Mental Health & Wellbeing
Meditation & Mindfulness
People often describe meditation as a simple habit, but you have to make it into a habit. An amazing way of doing this is through guided meditations using an app that records the consecutive days that you meditate for. One particular app I’ve taken a liking to recently and become a teacher on is Insight Timer, which has a library of over 80k free meditations from different practitioners with great filters to select exactly what you’re looking for, and you can scroll through, as if on social media, but looking for meditations to listen to. Even 5 minutes a day for at least 10 days can have profound changes on your brain. You can totally rewire your brain networks and by starting the day with a meditation, it can help you to feel calmer, more relaxed. There are also hundreds of meditations that focus on healing that I’ve found really helps to manage my pain. I want to reiterate that I am not saying that meditation will CURE your chronic illness (we've all heard people just suggest yoga to make chronic illness go away!) and this is not the case, but it could help adjust your perspective, your outlook and feel in a better headspace to manage your daily pain.
Free app I use:
The Mindfulness App
Mindfulness and meditation often come hand in hand but the are separate concepts. Meditation often improves your sense of mindfulness but it doesn't mean it's the only way to be mindful. Mindfulness is about savouring the moment and being present. Meditation definitely helps begin the day in this state of mindfulness.
Every hour, try to stop what you’re doing, take 10 deep breaths and run a ‘body scan’.
Try to notice what parts of you feel good and what parts are in discomfort
Then think about what you can do to relieve the discomfort. You can find my general pain relief strategies and symptom specific pain relief strategies on the links below:
Gratitude, Appreciation & Self-love
When you are in constant pain, it can be really easy to feel sensations of negativity, frustration and anger at your body. I often lose motivation for things I know I need to do in the hope that I can ‘wait it out’ and feel better soon, but it often spirals into days, weeks or months of no motivation or recovery. The thing is, in this frame of mind, when you have strong feelings of impatience towards the incompetence of your body it’s more difficult for you to feel better. I have found that by viewing the positive things, even when you are overwhelmed with negative emotion and pain, this can really help to improve symptoms.
Noticing three things you are appreciative of. You can list these on paper, say them to a friend or just note them in your head. Whenever you feel that surge of pain or a flare up of symptoms, this will help to transform your mindset from focusing on the pain, to appreciating the things in your life that are positive.
Aromatherapy - burn some essential oils with your favourite fragrances. There is evidence that suggests the efficacy of this for chronic pain here - whereby aromatherapy can be effective in conjunction with other more conventional treatments.
Sound therapy - either your favourite musician, or perhaps trying binaural beats which are like an ambient background noise (particularly useful if you suffer from chronic headaches/migraines)
I Highly recommend this Good Vibes YouTube channel with binaural beats.
4. Avoid stressors
Hormones released during stress can reduce immune function and make chronic pain worse in conditions like EDS, fibromyalgia, CFS/ME, PoTS and many more. Stress is a huge epidemic issue affecting a multitude of health conditions and it can be an enormous factor that contributes to illness. You may not even realise you are stressed as it tends to become so ingrained in our routine, especially if you live in a busy city. Giving yourself time to destress, and prioritising your health over work or other commitments is key.
Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (cCBT)
Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is essentially CBT that can be conducted digitally through a video conferencing software 🎥💻
Nearly a year ago, I started cCBT sessions for my anxiety and I wanted to share a little more about this with you. I will focus on how I signed up, the sessions, and what I’ve GAINED from it and how it could help YOU ✨
I studied an undergraduate Psychology degree and although a lot of the modules had touched upon this therapy, I surprisingly learned so much from the sessions ⭐️
I was initially recommended from my consultant rheumatologist to have this when I was diagnosed to help with pain management and actually put it off for a good 6-8 months. I had other strategies at the time for pain management and didn’t want to add too many aspects to my daily management at the time
It was only until I started having panic attacks in public related to SOCIAL anxiety that I realised I was struggling and needed help
I contacted my GP (UK) and they referred me to the IAPT service in London who put me on a long waiting list for in person therapy, or gave an option to do computerised CBT with a much faster wait instead. I jumped at the idea of this because:
🌺 I had mobility issues was working from home, and any journey was a struggle
🌸Travelling on public transport was one of the reasons for my anxiety
🌼 I could address the issues sooner with the faster waiting list!
🌻 I could do the sessions in a safe space in my own home
If you aren’t in the UK search online to see if there is a similar service. Mine was available under the NHS (free healthcare) but if you do have to pay, cCBT may be slightly cheaper than in person CBT 💫
During this difficult time with the coronavirus pandemic globally, services like these may be restricted - but therapists running cCBT may still be able to continue
If you’re struggling with anxiety or in need of pain management and looking to try this - research what services are available in your local area that could help 🌈
I’ve encountered but coped well with this all my life - sometimes through avoidance, but there were particular triggers for me:
My allergies / MCAS - eating out in restaurants, communication issues in relaying them to the chef, fear of judgement by those around me (especially when friends make nasty comments) and that general feeling/convo that people have that make you feel abnormal
Fear of judgement when wearing my cervical collar, or getting out my coccyx cushion EVERY time I need to sit down (and especially meeting new groups of people with these things and feeling like I had to explain myself/them giving me funny looks trying to guess what was wrong)
Asking for a seat on the train/tube when in pain and unable to stand
Public speaking, speaking up in group/work meetings - an uncontrollable fear response with heart racing, difficulty breathing and shaking (no matter how much I would tell myself it’s fine and tried to be confident)
For me, these were the aspects of my social anxiety that I wanted to work on and the whole process of addressing them revolves around ‘BEHAVIOURAL EXPERIMENTS’ 🔬
In each situation that makes you anxious, you go into that setting with a thought diary and write down your thought process at that time. What is the situation? What feelings and emotions did you experience and what severity out of 10? Did you have any unhelpful thoughts or images? Was there a self focus? Did you perform any safety behaviours?
Then after the situation is over you discuss it with your therapist and CHALLENGE the thoughts 🤨 Were they really rational? Are you trying to read people’s minds? How do you KNOW they really think what you assume you think they think about you?
You will then note down these rational responses and come up with some strategies that relieve your anxiety in that situation 🌈
Then you go out and repeat the experience to again, using those strategies, until you are confident enough to perform the task/go into the situation with reduced anxiety levels 💫
Could you note down some things YOU may want to focus on? ✨
The reason I’m sharing my experience with cCBT in detail is in case it is in any way beneficial to YOU🥰, perhaps with unaddressed anxiety that you have been coping with, or even the need for another form of chronic pain management
Many people with anxiety avoid the things they are anxious about as a way to reduce symptoms and discomfort (I did exactly this for most of my life and had extreme stress when involuntarily exposed to these stressors 😰). It is something you need to practice and work on [and it WILL cause some discomfort during the process as you do the behavioural experiments] but with a longer term beneficial outcome. Some of the behavioural experiments took me weeks/months even to even get the courage to do! 🕰 (I’m only just starting to try public speaking a year later!)
✅ I’m a lot more confident ordering in cafes/restaurants with all my allergies - one thing that helped massively was realising I should make ALLERGY CARDS 🦠 to help with communication📝 My anxiety is still there; when communication gets a bit lost & they don’t understand I still freak out a bit, but I remember the rational thought processes to work on and strategies to relax me 😴
✅ I have the confidence to not care so much about what people think about my medical conditions (ie. getting out bum pillow or wearing cervical collar or being in a wheelchair) - they can think what THEY like and why should it affect me? If they want to ask me I will tell them 🌝
✅ I finally was able to ask for a seat in London rush hour (where I had to commute one day per week to work), feeling justified enough to sit down due to my pain (regardless of how healthy I look!) [the please offer me a seat campaign badge helped too!] (🔵 anyone else tried this?!) 🌟
✅ I am still working on my public speaking and have finally recently made a breakthrough - being on a podcast 🗣 and starting to record my tips as videos to help you guys 🎥 (if anyone is in the room though I go blank and can’t do it still)