IBS and Bowel Health with Fibromyalgia

This post was previously published on The Zebra Pit

Fibromyalgia is a multi-faceted disease that affects far more than just your muscles. One of the common conditions that Fibromites experience is problems with their bowels. IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be a stand alone disease, but is often found in those with Fibromyalgia.

Symptoms

When you have IBS, you can experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping that is typically relieved or partially relieved by passing a bowel movement
  • Excess gas
  • Diarrhea or constipation — sometimes alternating between the two and occaisionally having both happen during the same bowel movement
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Back Pain (due to cramping)

The GI Society of Canada says the following:

“Symptoms occurring outside of the digestive tract that might be related to IBS include sleep disturbances, chronic pelvic pain, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular joint disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and migraine headaches. Female patients who have IBS have also reported discomfort during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia). Our survey of 2,961 respondents showed 32% have some form of mood disorder, 27% have gastroesophageal reflux disease, and 27% have anxiety disorder.”

Common IBS Symptoms Graphic

It’s important to seek medical care when you experience bowel issues, to ensure that nothing more serious is going on. Don’t let embarrassment stop you. If you are experiencing any of the following, call and make an appointment:

  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea at night
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Unexplained vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Persistent pain that isn’t relieved by passing gas or a bowel movement

Seeing The Doctor

When you seek medical care for your IBS symptoms, the following actions may occur:

Medical History: A physician reviews the patient’s medical history, considering bowel function pattern, the nature and onset of symptoms, the presence or absence of other symptoms, and warning signs that might indicate some other diagnosis.

Physical Examination: During a physical evaluation, the bowel may have involuntary jerky muscular contractions (spastic) and seem tender; although the patient’s physical health usually appears normal in other respects.

Investigative Testing: A physician might request tests to rule out other possible diseases. In performing a scope, physicians view the intestinal tract with an instrument that enters the body via the mouth (gastroscopy) or the anus (colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy). The scope is made of a hollow, flexible tube with a tiny light and video camera.

Doctor Writing Notes

The physician may also request routine blood and stool tests to rule out known organic diseases. Some symptoms of celiac disease overlap those of IBS, so a family history of this disease might be a reason to test for it.

After other conditions have been ruled out, your doctor is likely to use one of these sets of diagnostic criteria for IBS:

  • Rome criteria. These criteria include abdominal pain and discomfort lasting on average at least one day a week in the last three months, associated with at least two of these factors: Pain and discomfort are related to defecation, the frequency of defecation is altered, or stool consistency is altered.
  • Manning criteria. These criteria focus on pain relieved by passing stool and on having incomplete bowel movements, mucus in the stool and changes in stool consistency. The more symptoms you have, the greater the likelihood of IBS.
  • Type of IBS. For the purpose of treatment, IBS can be divided into three types, based on your symptoms: constipation-predominant, diarrhea-predominant or mixed.

Treatment

Treatment of IBS focuses on relieving symptoms so that you can live as normally as possible. These suggestions below come from The Mayo Clinic:

Mild signs and symptoms can often be controlled by managing stress and by making changes in your diet and lifestyle. Try to:

  • Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms
  • Eat high-fiber foods
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get enough sleep

Your doctor might suggest that you eliminate from your diet:

  • High-gas foods. If you experience bloating or gas, you might avoid items such as carbonated and alcoholic beverages, caffeine, raw fruit, and certain vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
  • Gluten. Research shows that some people with IBS report improvement in diarrhea symptoms if they stop eating gluten (wheat, barley and rye) even if they don’t have celiac disease.
  • FODMAPs. Some people are sensitive to certain carbohydrates such as fructose, fructans, lactose and others, known as FODMAPs — fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols. FODMAPs are found in certain grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy products. Your IBS symptoms might ease if you follow a strict low-FODMAP diet and then reintroduce foods one at a time.

A dietitian can help you with these diet changes.

If your problems are moderate or severe, your doctor might suggest counseling — especially if you have depression or if stress tends to worsen your symptoms.

In addition, based on your symptoms your doctor might suggest medications such as:

  • Fiber supplements. Taking a supplement such as psyllium (Metamucil) with fluids may help control constipation.
  • Laxatives. If fiber doesn’t help symptoms, your doctor may prescribe magnesium hydroxide oral (Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia) or polyethylene glycol (Miralax).
  • Anti-diarrheal medications. Over-the-counter medications, such as loperamide (Imodium), can help control diarrhea. Your doctor might also prescribe a bile acid binder, such as cholestyramine (Prevalite), colestipol (Colestid) or colesevelam (Welchol). Bile acid binders can cause bloating.
  • Anticholinergic medications. Medications such as dicyclomine (Bentyl) can help relieve painful bowel spasms. They are sometimes prescribed for people who have bouts of diarrhea. These medications are generally safe but can cause constipation, dry mouth and blurred vision.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants. This type of medication can help relieve depression as well as inhibit the activity of neurons that control the intestines to help reduce pain. If you have diarrhea and abdominal pain without depression, your doctor may suggest a lower than normal dose of imipramine (Tofranil), desipramine (Norpramine) or nortriptyline (Pamelor). Side effects — which might be reduced if you take the medication at bedtime — can include drowsiness, blurred vision, dizziness and dry mouth.
  • SSRI antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem) or paroxetine (Paxil), may help if you’re depressed and have pain and constipation.
  • Pain medications. Pregabalin (Lyrica) or gabapentin (Neurontin) might ease severe pain or bloating.

Medications specifically for IBS

Medications approved for certain people with IBS include:

  • Alosetron (Lotronex). Alosetron is designed to relax the colon and slow the movement of waste through the lower bowel. Alosetron can be prescribed only by doctors enrolled in a special program, is intended for severe cases of diarrhea-predominant IBS in women who haven’t responded to other treatments, and isn’t approved for use by men. It has been linked to rare but important side effects, so it should only be considered when other treatments aren’t successful.
  • Eluxadoline (Viberzi). Eluxadoline can ease diarrhea by reducing muscle contractions and fluid secretion in the intestine, and increasing muscle tone in the rectum. Side effects can include nausea, abdominal pain and mild constipation. Eluxadoline has also been associated with pancreatitis, which can be serious and more common in certain individuals.
  • Rifaximin (Xifaxan). This antibiotic can decrease bacterial overgrowth and diarrhea.
  • Lubiprostone (Amitiza). Lubiprostone can increase fluid secretion in your small intestine to help with the passage of stool. It’s approved for women who have IBS with constipation, and is generally prescribed only for women with severe symptoms that haven’t responded to other treatments.
  • Linaclotide (Linzess). Linaclotide also can increase fluid secretion in your small intestine to help you pass stool. Linaclotide can cause diarrhea, but taking the medication 30 to 60 minutes before eating might help.

Potential Future Treatments

Researchers are investigating new treatments for IBS. Serum-derived bovine immunoglobulin/protein isolate (SBI), a nutritional therapy, has shown some promise as a treatment for IBS with diarrhea.

Studies also show that, in people who have IBS with diarrhea, a specially coated tablet that slowly releases peppermint oil in the small intestine (enteric-coated peppermint oil) eases bloating, urgency, abdominal pain and pain while passing stool. It isn’t clear how enteric-coated peppermint oil might affect IBS, so ask your doctor before using it.

Conclusion

Although Bowel related issues can be embarrassing, it’s important to acknowledge and treat your symptoms to give you the best health possible. Make time to reduce stress in your life, follow a proper diet and get a good nights sleep…these three things can make a huge difference in your gut health. If nothing changes, see your doctor. Your good health depends on it.

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How to Live Life Well with Fibromyalgia

Please enjoy this Guest Post by Dr. Brent Wells

Living life with fibromyalgia comes with its challenges. The pain, fatigue, and brain fog can feel defeating and difficult to deal with. However, just because you are living with this tricky condition, it does not mean you cannot live a wonderful healthy life at the same time. 

While it may take a while to find a combination of things that makes you feel the best and the strongest, you can take solace in the fact you will get there one day! You can live life well with fibromyalgia and in this article, we are going to give you some of the best tips for making that happen. 

There is a wide variety of options to choose from but not everything will work for everyone. Your results and success will vary, so it is important to keep in mind that patience and experimentation is key to finding options that will work best for your body. 

Seek Help from a Medical Professional 

Although it may sound like an obvious thing, you need to make sure you are seeing a doctor or other health care professional to help you manage your fibromyalgia. Whether you are seeking treatment from a conventional doctor, holistic doctor, etc., keeping up with their medications, herbs, supplements, and the like will ensure that your condition is managed properly. 

Untreated fibromyalgia will only get worse over time and leave you feeling sick, in pain, and completely depleted of energy. Therefore, it is key to stick to your treatment regime as defined by your doctor of choice. 

Exercise 

Although exercise might be the last thing you want to do when you feel like you are in so much pain, keeping an exercise routine will actually help manage your pain and other symptoms. Namely, it can be extremely beneficial for managing your fatigue. 

You don’t need to go crazy with exercise though. Simply walking and swimming on a weekly basis is all you need. About 20 to 30 minutes per session 3 days a week is enough to feel the effects. 

Another great way to build your strength is through weight training. Speak with your health care professional about the proper way to go about including this type of exercise into your workout regimen. 

Get Enough Sleep 

As with everyone, getting enough good quality sleep is important to feeling your best on a daily basis. But getting more sleep is even more important for those suffering from fibromyalgia. It can be difficult to sleep well with this condition because of the pain, restless leg syndrome, and the challenges of getting comfortable in bed at night. 

But a few tips will help you sleep better at night. 

If you go to sleep ad wake up at the same time each morning, this establishes a routine for your body. Eventually your body and brain will learn the time frame in which you sleep, and it will make it easier to go to sleep and stay asleep.

You can also take some time to wind down before going to sleep. Take a bath, diffuse some calming essential oils, read a book, or practice a meditation routine before bedtime. These things will help your body and mind relax. 

Eat a Healthy Diet 

Eating a healthy and balanced diet with lots of fruits, veggies, and whole-grain will also keep you feeling healthy and strong. Many patients with fibromyalgia often have low levels of vitamin D, so focusing on foods with higher levels of vitamin D can help as well. 

Interestingly, one study suggests that those who eat a mostly raw vegetarian diet improved their symptoms and felt better overall.

Consider Chiropractic Adjustments 

Seeing a chiropractor is another way you can help manage your pain and improve range of motion, so you can feel your best and live your best life. A study showed that chiropractic intervention helped manage patients pain levels, improved range of motion in the lumbar and cervical regions of the body and helped with leg raises as well. 

By loosening stiff joints and making adjustments to the spine, you can feel much better in no time. Overall, chiropractic care is a good option for Fibromyalgia and a natural and healthy way to give you the best most normal life possible with this condition. 

Try Massage Therapy 

Another great option to try that is a bit less intimidating than going to the chiropractor is to opt for massage therapy. Massage therapy is great because it is soothing, relaxing, and helps ease any pain you may be experiencing. Many chiropractic offices also offer free massage therapy like in my clinic in Anchorage

Studies suggest that massage therapy significantly helps pain, anxiety, and depression in fibromyalgia patients. Much of the time patients feel immediate effects making is an effective and fast option for those who feel like they need some relief as fast as possible. 

In the end, living with fibromyalgia comes with its challenges and ups and downs. But as with most things in life, this is normal and okay. The good news is there are so many things you can do to help improve your symptoms and live your best life even with the frustrating issues associated with this condition. 

Although it may take some time and experimentation, and speaking with your healthcare professional, you are sure to find something that works for you so you can get to feeling your absolute best in no time at all!

About Dr. Brent Wells

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.

Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.

Pet Therapy for Chronic Illness

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Fibromyalgia can be a lonely disease. Staying connected with friends and family becomes difficult when chronic pain and fatigue make it hard to get out and about like you used to. Sometimes, having a pet can make all the difference in the world!

Not only will a furry friend give you some companionship, but it turns out that pet therapy can actually be a pretty effective way of dealing with fibromyalgia pain. Here’s how it works.

What Is Pet Therapy

woman holding adult siberian husky
Photo by andres chaparro on Pexels.com

Pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal. It also involves the animal’s handler. The purpose of pet therapy is to help someone recover from or cope with a health problem or mental disorder. Basically, it involves using specially trained animals like cats and dogs to provide comfort to people who suffer from diseases like fibromyalgia, cancer, dementia, etc. The animals provide companionship while the patient pets or plays with them, reducing the amount of stress and pain they feel.

The biggest concern when it comes to pet therapy is making sure that the animals are well-trained and vaccinated. Because pet therapy is often done in hospitals, doctors want to be sure that a dog won’t get loose and run around contaminating the area.

With that being said, pet therapy, when done by a professional, is perfectly safe and can be very effective in treating fibromyalgia pain.

What Are The Benefits Of Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can also release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological state.

How Can Pet Therapy Ease Fibromyalgia Pain?

siamese cat
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

While the idea that simply petting a cat or dog can actually help your fibromyalgia pain seems a little far-fetched, there’s some basic science that backs it up. You see, petting an animal has been shown to cause your body to release lower levels of cortisol, which is the hormone linked to stress. And cortisol levels are directly linked to the amount of pain people with fibromyalgia feel.

And in addition to helping deal with your fibromyalgia pain, pet therapy also has other benefits. Depression and anxiety are both common among people with fibromyalgia, and it turns out that pet therapy can also help significantly with those symptoms. People who engage in pet therapy report consistently lower levels of stress and anxiety than people who don’t. There’s something about stroking a companion animal that lends a level of comfort to people who are suffering.

And taking care of an animal also helps people with fibromyalgia get more involved in daily life. Taking the animal on walks or playing with them in the park are great ways to coax yourself out of bed. And that’s especially true on days when your fibro pain makes you want to just close the curtains and go to sleep. So, a therapy animal can even be a link to the rest of the world when you have fibromyalgia.

So pet therapy can not only help you reduce your fibromyalgia pain, it can help you feel happier and less anxious.

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How Can You Start?

woman wearing gray jacket beside white puppy
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

Your doctor or therapist managing your treatment will administer pet therapy. A trained handler, often the pet’s owner, will take the animal to every meeting and work under your doctor or therapist’s direction to help you reach your goals. In most cases, the handlers work as volunteers. Discussion of proper pet handling is needed to ensure the safety of both the person receiving treatment and the pet.

Or if you prefer, you can also purchase your own animal that has been trained to be a therapy animal. There are lots of different breeders and trainers. And one should be able to help you find what you are looking for. A quick google search should be enough to find some in your area.

So maybe you’re the kind of person who hates having to leave their loyal pet behind. Well, getting them certified to provide therapy means that you can get comfort from them anywhere you go. And that can be a great thing when you’re suddenly struck by a fibromyalgia flare-up during your daily routine.

Animals make great companions, and it turns out that they might actually be great for treating fibromyalgia pain too. So if you’re tired of trying side-effect riddled medications, some alternative pet therapy may just be for you.

Outlook

pexels-photo-1323256.jpeg
Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

The success of pet therapy depends on establishing realistic goals and expectations and meeting those goals. You and your doctor or therapist will establish these goals at the beginning of your treatment. You’ll also discuss how to reach those goals and how long it will take.

Your doctor or therapist will monitor your progress and help you stay on track to meet your goals. If your progress is slower or faster than expected, they may alter your treatment plan. Remember,

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The Health Benefits of Meditation for Children

Today, I’m sharing a Guest Post from my friends at Roots of Being. I hope you enjoy!

Meditation

Many adults often meditate for both mental and physical reasons, but what many don’t realize is that meditation can be very beneficial for kids as well. In fact, a study done by UCLA showed that meditation encourages children to overcome their fears and even works to improve their memory. 

If you are interested in learning more about how meditation can be beneficial for kids, you’ll want to keep reading. Below you’ll discover more about this practice and some ways you can inspire kids to try doing it. 

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness Meditation is an attention technique that is designed to help you stay calm and relaxed. It is meant to help reduce stress in the body by teaching you how to deal with anxiety strong emotions, which often overwhelm the brain. 

This is particularly useful in children, who often have a hard time expressing their emotions verbally. 

What Can Meditation Help With?

Meditation can be useful for many things. While it is usually done for relaxation purposes, meditation can also be used to help with:

  • Learning how to properly communicate with others
  • Dealing with fear and grief
  • Insomnia
  • Depression

Do Kids Need to be a Certain Age to Meditate?

Kids of all ages can meditate, although young children might not fully understand what meditation means until they get older. Certainly kids as young as 4 can learn meditation techniques and benefit from the practice. But it’s usually around the ages of 9-12 years old that children start to understand what meditation is and why it is important. 

The Benefits of Meditation for Children

You’ll find that meditation comes with plenty of benefits for children. Below are a few of them. 

It Helps to Increase Their Attention Span

Kids are often energetic, and if something doesn’t interest them, they quickly turn their attention to other things. However, this isn’t always possible in the real world. Meditation works to teach children how to focus on things, even those that might not be the most exciting. Due to this, it can increase their attention span in various areas. 

It Reduces Stress

Children often don’t know how to handle stressful situations well which can lead to various side effects, such as depression. By meditating, they will work to train their brain to be calm which can significantly reduce stress and tension in their body. It also helps them to be more aware of their surroundings and teaches them how to deal with situations that might be scary. 

It Can Help Them Be More Compassionate and Positive

Numerous studies have shown that meditation can help to teach kids how to be more compassionate. This is because meditation teaches them to have more perspective and emotional control. Because of this, meditation can help them learn to be kind and understanding in numerous situations. 

Meditation can also help kids to be more positive as it reduces stress and promotes self-discipline. Meditation will work in the subconscious areas of the mind which often contains thoughts that can lead to depression and negativity. Due to this, it not only keeps kids positive, but happier as well. 

It Works to Reduce Obesity

Obesity is a common problem in many kids today. We’re up to the point where approximately one in three kids in the U.S. is overweight. While obesity can be caused by a poor diet or genetics, it can also be due to low self-esteem, stress, and depression. 

Meditation works to help reduce the chances of a child becoming obese due to reasons such as these. Mindfulness can help build up a child’s self-worth and can teach them they have an important place in the world. 

It can also help those who might be overweight improve their health by encouraging them to be aware of their actions and what they are doing in the present moment. This can work to reduce inattentive eating.

It Helps with ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that many children suffer from which can cause them to make very impulsive decisions and be hyper. While medications can be taken to help with it, they sometimes come with a few side effects, such as headaches and moodiness. 

Meditation is a natural solution for ADHD as it works to strengthen the brain’s prefrontal cortex – the area that is used for decision making, expressions, and social behavior. It can also release serotonin and dopamine in the body which work to calm the body down while also improving memory, digestion, and temperament.

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Ways to Help Children Meditate

There are a few ways you can teach kids how to meditate. Below are some kid-friendly options to try. 

Deep Breathing Techniques

A great way to show kids the power of meditation is to have them try deep breathing. You can teach them to take a deep breath, hold it, and then slowly let the air out. You can compare it to them blowing up a balloon and then letting the air out of it. To help teach them how to slowly let out air, you can have them make soft noises when doing so. 

Observation Exercises

An important aspect of meditation is to learn how to stay present in the moment. You can teach kids this vital principle by having them work on their observation skills. To do so, you can have them use their senses to observe what is around them. You can have them touch, smell, or taste things as a way for them to not only learn, but stay grounded. 

Have Them Blow Bubbles

While this might strike some as odd, blowing bubbles is a great way to teach kids about meditation and mindfulness. You can have kids blow bubbles while also teaching them how to control their breathing when doing so. Once they blow a bubble, have them carefully watch it float away and allow them to describe what it is doing and what it looks like. 

Conclusion

Meditation is incredibly important to introduce to kids as a way to help them naturally deal with problems such as stress, depression, and poor concentration. It not only is easy for them to do, but has been proven to help them be happier and healthier. 

For more information on meditation of all sorts, visit RootsofBeing.

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10 Tips to Improve Your Mental Health

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Mental Health is a hot topic these days. More and more people are recognizing that they suffering in some way with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues.

Today I’d like to share 10 things that can help to improve your mental health. I hope you find these helpful.

1. Recognize There’s A Problem

The very first step to improving your mental health is recognizing there’s a problem. You may be feeling a sense of the blues that you can’t shake, or a generalized anxiety that you can’t control.

Perhaps you’re feeling out of control and going through severe mood swings from mania to depression. All you know for sure is that something is “off” and you need to figure out what it is. Whatever the case may be, recognizing something is wrong is the first step to making things better.

2. Ask For Help

Perhaps one of the hardest things we face in life is asking for help. We like to think we’re capable of handling whatever life throws at us, but it’s not always that simple. You may find that at work, you’re more than capable of tackling whatever you face, but at home it’s a different story. Or, perhaps you’ve faced challenges at home that seem easy, but at work, you’re struggling to find your place.

When you’re dealing with your mental health, you may already feel like you’re a failure. Asking for help could prove to be a very difficult thing to do, but if you don’t ask, you tend to stay stuck in the situation you’re finding hard to manage. Talk to your doctor about what you’re going through, or find a counselor or trusted friend that you can share your concerns with. Sometimes just the very act of sharing with someone can help you feel better without further steps.

3. Accept Help

Once you’ve asked for help, the next step is to actually accept the help that’s offered. This might mean medication for depression or Bipolar Disorder if diagnosed, or your doctor could have other recommendations such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Meditation, Yoga for stress, etc.

Accepting help doesn’t mean you will end up with a mental illness diagnosis. However getting a diagnosis simply means that your body may not be producing the right chemicals to help you feel the best you can. There are hundreds of diagnoses, including Depression, Schizophrenia, Narcissism, Bipolar Disorder, and more.

Basically, your mental health can be simple or complex. A doctor or counselor can help to diagnose what’s going on and offer you treatment options. There is no shame in having problems with your mental health. Mental health issues are not your fault and are no different than having a medical condition. With changing times, terminology should no longer hold the stigma it used to. We live in an age where awareness is everything and more and more people are admitting to mental illness in the hopes that we can eliminate the stigmas all together.

4. Get Active

It’s time to get active with your mental health treatment plan. Exercise is a great place to start and many doctors will encourage you to get out and do something physical to help you feel better. Biking, walking, swimming, golf, tennis…whatever you like to do is the best fit. Even 30 minutes a day of exercise can help to balance hormones, improve mood, lessen anxiety and encourage better sleep. Especially if you can do it in the sunshine!

5. Explore Medication

Your doctor may recommend that you start on an anti-depressant or other medication for your symptoms. Please realize that taking medication is not a sign of weakness…it simply means your brain isn’t producing the right chemicals and needs a boost.

I liken it to other diseases…you wouldn’t refuse medication for heart disease or a kidney problem and you wouldn’t have an issue taking something for Diabetes, so why would this be any different? If your brain isn’t creating the right chemical mix, medication is an easy way to correct the problem and bring things back into balance.

Of course ultimately, it’s your choice. Psych meds can have a range of scary side effects and it can sometimes take years to find one that will work right for you. There are also alternatives to medication use. For a list of options, click here.

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6. Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, improving your emotional response and aiding in the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems.

CBT rests on the idea that thoughts and perceptions influence behavior. Feeling distressed, in some cases, may distort one’s perception of reality. CBT aims to identify harmful thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and, if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them.

CBT is appropriate for people of all ages, including children, teens, and adults. Evidence has mounted that CBT can benefit numerous conditions, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and many others. Research also indicates that CBT can be delivered effectively online, in addition to face-to-face therapy sessions.

This link gives you a quick overview of what CBT is and how it works. Ask your doctor for a referral to a certified CBT professional if you think this type of therapy could be helpful for you.

7. Yoga* and Tai Chi

As discussed, exercise is a good way of helping you feel better about yourself. Some people find Yoga and/or Tai Chi to be of great benefit when they are struggling with mental health issues.

The discipline involved with following regulated steps in a slow and deliberate fashion helps to calm the mind and put the focus on your overall well-being. Feeling your muscles working together can be very soothing and the slow movements are safe for just about everyone. Mastering the various forms gives you a sense of success which can be great incentive to keep going.

*Please note: Yoga is not recommended for people with hypermobility. Thank you.

8. Nutrition

Your body needs fuel to function and good nutrition is key to feeling well physically and mentally. By following a healthy eating plan and getting plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein, you are aiding your body in running in top condition.

Caffeine may or may not fit into your life – some people find it makes them jittery, others have no problems. Try adding more water to your daily intake – it helps lubricate your brain and joints and keeps you hydrated for optimal function. Avoid sugary beverages as much as possible – they don’t add any value to your health.

9. Spiritual Practices

Being spiritual doesn’t mean being religious, but both can have a place in your life. If you are religious, you may find prayer to be of comfort while you deal with your mental health. If religion is not your thing, spirituality can come from the sense of a Higher Power, Nature, Music or other practices.

Try to engage in your Spirituality/Religion on a daily basis – you may find a time of prayer, being in nature or listening to music to be of value when done at the same time every day. Some people like to do this in the morning, when the day is fresh in front of them. Others prefer to do this at night, so they can reflect on the day.

Whatever time you choose, it’s your time to be honest with your beliefs and to honor them in a way that feels authentic to you.

10. Journaling

Many people who live with mental health issues find journaling to be of value. Being able to honestly reflect on your life without fear of others reading your words can bring great comfort. The key is to write honestly about your feelings, not worrying about recriminations and criticism.

Choose a time to journal when it’s quiet and you won’t be interrupted. Set the stage with a cup of tea or other beverage, find a quiet writing nook and let yourself go. Don’t worry about impressing yourself with perfect grammar – just let yourself go and free flow with the writing. Unless you choose to share your journal with others, this is for your eyes only.

The freedom that comes with writing can bring clarity to your life and help you recognize areas that might need improvement, which then leads to greater understanding and happiness.

A Few Final Thoughts

I hope these 10 steps help you to realize that mental health issues are important and need to be taken seriously. You deserve to feel your best and when you’re not, everything else seems to get bogged down.

By attending to your mental health, you are actually doing your physical body a favor as well, since you’re bound to feel better in all ways when you’re feeling better mentally.

Recognize the problem, ask for help and try some of the steps above and see if things improve. Your doctor is always a great place to start and counseling is almost always worthwhile. You owe it to yourself to be your best version of you. Remember,

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Gratitude – Finding the Good in the Bad

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

When I wrote my post An Attitude of Gratitude, I received a lot of good comments on it, both those left with the post and in other formats. I meant every word of that post and I wanted to expand on that today, and THANK my body for all it does, despite Fibromyalgia (and several other health conditions). Here are some of the reasons I have to thank my body (and my mind!)

I Have A Strong And Compassionate Heart

Physically, my heart is in tip-top shape. After experiencing some chest pain a few years ago, I was put through a battery of tests including a heart scan and an ultrasound. Everything came back showing my heart to be in excellent shape and my risk of heart attack to be at approximately 1% based on all factors in my life.  Now that’s pretty amazing when you consider all the health conditions I live with, but I trust the tests and the monitoring.

What I tend to be most concerned with when it comes to my heart is how compassionate am I? Do I care about others? Do I show it? Do I reach out when others need a hand or a shoulder to lean on? Those are the heart conditions that I worry about and I work hard to make sure I’m staying heart-healthy in this area too.

I’ve Been Blessed With Common Sense

Not many people know that I never graduated High School. I only finished with a Grade 11 education, and while I’ve taken College courses to complete a Certified Event Planning Certificate, I’ve never furthered my formal education. I was able to get a good job in a field I loved by working hard and having common sense, which I believe is something sorely lacking in many people these days.

I don’t know if common sense is something you’re born with or something you learn. I only know that it comes naturally to me. It’s intuitive, it’s part of me and I don’t struggle with it…it’s just who I am. I may not be the most well-educated person in the group, but at least I have this gift.  I’m always thinking and strategizing about scenarios and how I would handle them. I rarely panic anymore about things…I just seem to know how to get on with it. I’m eternally grateful for this ability and I don’t take it for granted.

I’m Able To Give Back To Others

Volunteering is hugely important to me. Having the ability to give back to others makes me feel good and that’s why I sit on committees and working groups, so I can make the improvements that enhance the lives of others. My involvement with Patient Voices Network was a game-changer from the first time I attended the orientation session. PVN is an organization in British Columbia that allows ordinary citizens to have a say in how health care is delivered in our province.

Through my involvement with PVN, I’ve been able to attend conferences and education sessions, sit on committees (4 of them at the moment!) and take part in surveys, including being part of a group that is actually creating a Provincial survey for release in the next year. I’ve traveled for my volunteer work, met incredible accomplished people at all levels of business and government and work alongside other Patient Partners who, like me, are out there making change happen.

I Can Spend Time with Loved Ones

Being able to spend time with my husband and kids and friends is critical to my overall wellbeing. Ray and I have a motorcycle and we love to go for rides around Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. When I travel with my volunteer work, I’m often able to meet with our daughter Ashley for lunch or dinner in Vancouver where she works, and this is a huge treat. Our son Troy is in Calgary and I am able to see him when I travel there to stay with a dear girlfriend Charlotte twice a year. These are great blessings to me!

I don’t have a lot of friends who live near me, but I treasure the ones I can get together with all the more, especially Lorna. My online friends play an important part in my life as well –I’d be lost without them. I belong to a few online groups who fulfill a need in me that only they could meet. My body and mind function better because of all these interactions and I tend to forget that sometimes, especially when I’m having a high pain day. I can get very reclusive, but it’s good to know that loved ones are there when I need them, just as I am there for them.

I’m Still Able To Read And Listen To Music

I consider myself lucky that none of my health conditions have taken away the deep pleasure I get from reading and from music. I love reading the life stories of others in the form of biographies and autobiographies. Great fiction warms my heart. True Crime stirs my compassion for others. Reading a good book of any genre is a total act of joy for me and to lose that ability would be heartbreaking, even with all the other options available.

The same goes for music. I don’t listen to music every day, or even that often, but when I’m in the mood for it, it completely fills my soul. My tastes are eclectic, running from Acapella to Zydeco and I’m grateful there are so many ways to be exposed to music in this digital age. The internet has been a wonderful source of entertainment in my life and I’m thankful my body allows me to enjoy the endless variety it brings.

I’m Grateful To Be Able To Blog

No matter what my body throws at me physically, I’m still able to write and for that, I have no words. Writing is very personal for me, as it’s all based on my life and what I’m going through. My thoughts and hopes and disappointments are all shared in equal value and it’s a unique feeling to expose myself like that. I don’t mind the scrutiny at all, because I do this of my own free will, but there are times I wonder if I should censor myself more or be even more open.

No matter how bad things get for me physically, I cling to the knowledge that it can get better. Yes, it might get worse, and often does, but even in the worst of my pain, when I’m writhing in bed in agony, there’s a part of me that refuses to give up or give in. That tiny stubborn piece of me that says “hold on, pain ends.”  HOPE.

It’s an honour to know that you, dear reader, are taking in my words and finding something useful. That’s something I’m grateful to my body for, too. No matter how bad things may get physically, you can’t take that away from me.


50 Christmas Quotes

Revised from last year, I thought it was a good time to share my favourite Christmas quotes!

In the Spirit of the Season, here are 50 Christmas quotes to help bring good cheer to your heart during the holidays. Thanks to the website Daring To Live Fully for the list.

1. “I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays – let them overtake me unexpectedly – waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: ‘Why, this is Christmas Day!’”

~ David Grayson

2. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.”

~ Meredith Willson, “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”

3. “Christmas gift suggestions: to your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.”

~ Oren Arnold

Christmas quotes

4.

5. “Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”

~ Peg Bracken

6. “Instead of being a time of unusual behavior, Christmas is perhaps the only time in the year when people can obey their natural impulses and express their true sentiments without feeling self-conscious and, perhaps, foolish. Christmas, in short, is about the only chance a man has to be himself.”

~ Francis C. Farley

7. “It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.”

~ W.T. Ellis

8. “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”

~ Norman Vincent Peale

9. “Christmas now surrounds us,
Happiness is everywhere
Our hands are busy with many tasks
As carols fill the air.”

~ Shirley Sallay

10. “Each sight, each sound of Christmas
And fragrances sublime
Make hearts and faces happy
This glorious Christmastime.”

~ Carice Williams

11. “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!”

~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

12. “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.”

~ Janice Maeditere

13. “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

~ Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby

14. “I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month.”

~ Harlan Miller

15. “Christmas is the season of joy, of holiday greetings exchanged, of gift-giving, and of families united.”

~ Norman Vincent Peale

16. “Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.”

~ Ruth Carter Stapleton

17. “Good news from heaven the angels bring,
Glad tidings to the earth they sing:
To us this day a child is given,
To crown us with the joy of heaven.”

~ Martin Luther

18. “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”

~ Burton Hillis

19. “Probably the reason we all go so haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we don’t quite know how to put our love into words.”

~ Harlan Miller

20. “For centuries men have kept an appointment with Christmas. Christmas means fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home.”

~ W. J. Tucker

21. “Christmas is not just a time for festivity and merry making. It is more than that. It is a time for the contemplation of eternal things. The Christmas spirit is a spirit of giving and forgiving.”

~ J. C. Penney

22. “I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

23. “I love the Christmas-tide, and yet,
I notice this, each year I live;
I always like the gifts I get,
But how I love the gifts I give!”

~ Carolyn Wells

24. “Mankind is a great, an immense family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.”

~ Pope John XXIII

25. “Let us have music for Christmas…
Sound the trumpet of joy and rebirth;
Let each of us try, with a song in our hearts,
To bring peace to men on earth.”

~ Mildred L. Jarrell

26. “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

~ Calvin Coolidge

27. “I don’t think Christmas is necessarily about things. It’s about being good to one another, it’s about the Christian ethic, it’s about kindness.”

~ Carrie Fisher

28. “What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”

~ Agnes M. Pharo

29. “May Christmas lend a special charm
To all you chance to do.
And may the season light your way
To hopes and dreams anew.”

~ Garnett Ann Schultz, “My Christmas Wish”

30. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where the tree tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.”

~ Irving Berlin

31. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

~ Charles Dickens, Ebeneezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol

32. “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

~ Dr Seuss

33. “The merry family gatherings–
The old, the very young;
The strangely lovely way they
Harmonize in carols sung.

For Christmas is tradition time–
Traditions that recall
The precious memories down the years,
The sameness of them all.”

~ Helen Lowrie Marshall

34. “Christmas is forever, not for just one day,
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf.
The good you do for others is good you do yourself.”

~ Norman Wesley Brooks, “Let Every Day Be Christmas”

35. “This time of year means being kind
to everyone we meet,
To share a smile with strangers
we may pass along the street.”

~ Betty Black

36. “Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display–so much tinsel and decorations. For it isn’t the holly, it isn’t the snow. It isn’t the tree not the firelight’s glow. It’s the warmth that comes to the hearts of men when the Christmas spirit returns again.”

~ Unknown

37. “There is a Christmas song upon the air,
There is a joy innate within the heart;
An inner sense of peace, a holy light
Illumines life and sets these days apart.”

~ Edna Greene Hines

38. “I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”

~ Taylor Caldwell

39. “Christmas in Bethlehem. The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.”

~ Lucinda Franks

40. “Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death – and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.”

~ Henry Van Dyke

41. “Ask your children two questions this Christmas. First: What do you want to give to others for Christmas? Second: What do you want for Christmas? The first fosters generosity of heart and an outward focus. The second can breed selfishness if not tempered by the first.”

~ Author Unknown

42. “Bless us Lord, this Christmas, with quietness of mind; Teach us to be patient and always to be kind.”

~ Helen Steiner Rice

43. “Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given–when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.”

~ Joan Winmill Brown

44. “Christmas – that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance – a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”

~ Augusta E. Rundel

45. “Christmas day is a day of joy and charity. May God make you very rich in both.”

~ Phillips Brooks

46.

Christmas quotes

47. “Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”

~ Charles Schulz

48. “Christmas, my child, is love in action.”

~ Dale Evans

49. “Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him–and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.”

~ Max Lucado

50. “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

~ Steve Maraboli

Season of Miracles

Thoughts

As we enter the Season of Miracles, I wanted to write today about something that’s been on my heart. Joy and Miracles and hope for the future.

There is so much hope that comes with Christmas and Hanukkah – the Birth of the Christ Child, the Miracle of the Oil burning for 8 days – and I want us to see that despite Chronic Illness, there can still be joy and miracles and things to look forward to.

After living with Chronic Illness for over 30 years, my list of physical ailments is long and continues to grow. I also have a mental illness to deal with which will be with me for the rest of my life.

Having Bipolar Disorder was a frightening diagnosis for me, but after finally getting it under control with the proper medications, it’s become a real non-factor in my life and I often forget that I have it.

To me, that’s a miracle.

Each year though, my physical pain gets worse, and so does my Chronic Fatigue. I struggle more with pain management and all the side effects, but I’ve also learned new tips and tricks to help deal with my days – another reason to feel hopeful.

Making Changes

In a previous post, I wrote about complementary medicine and how it can help with Chronic Pain. I am a true believer in trying new solutions for old problems and had some great feedback about this article. I hope you were able to incorporate some of these ideas, or will look at the post to give them a try.

Living with Chronic Pain can be a bittersweet encounter – bitter because of the pain and side effects and all the negative changes in your life, but sweet because there are still things to be grateful for.

Research

There is new research on the horizon for diagnosing Fibromyalgia – the work being done to develop accurate blood testing has never been more exciting, and with science on our side, things are bound to have a positive impact in our lives.

The sooner we get a true diagnosis, the sooner treatment can start.

Treatments themselves are becoming better too, now that we understand that Fibromyalgia isn’t an autoimmune disorder and that its roots lie in the nervous system and the inability to communicate properly with the brain and spinal canal regarding pain signals.

Although there haven’t been any new medications released to treat Fibro, Gabapentin is being used more commonly in conjunction with the approved medications (Savella, Cymbalta and Lyrica) with good results.

More and more patients are becoming involved in Research for their health conditions, and Clinical Trials are being held across North America on a regular basis.

For more information about clinical trials, you can sign up here at ClinicalTrials.gov to see if you qualify for studies on a variety of health issues, not just Fibromyalgia. Another good spot to try is Patients At Heart. For Canadians, this link takes you to the Health Canada Clinical Trials website.

Advocacy

Another area where I’m seeing hope and miracles is in Patient Advocacy. This is a fast growing area where Patients become involved as authorities in their lived experience and work together with Health Care Partners to make changes in how health care is delivered.

One of the largest national organizations in Advocacy is WEGO Health. WEGO Health works with Patients in a wide variety of areas, offering opportunties to share you stories and help to impact change in a number of different ways.

They highlight a number of different annual conferences that take place in North America, and provide opportunities for you to share your story and get involved in various projects.

Patient Advocacy at an organizational level is becoming extremely important as well. If you want to be involved, simply contact the health organization of your choice, and ask them how you can become a Patient Advocate.

Volunteering your time to share your health story and help others is a great way to give back, beyond simply “making a donation”. Financial help is always needed and appreciated, but you can make a real difference as well in sharing your experiences.

Volunteering

Speaking of volunteering, this is an activity that has given me the greatest joy since becoming disabled. I do volunteer work for a group in BC, Canada called the Patient Voices Network, where I act as a Patient Advocate for a variety of Health Care initiatives.

I currently sit on 5 health-related committees,. Two are with the BC Emergency Medicine Network. Another is a Surgical Quality Improvement committee and another committee is devoted to ensuring Quality Control for all the Laboratories on Vancouver Island, BC.

Finally, I am a member of the Oversight & Advisory Committee for the Patient Voices Network, a role I’ve held for 3 years now. We oversee the activities of PVN and ensure that Patients are getting opportunities to share their voices in making change in health care.

I have also recently been working on becoming a Coach for PainBC.ca, allowing me to work directly with people with Chronic Pain and helping them find solutions for situations in their lives that they require some guidance with. I expect that work to start in 2020 when my training is complete in mid-December.

These volunteer opportunities allow me to give back to the community in a variety of ways while still taking care of my health. I devote approximately 20 hours a month to all of these committees which is manageable without overdoing it.

I love the variety of experiences I get to be involved in, the people I work with (surgeons, Government officials, other patients, etc.) and the opportunity to stretch my wings and try new things beyond my day to day life.

I’ve even been sponsored to travel to various conferences and to take courses such as the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Training.

I share this with you to show you that even if your health isn’t the greatest, you can still participate in volunteering in ways that make a difference.

Another volunteer suggestion is this: if you are a crafter, find out if your local hospital has need for knitted or crocheted items and take on the challenge. Blankets, baby items and more are often for sale in the Hospital Gift Shops and you can have a real impact on someone’s life with this kind of giving.

I know I’ve been very comforted in times in the hospital when I’ve been provided with a beautifully created blanket!

Season of Hope

I trust you are getting a sense of the hope and miracles I started this post with. There is so much potential in our lives even if we are disabled by pain and our physical and/or mental illnesses.

We must let go of the old ways of thinking that our good days are behind us, and start celebrating the wonderful things we have yet to accomplish.

Think about what you’re good at and find a way to incorporate it back into your life. What makes you smile? What makes your heart skip a beat? Find a way to bring that joy back into your life and see what changes.

Pain is easier to manage when you have good things to look forward to. Fatigue seems easier to handle when you’re active and busy, both mentally and physically.

I hope this post was helpful. I appreciate your comments below and look foward to sharing a magical Season with all of you! Remember…

PIN THIS!!

There Is Always Hope

Living with Chronic Illness is an act of bravery. When each of your days is spent in pain and discomfort, it takes a lot of courage to keep going. I want to talk about hope…how to have it to get through your life and how it helps to keep a person going.

there is always hope

What is HOPE? Here is one definition I found that I think sums it up:

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. As a verb, its definitions include: “expect with confidence” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation.”

Being optimistic is essential when you live with Chronic Illness, because the alternative is unacceptable. If you only see negatives, then you end up wallowing in misery and that compounds how you feel physically and mentally. I truly believe that even in the worst illnesses, there are positives to be found.

  1. You gain a better perspective of your own strengths
  2. You show more compassion for others who are struggling
  3. You understand the human condition for what it is and tend to reach out more to others
  4. Every accomplishment is a victory
  5. You find greater wisdom from those around you

Expecting with confidence is based on faith – trusting that what you want the most will come true. Realistic faith is a good thing and ridiculous faith is even better! What is ridiculous faith? It’s when you hope and pray for something which is beyond reasonable expectations, but still anticipate that miracles could happen.

Do you need Religion to have Hope? I don’t think so. It can help in many ways, as prayer can be a very comforting thing, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Many people consider themselves Spiritual rather than Religious and find comfort in ritual, nature or other traditions. Prayer may not be a part of their lives, but they still find comfort in the routines they’ve established for themselves.

I am a Christ Follower and find prayer to be essential to my well-being. It comforts me to know that I have a God who is bigger than me and who holds me in the palm of His hand. I trust that He has a plan for my life and though I may not understand it, I accept it. Acceptance on it’s own can be comforting.

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Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay

So how does one go about growing Hope in their lives? What steps do you have to take to have faith in the things that are happening in your life, good and bad?

  1. Acknowledge your strengths. Chronic Illness can rob us of our confidence. Try making a list of all of your strengths and accomplishments. Read through the list and congratulate yourself for these positive traits. Understanding that you still have much to offer the world goes a long way in inspiring hope in the soul.
  2. Cultivate supportive relationships. As much as you can, surround yourself with supportive and caring people. People who help you to feel good and encourage you to be your best help to increase your sense of wellbeing. Having a supportive network of friends will help you to further your interests and goals. It’s much easier to find hope within a strong community as opposed to completely on your own
  3. Look at the activities and attitudes of people around you. See if any of them can serve as role models for what you would like to accomplish for yourself. Also, consider how the people around you act and make you feel. When you surround yourself with hope and success, it naturally trickles down into your own life. Like attracts like.
  4. Engage in pleasurable activities. Doing things that you enjoy can also help you to develop your sense of hope. By engaging in activities that make you happy every day, you will have a greater sense of purpose. If you are not sure about what activities bring you the most joy, try out some new things to figure it out. Take a class at your local community college, try a new exercise routine (Aqua-based activities are easy on the body), learn a new skill, or start a new hobby.
  5. Get involved with a cause. Volunteering for a cause you believe in is a great way to cultivate hope towards the future. This can be in either your local community or even an online community if mobility is an issue for you. Patient Advocacy is an area that is under-represented and working with Health Care Organizations can have a huge impact on yourself as well as others who live with Chronic Illness.
  6. Build relationships with others. When you start to build new relationships over common goals or projects, your sense of hope can greatly increase as you see results from your efforts. Involving yourself with other people who share your interests can help you to overcome alienation, which can cause a feeling of hopelessness.
  7. Get out of your comfort zone. This is essential to changing your thought patterns and learning to approach the world with more hope. Go out with friends after work instead of going straight home. Join a club or group so you can share new experiences with others. Develop a new hobby. Put yourself out there in ways that make you mildly uncomfortable at first.
  8. Keep track of your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Journaling is a great way to understand why you have been feeling hopeless and it is also a great stress reliever. To get started, buy a beautiful journal and a nice pen or pencil. Choose a comfortable place and plan to devote about 20 minutes per day to writing. Start by writing about how you are feeling, what you are thinking, or whatever else is on your mind.
  9. Try keeping a gratitude diary. Every night, think of three things you are grateful for and write them down. Doing this every day will help you to develop a more hopeful outlook and it can also help you to sleep better and enjoy better health. 
  10. Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat healthy food, get plenty of rest, and relax. By taking good care of yourself, you are sending your mind signals that you deserve to be happy and treated well which can increase your hope for the future. Make time to take care of yourself
    • Exercise to the best of your ability.
    • Eat a balanced diet of healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
    • Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Use good sleep hygiene if you have trouble sleeping.
    • Set aside at least 15 minutes per day to relax. Practice yoga, do deep breathing exercises, or meditate.
    • Stay hydrated
    • Go for a massage or have body work such as Reiki to help balance you.
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Hope doesn’t have to be a fleeting thing…it can be a strong and deciding factor in your day to day life. I live every day with the hope it will be a good day. Positivity goes a long way in making me feel better physically, mentally and spiritually. I’m realistic about what I am and am not able to do, but I never give up hope that things will be better. It’s all about attitude and choosing how you want to feel.

I hope these ideas and suggestions are useful for you. I named my blog There Is Always Hope because I truly believe that statement. Even in the worst of our moments, I believe there is always a tiny light burning bright for us. We just have to look for it. Sometimes that means stepping out of our comfort zone and doing something we never thought we were capable of, but if we can overcome our fear, we may be surprised as to what we find.

And so I end this post as I always do and I mean it even more today…

There Is Always Hope

chronic pain and addictions (1)

Interview October – Jennifer Van Haitsma

I’m excited to share my next guest’s story with you…please meet Jennifer Van Haitsma!

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

Hi! My name is Jennifer Van Haitsma, the writer behind the blog Diffusing the Tension. I am 33 and I live in Northwest Indiana (about an hour from Chicago). I’m married to my love of 14 years, and we have 2 amazing children. (They are 4.5 and 2.5). In my spare time, I love to watch TV. I’m an avid binge watcher when I can. I especially love British period dramas, procedurals, and true crime documentaries. I also love to read. My goal is to read 35 books this year. I try to workout several days a week as well. 

One fascinating fact about me is:

I am terrified of heights. It is strange because I am not afraid of rollercoasters or airplane rides, but any other situation involving heights petrifies me. 

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

I live with bipolar disorder and chronic fatigue. Originally, I was diagnosed with depression, but my diagnosis changed about 10 years ago. 

My symptoms/condition began…

I began to exhibit symptoms of depression when I was 9 years old. I was a little more withdrawn at school and acted out a bit more at home, from what I can remember. 

My diagnosis process was… 

When I was 12 or 13 my mom took my to my first therapist. I remember not even wanting to talk to her at first. I had a lot of anger after my cousin’s death in 1995 (when my symptoms started) and really didn’t want to let a stranger climb the walls I had built inside. But ultimately, I was diagnosed with depression. In 2009, at age 23, I began to exhibit symptoms of mania (hyper productivity, irritability, and sabotaging relationships.) I sought treatment again, and in 2010 I was labeled bipolar 2 with rapid cycling mixed episodes. 

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…

Definitely the effects it has on those around me. I sometimes lose my patience when it’s not necessary, and take it out on my husband and children, which makes me feel deeply ashamed. Another incredibly hard part is the fatigue. I am so tired that it is hard to stay awake past 7:30pm. 

A typical day for me involves…

Taking the day an hour at a time. I make the kids breakfast, then we do whatever we can to pass the time until lunch, etc. My fatigue makes it hard to stick to a schedule with them currently, as I often need to lie down for prolonged periods of time. 

The one thing I cannot live without is…

My phone! It is where I store my pictures, others’ phone numbers, others’ address, where I get my entertainment, where I keep my to do lists… My phone is the central hub of my daily activity. 

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

It had taught me resilience in a way that nothing else could. I have had to learn that each day is a fresh start, and it is possible to make the most of my situation. It has also taught me the power of speaking about my journey so that I can help others through theirs. 

My support system is…

My biggest supporters are my husband and parents. My husband is my best friend, and he is always patient with me when my illness gets bad, and always stays by my side. My parents provide a lot of support where my husband can’t. The girls get a lot of play time with their grandmas during the day when he is working and I need the help. 

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would…

It’s funny how hard it is to imagine myself without my illness! I think I would get in a long workout and then spend the day doing fun things with the girls. Maybe a trip to the zoo or a local amusement park, if the weather was good. 

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

It helps you have more empathy for others who struggle. Before my diagnosis, I’m sure I often looked down on people with chronic illness. Now, I know they are just that: people. 

One final thing I want people to know is:

I am not my illness. I am so much more than just bipolar. I am a wife, a mom, a bookworm, a TV addict, a fitness nut, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a person. 

My links are:

Blog: www.diffusingthetension.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jvan3610

Facebook: www.facebook.com/diffusingthetension

Instagram: www.instagram.com/diffusing_the_tension

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/diffusingthetensionblog