I love quick, low prep meals. They are great on days that I feel good but might be busy in other areas of my life (like with work), and they are great on days that I might not feel as great, because they don’t require too many spoons. I know meal time is challenging for many chronic pain/illness warriors. Too much prep equals too many spoons and many of us struggle with pacing (I know I’ve often had that problem in general, not just meal time related). And of course, those of you with families likely struggle more. Eating healthy can have a huge positive impact on pain (meaning we’ll have less of it) and I’ve done posts on my own dietary changes before. So rather than talk about that more, here are my suggestions for quick and healthy meal ideas that I enjoy.
Sheet Pan anything – chop up some veggies and throw them on a sheet pan in the oven. Or maybe some shrimp, or tofu, or whatever else you’d like really. I typically do veggie ones – tonight I’ve got eggplant, yams, and veggie sausage in the oven. They are flexible so you can use whatever veggies, meats or meat substitutes you want.
Stir fry anything – like the sheet pan, this one is also super customizable. Throw some veggies – baby corn, broccoli, snap peas, mushrooms and tofu are my go-tos but you can use anything – onto a wok (or fry pan) with a little bit of oil and some sauce (of your choosing, I like black bean and garlic, hoisin or teriyaki) and it’s ready in no time. Very little prep and very tasty results.
And there you have it. Quick, easy, only as much prep as you want, meal ideas that can make living with chronic pain just a little bit easier. Just another idea to help us all make 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?
If you haven’t heard of Spoon theory, it’s definitely a great metaphor for chronic pain and illness. It can help you understand yourself better, and prepare to do helpful things like pacing. It can also serve as a great way to educate your friends and family on what it’s like to have a chronic illness or pain so that they can understand and support you better.
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!
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.
Often when we refer to new eating habits we refer to it as our “diet” or that we’ve made “dietary changes.” The problem with this language (and I’ll admit that it’s language I’ve often used myself) is that it equates these changes as “going on a diet” such as for weight loss. While some people with chronic pain or illness may want to lose weight, for many others that is not the goal. So I think calling these changes a diet is a big problematic. It’s also problematic for anyone who is struggling with body image or has (or has had) an eating disorder. Basically the word diet is the worst. Instead it can be way better to think of these as lifestyle changes. Maybe specifically nutritional lifestyle changes (since lifestyle changes can also include exercise, meditation, etc.).
I did not need to “diet” nor is it something I wanted to do. I struggled with body image when I was younger and honestly have not owned a scale in over 10 years. I don’t need it or want it. And yet, I wanted to make some nutritional lifestyle changes because I had heard from many people – healthcare professionals and just other Spoonies – that it can help with pain, inflammation, gut issues, etc. I struggled in the past to go on a “paleo diet” or really anything with the word diet in it. When I was hosting my podcast I talked to a few people who looked at lifestyle changes in regards to what we eat instead of diets (link to the podcast – there’s a number of episodes on this subject). I began to think, what if I tried some of these lifestyle changes, implementing them at a pace that feels comfortable and non-restrictive? That’s how I figured out what makes me feel good when I eat it, versus what makes me feel bad.
Lifestyle changes with food/nutrition can totally vary from person to person. I was listening to a podcast that I like this morning and they were also talking about chronic pain and diet, and how one person will advocate for this diet and another will advocate for that diet, and the whole wellness industry is silly. I would say that it really comes down to individual differences. No one person is the same (body or mind) and there are a lot of factors that influence health. Keeping that in mind, lifestyle changes that you make are best done if they are ones that work for you. There’s no guarantee that all of your symptoms will go away, or that you’ll go into remission. That was never my goal personally. I just wanted to see what might help. Taking that attitude and approach (and being flexible with “cheat days” when I need them) makes it much, much easier. At the end of the day, these lifestyle changes are just one way we can keep making the most of it!
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.
It isn’t a real illness – also 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).
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.
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).
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!
This short guided meditation can be a useful way to help clarify your values. Having chronic pain and illness sometimes interferes with us living by our values, or even remembering what they are. I find it useful to re-clarify what they are for me so that I can keep making the most of it, and I hope you can too!
Also, I just launched a side-business as a meditation teacher. If you’re interested in 1:1 classes online and self-paced programs online, check out my website – Aligning Mindfully. I also started a second YouTube channel for Aligning Mindfully with 5 minute meditations on it.
One of the most effective practices I do in order to better cope with physical pain and other sensations of chronic illness is the body scan. The research also supports it being helpful. Interestingly it’s also been used as a meditative practice for hundreds of years (possibly longer) to help cope with physical sensations. While it can be a bit scary for chronic pain/illness warriors to go inside, the benefits can be well worth it. This practice is also great because you can totally do it lying down (as long as you’re not at risk of falling asleep). This versions is half an hour long, so if you’re not quite up to doing it that long yet, check out my meditation channel for the shorter version.
So I write a lot of blog posts for my clinics that are really relevant to all of you as well. As a counsellor I specialize in working with people with chronic pain and chronic illness and concussion. As someone who has chronic pain and illness I know how difficult having these conditions can be. I also know how difficult it can be to get a good sleep… but also how important a good sleep is to improving our health. Quite a conundrum. Check out this post I wrote about sleep hygiene and its benefits for our overall health, as well as some sleep hygiene tips that are totally applicable to spoonies (I use them myself!):