days a week for the whole year. If you need help creating some of these goals, feel free to reach out.

Take care of yourself this coming year, and keep on making the most of it.

Connecting for Mental Health

This is my little early Merry Christmas/general Happy Holidays post for 2020. This year has been hard for many people, and the holidays are probably stressful or sad for many people this year, especially without being able to see family as normal. I don’t want to repeat my podcast topic for the week (you can find that here), so I’m not going to talk about stress, I’m going to talk about connecting during the holidays. I will state that I am with my parents. As a single person I’ve joined another household and this is my first Christmas not working in retail as well so I actually have time off (though according to my friends in retail this year is not like a regular holiday season there anyway). We’re also very careful, literally take our temperatures every morning and don’t leave the house to go anywhere. Safety first.

Christmas socks

Now, for this connections thing. Yes, it’s important to be safe and try to avoid cross-household gatherings. But we’ve all heard this in the news for weeks already. What can we do to have connections? How can we still be social or have a normal Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate)? Here are some of my suggestions:

  • use Facetime/Zoom/Skype/whatever video chat service you like to connect with family on the holiday. This could mean eating dinner together while video chatting. Opening presents while video chatting. Playing games over video chat. Or all of the above. It can help make it feel a lot less lonely and a bit more normal.
  • use those video chat services to connect with your friends! Much of the same way listed above. This is how I’ve connected with most of my friends over the past 9 months anyway, so might as well continue!
  • Do some holiday baking and gift wrapping! Whatever you normally do (or maybe this year try it if you don’t normally) and leave it on the door steps of neighbours, friends, or family. Have a socially distanced conversation when you drop it off.
  • Spend time with your fur babies. They are a great way to feel less lonely and connect.
  • If you’re feeling desperate make sure you reach out to a hotline or textline for support. That’s what these lines are for. I signed up for a 2 hour shift on Christmas Day with Kids Help Phone. I have no idea if it will be busy or slow but I do know that this year more than ever, people need support. So use these programs if you need them.
Amazing cuddles with this fur baby.

Remember, you are loved. This year is not normal. It doesn’t have to be terrible. Try to remember the positive, and make as many connections as you can.

Happy Holidays. Make sure you make the most of it!

How has your sleep been?

I can’t overstate how important sleep is to daily functioning. For everyone, and definitely for those of us with a chronic illness. I know I’ve written about sleep before, and honestly, that is because it is that important. I wish I was one of those people who could function after 4-5 hours of good sleep. How amazing would it be to go to bed at midnight and wake up at 5. All the things you could do with the day. Alas, that is not the case for me or probably most of you, so I suppose it is not worth dwelling upon.

Spike was a pro at sleeping.

I will admit that I have not been sleeping well lately. And by lately I mean since my hip arthroscopy four weeks ago. Poor sleep is something I’ve experienced before. Waking up in the middle of the night because of pain, or not being able to get comfortable during the night because of pain. Anyone else with chronic pain experience this? I’m betting I’m not alone. The past four weeks have been slightly different. Yes, initially there was some pain from the surgery, and my hip was swollen, so it was difficult to shift around at night. I like to switch sides during the night, and occasionally sleep on my back or stomach as well. Immediately following surgery I could only sleep on my back. Then about two weeks later I could also sleep on my right side. The past few nights I can get onto my left (side that had the surgery) but only for short periods before I get uncomfortable. Technically my sleep has been improving the past few nights, but not to where I’d like it to be.

This giraffe looks like it’s in sleep mode!

Why is sleep important? Well, for one it can actually help with chronic pain. The better the sleep you get, the less pain you can experience during the day. It also helps with fatigue. That’s not to say your illness won’t make you tired during the day, but at least you won’t be starting off the day exhausted. And of course it is important for your mental health. You’ll be more alert, feel more positive, and likely have at least a bit of extra energy to do some of the things you enjoy during the day (self-care!).

Napping outside it always good! (as long as you’re wearing sunscreen).

So how can we improve our sleep, especially in situations where we are limited in how we can sleep (i..e, position)? I think the best way to go about it is just to make sure our sleep hygiene is as good as possible and that we are taking care of all of our medical needs. Sleep hygiene means we don’t drink anything 2 hours before bedtime (except for sips of water), drink caffeinated beverages after 2pm, exercise at night, do anything in our beds except sleep or have sex, and try practices such as meditation or having a hot bath in order to relax at night. As far as medical care goes, have we taken all of our medications as prescribed and at appropriate times? Have we taken any alternative medications (like marijuana or CBD oil for example) that can help with sleep? Can we sleep in if we need to? I know the last one is hard, especially if we have other responsibilities. Initially post-op I gave myself permission to sleep in (basically up until two days ago when I started setting an alarm again). Give yourself permission to do what is best for you and your health needs, because you can’t take care of your other responsibilities if you don’t!

As much as I like hammocks, I think just relaxing in them works better for me than sleep (Costa Rica throwback).

I would also add that consulting with your healthcare team might be useful as they might be able to suggest other strategies, techniques, supplements, etc to help you. Personally I would be wary of sleeping medication as it can be addictive but ultimately that choice is your own. I hope your sleep improves if you’ve been struggling. Feel free to share your own strategies, by commenting! Keep making the most of it everyone!

All the Cozy Things for Fall & Winter

This is a self-care type of post I supposed but in the past week of not being able to do much, I’ve been thinking about how, even during a pandemic, there are amazing, cozy, self-care activities… well, activities in general… we can do inside and at-home during the winter. I live in Canada, so winters are already long, and yesterday I watched a news report where experts said the “darkest” months for Covid will be January-March so I guess we should be prepared for the continuation of strict measures.

Image from: http://www.ottawafamilyliving.com/cozy-home-cozy-life-preparations-winter/

Let’s start off with some of my favourite things to wear. Pyjamas – because as spoonies we can’t have enough of these – and especially cozy ones like fleece or flannel. Who doesn’t want to lounge around in PJs all day, especially when it’s cold and gloomy outside. Sweaters are another one. Big, comfy, cozy sweaters. And for the holiday season, Ugly Christmas Sweaters (I have three Star Wars ones… I don’t think they’re ugly though!). Sweaters can also just make you feel warm and relaxed – at least I think so! Finally, slipping on some of those fuzzy socks, or a nice pair of slippers (my feet always get cold first… also I can’t get on socks at the moment because of my surgery, so I’m looking forward to 5 weeks from now when I can properly dress myself again).

New fall/winter sweater I ordered online.

Part 2: Delicious Drinks. Hot chocolate, coffee, and tea. All of these just feel warm and wintery. I maybe have hot chocolate once a year because it’s way too sweet. What I do like are some of Starbucks’ holiday drinks like the peppermint mocha (half sweet though) because it gives that combo of hot chocolate and coffee (best of both worlds)! Though if you have any local coffee places that make something similar, I definitely encourage you to support them instead! Or if you don’t want to go out, there are tons of recipes online to make them at home! Teas are all great. Usually in the winter I end up preferring black tea over coffee at some point and switch over in the mornings. I also love herbal teas. Peppermint tea is another great wintery classic.

Image (and recipe) from: https://bakingmischief.com/peppermint-mocha/

Finally, being creative. Baking, doing crafts, decorating your house, playing music, reading, and even some throw backs like playing board and card games (instead of video games) and doing puzzles can be great ways to get through the extra in door time. Varying up the routine to prevent boredom is essential (my parents used to tell us that “if you’re bored, you must be boring.”). These things all have a cozy, wintery feel to them (yes they can all be done throughout the year) and maybe that’s just some nostalgia from memories of growing up in a snow-infested, bitter-cold province.

Image (and recipes) from: https://www.chatelaine.com/food/kitchen-tips/baking-perfect-christmas-cookies/

I think my point here, is that we can help our health and our mental health by thinking outside of the box and making ourselves feel good with the little things. Because sometimes little things can have big impacts. Keep making the most of it, folks!

The Benefits of Heating Pads

I personally find heat very helpful for a lot of my chronic pain. Though I typically use heating pads on my back, I have been known to use them on my legs, glutes, shoulders, neck, and stomach. And the moist heating pads – bless! Check out the video for more information!

I really believe that we should do as much as possible to treat our symptoms. For more on this topic, check out my podcast episode, “Can We Cure or Can’t We Cure? That is the Question.” The link for Apple is below, but the podcast is available on Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts! Feel free to send in a review as it helps my podcast get noticed!

https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/chronically-living-and-how-to-make-the-most-of-it/id1521945719?i=1000494458023