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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Coping With Loneliness with Chronic Pain

The Problem of Loneliness

Chronic pain and Invisible Illness are difficult conditions to live with and can lead to social withdrawal and loneliness. When you get sick, not only do you have to process and deal with things like surgeries, recovery, medications, new symptoms and flare-ups but socially you may have to give up hobbies and activities you once loved, making it hard to nurture friendships and relationships with those close to you.

It’s hard for those who love you to understand why you might have to cancel plans last minute or leave during the middle of the evening. Because they’ve never experienced what you’re going through, it’s hard to have a frame of reference. Unless you’ve lived it, it’s impossible to make others understand.

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Social Isolation Is Serious

Because of these changes that we have to make – like leaving in the middle of an event or cancelling plans – we open ourselves up to feelings of social isolation, depression and anxiety and guilt.

Social isolation is defined as an occurrence when a person lacks opportunities to interact with people while loneliness is the subjective experience of distress over not having enough social relationships or enough contact with people.

It is possible for a person with a chronic illness to be socially isolated and not feel lonely and someone with a chronic illness can feel lonely, while not being socially isolated. There are several issues that people with chronic illness face that can lead to social isolation and feeling lonely:

  • Disbelief from others when you don’t have a clear diagnosis
  • Physical limitations due to pain or fatigue
  • The unpredictability of symptom onset
  • The trigger of symptoms related to noises, smells, etc.
  • Lack of a strong support system (Family and/or Friends)
  • Changes in employment or financial stability
  • Loss of hobbies and outside activities

Social isolation and feeling lonely are important health problems and should not be overlooked. The chronic illness population is at an even higher risk for social isolation and this problem should be addressed with your Doctor along with other symptoms and risk factors.

What You Can Do About It

When you are socially isolated and have feelings of loneliness, it can actually make your chronic illness worse. The longer you are experiencing isolation or loneliness, the more you start to develop feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, distrust and abandonment toward yourself and others. The more these feelings grow, the less likely you are to seek out real human connections.

So what can you do when you start having these feelings?

1. Recognize loneliness for what it is, and accept that you have these feelings. Self-awareness is important in making positive changes. When you catch yourself falling into old habits, you’ll be able to more quickly turn things around.

2. Use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to help reframe your thoughts to become more positive and open to socialization. This can be done with the help of a therapist or through online courses and over time, can be very effective.

3. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself and start forcing yourself to recognize if this is your “go-to response. Deliberately try doing the opposite of what you’re feeling – instead of retreating into watching TV, take a walk or pick up the phone and call someone. The more you resist the temptation to isolate, the easier it becomes

4. Fill your life with loving positive people who are patient and trustworthy and who truly try to understand what you are going through. They will be your encouragers and biggest support system. Remove negative people from your life…you don’t need their energy.

5. Try one new thing each week that will get you to meet new people. Try an art class, go to yoga, volunteer… anything that will get you to meet new people who like doing things that you like to do.

6. Seek out a support group for your illness. This is a great way to meet people who really do understand what you’re going through. Even an online group is fine to get started as being with like-minded people will help to engage you instead of isolating you.

7. Ask for what you need in your life. Don’t feel you’re being a burden on others…when someone asks what they can do for you to help, they genuinely want to help. Let them…give them the opportunity to be of service to you. Perhaps it’s to invite you out for coffee once a week or to go take a class together. You’ll be helping them as much as they will be helping you.

8. Consider therapy. It can help you explore any deeper issues that might be contributing to loneliness or social isolation. Therapy can also be a great accountability and skills training support to help you manage all of the difficult things you are going through in a safe way.

Remember, 

There Is Always Hope

A Painful Talk (Pain and How It Feels)

I want to talk about Pain today. Physical pain is something that most people can say they’ve experienced at some point in their lives and it’s something that feels different for every person. If you live with Chronic Pain, you will experience pain in a completely different way than Acute pain, which is short-lived or fleeting.

Pain Scale

When you are in pain, you are often asked to describe how bad your pain is on a scale of 1 (being the least amount of pain) and 10 (being the worst pain you’ve ever felt). Doctors often use this chart:

pain-scale-chart

I personally prefer this updated pain chart:

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Types of Pain

  • acute pain starts suddenly and is short-term
  • chronic pain lasts for a longer period of time
  • breakthrough pain often happens in between regular, scheduled painkillers
  • bone pain happens when cancer is affecting a bone
  • soft tissue pain happens when organs, muscles or tissues are damaged or inflamed
  • nerve pain happens when a nerve is damaged
  • referred pain is when pain from one part of your body is felt in another
  • phantom pain is when there is pain in a part of the body that has been removed
  • total pain includes the emotional, social and spiritual factors that affect a person’s pain experience.
  • hyperalgesia – extreme and abnormally heightened sensation to pain
  • allodynia – Allodynia refers to central pain sensitization following normally non-painful, often repetitive, stimulation.
  • paresthesia – an abnormal sensation such a prickling or “pins and needles” in a part of the body caused chiefly by pressure on the peripheral nerves
  • visceral – pain that is felt in the thoracic, pelvic, or abdominal organs

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Image by Noupload from Pixabay 

Descriptions

Some of the descriptive words that are commonly used to define your pain include:

  • aching
  • tender
  • sharp
  • shooting
  • hot
  • burning
  • nagging
  • intense
  • stabbing
  • tingling
  • dull
  • throbbing

Living With Pain

The Pain of Fibromyalgia

For most people, pain is a response to an injury or illness and is generally short-lived. It tells us that there is a problem in the body so that we can get the proper treatment to correct the situation. 

For people who live with Chronic or Persistant Pain, the body continues to send out pain signals long after the original injury or illness, or in response to an ongoing condition such as arthritis. 

It’s important to talk about your pain and to work with your healthcare team to find ways to manage it. There are many treatment options available, from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to medications such as Opioid drugs. It may help to have a trusted friend you can share with.

Some people find talk therapy a good alternative – for example, in British Columbia, Canada, there is a program from PainBC.com that pairs you up with a trained Pain Consultant in their “Coaching for Health” program. 

Emotional Pain

Emotional Pain can be just as devastating as physical pain, as there is often a harder time finding ways of reducing the anguish that is felt. This is where talk therapy and Cognitive Behavour Therapy can be especially of benefit. 

You may be feeling particularly distressed about the physical pain you are feeling. By seeking ways to share your emotions, you can ease the burden that’s been placed on you and come to terms with the physical pain that may now be a permanent part of your life. 

I belong to a Fibromyalgia Group on Facebook called Fibro Connect. This question was recently asked and I’ve been given permission to share some answers here:

Finish this sentence: The hardest thing for me when I got chronic pain was…

  • Sheila Ibe McGaughey Hicks: When I don’t have anything to cure the pain and the Dr.s don’t give a da–. If it was them you can bet they would have something!!
  • Melissa Temple: Dealing with what I couldn’t do anymore.
  • Margie Daily Williams: Relationships
  • Vicki Fellas DeKroney: Going out with my husband and doing things we used to do. Liked dancing.
  • Peggy O’Connor: Having fun like I used to – it being so loud in the stores and the fluorescent lighting got to my eyes. I couldn’t wait to get home to my chihuahua and just destress. Not fun at all 
  • Leeroy Good: I had to learn that who you talk to about certain things is important and knowing who to share with is an art.
  • Nikki Albert: Accept I was disabled
  • Marjorie Mccluskey: Sleeping
  • Lisa Kreimes: Having to give up my old self. The person that could do everything, and friends dropping like flies because they don’t understand why you can’t be who you once were. 
  • Lea Cheney: To fight the anxiety and depression
  • Linzi Bee: I miss long dog walks so much .
  • Susan Weber: Everything above. You all nailed it.
  • Pamela Jessen: Accepting that my life was going to drastically change.
  • Susan Pearson: Realising I am unlikely to have children. I still try and consider other options going forward but time is ticking away and windows are narrowing. All the rest are just frustrations in comparison to this.

Conclusion

As you can see, living with Chronic Pain causes your whole life to spiral out of control. Chronic Pain affects every aspect of your life – your relationships, your work, your hobbies, your freedom, your ability to make choices…that’s why it’s crucial to work with your healthcare team to find solutions that help you. Remember…

There Is Always Hope

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

Chronic Pain And Addictions

I want to talk about a difficult subject today…Chronic Pain and Addictions. When you live with Chronic Pain, you can find yourself spiraling in a dark hole. Sometimes depression becomes as big of a problem as the physical pain you live with, and in a desperate need to feel better, you find yourself turning to your medications too often, or you resort to drinking or eating as a way of filling the gap.

Addiction is easy to fall into, as often, you are not receiving adequate treatment for your pain to begin with. You find yourself taking your medictions sooner than directed, or you take more than recommended and then suddenly, you’re in withdrawal at the end of the month when your prescription has run out.

Instead of abusing your pain medications, you may turn to alcohol to increase the “buzz”, or food may become the drug of your choice. “Anything to dampen the pain” is what you might be thinking, and sometimes, it works. Other times, it feels like nothing can fill the unending gulf of pain you live with and so your depression deepens and you’re left feeling worthless. Thoughts of suicide may plague you but you resist telling others for fear they will see you as weak.

Let’s examine this problems in more detail.

Medications

Opioid abuse is an epidemic in the United States. In 2016, approximately 11.5 million Americans 12 years and older misused opioid pain medications, and 1.8 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain medications. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 persons died from opioid overdoses, with deaths generally increasing as prescription opioid sales increased. In 2012, clinicians wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioids, enough for every U.S. adult.*

Chronic Pain and Addictions

There are a variety of medications that are used in the treatment of Chronic Pain. As you probably know, there is a current push from to cut back on Opioids like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone because of perceived over-prescribing and the number of deaths linked to the mis-use of Opioids. The number of deaths from illegal Fentynal overdoses has increased dramatically, yet the people who actually require the drug for their Chronic Pain are being turned away by their physicians or are having their dosages cut back significantly.

PreGabalin, Gabapentin, and mixed drugs like Tramacet (Tramadol and Acetaminophen) are now being used more frequently, but not always to great benefit. This is one of the reasons the use of illegal Fentynal is increasing – people aren’t getting adequate relief from their doctor-prescribed medications and so they’re looking to the streets for solutions.

Alcohol

Throughout the ages, people have used alcohol to manage their pain. A swig of whiskey after a bullet wound in the old Westerns, or to numb the pain of a teething baby are two minor examples. A study done recently showed that 28% of people with Chronic Pain used alcohol to help control their pain**

Chronic Pain and Addictions

Although alcohol has been shown to reduce pain, it’s a temporary solution and has potential and possible fatal risks. When you drink, you are more likely to abuse your prescription medications, resulting in furthering the sedative effects of both. You also increase the possibility of liver damage or gastric bleeding. Using alcohol as a pain medication often ends up with exceeding the recommended amount that you should drink and overdose of alcohol and/or prescription medications can be fatal.

Other points to note:

  • Withdrawal from chronic alcohol use often increases pain sensitivity which could motivate some people to continue drinking or even increase their drinking to reverse withdrawal-related increases in pain.
  • Prolonged, excessive alcohol exposure generates a painful small fiber peripheral neuropathy, the most common neurologic complication associated with alcoholism.

Food

When a person is unable to control the amount of pain they live with, they may turn to food instead, as a way of finding relief. It doesn’t take away the pain, but satiating yourself gives back the illusion of that control that you’ve lost elsewhere. Anorexia and bingeing/purging become huge risks and lead to further medical problems.

Chronic Pain and Addiction

Anorexia is the elimination of food from the diet, until your calorie intake is grossly under the recommended daily allowance for health. It is a psychological and potentially life-threatening eating disorder.

There are a multitude of health risks involved including mood swings, low blood pressure, heart problems, kidney and liver issues, loss of bone density and the very real possibility of death.

Bingeing and purging causes issues such as gastric problems, dental issues from vomiting and bile wearing at the teeth and gums, dehydration and depression issues. The use of excessive laxatives is hard on your bowels and runs the risk of chronic constipation, resulting in a Catch-22 of needing to use more laxatives to alleviate the constipation.

Excessive Exercise is another form of purging. By engaging in obscene amounts of exercise, you expose yourself to potential damage to your joints from overuse, dehydration, weakness and potential heart issues.

Other Addictions

Other addictions to be careful about including smoking, gambling, shopping and sex although I’m sure you can think of even more. Each of these excessive behaviours can lead to damaging consequences so it’s imporant to be aware of them. When you live with Chronic Pain, you can have an “all or nothing” mentality – you simply want to do anything that will help you focus on something other than hurting.

What Next?

The first step to any of these issues is to accept that you have a problem. Professional help is required to allow you to wean off of the drugs or alcohol, or to start a healthy relationship with food.

Support groups are available both in person and online and are highly recommended. To be with people who have gone through the same experiences as you have can be very comforting.

A Pain Management program may be suggested to help you get to the root of your problems, and to help you find solutions to managing your pain more effectively.

Talk to your family physician to start. Now is the time to be honest about what you’ve been going through and how you’ve been coping (or not coping). Accept that seeing a counsellor on a regular basis may be a requirement for your success. Having a safe place to talk goes a long way in setting goals for yourself and achieving them.

Ask about specific books that may help you understand Chronic Pain more completely. Knowledge is power.

Finally, realize that you are not a bad person. You may have made some bad choices, but recognizing them and changing them is what’s important. We all make mistakes, and even if you think you’re the worst person in the world…you’re not. You have value and worth and are deserving of the best care possible. Remember,

There Is Always Hope

*https://www.aafp.org/afp/2018/0301/p313.html
**https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/PainFactsheet/painFact.htm

chronic pain and addictions

Chronic Pain and Mindfulness Meditation

What does the word meditation mean to you? When you hear it, what is the first thing you think of? Someone sitting with their legs crossed, going “ommmmm”?  Someone doing yoga? A different culture or religion?

Mindfulness meditation can have many meanings, but ultimately, it’s a way of connecting with yourself. It’s a mental training practice that involves focusing your mind on your experiences (like your own emotions, thoughts, and sensations) in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation can involve breathing practice, mental imagery, awareness of body and mind, and muscle and body relaxation.

So what does mindfulness meditation have to do with Chronic Pain? Well, it’s a way of focusing on your body and using the relaxation techniques to reduce pain and tension. With the right amount of practice, you can utilize meditation to counteract against various types of pain including joint pain and nerve pain. Here are some tips and tricks to help you.

Getting Started

Learning mindfulness meditation is straightforward, however, a teacher or program can help you as you start (particularly if you’re doing it for health purposes). Some people do it for 10 minutes, but even a few minutes every day can make a difference. Here is a basic technique for you to get started, from the website Very Well Mind:

1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck, and back straight but not stiff.

2. Try to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and stay in the present.

3. Become aware of your breath, focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall, and the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to the way each breath changes and is different.

4. Watch every thought come and go, whether it be a worry, fear, anxiety or hope. When thoughts come up in your mind, don’t ignore or suppress them but simply note them, remain calm and use your breathing as an anchor.

5. If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts, observe where your mind went off to, without judging, and simply return to your breathing. Remember not to be hard on yourself if this happens.

6. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.

Breathing

Learning how to breathe sounds so simple, but many of us don’t do it properly. We tend to breathe from the chest instead of the diaphragm, which leads to shallow breaths. Deep belly breathing is preferable and can be easily learned. Try breathing in tune with this Hoberman Sphere:

Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain

 

Guided Meditations

Guided meditations can be an excellent resource to help you connect the mind and body. The good people at Mindful.org have several excellent starters that you can access right here.

For content specific to Chronic Pain, these videos may be helpful for you:

Guided Meditation for Chronic Pain #1

Guided Meditation for Chronic Pain #2

Guided Meditation for Chronic Pain #3

Conclusion

Just a few minutes a day is all it takes to learn this simple practice, but the benefits can last for much longer. Used in conjunction with heat, ice and medications, you may find Mindfulness Meditation to be just the thing to ease your Chronic Pain, one breath at a time. Remember,

There Is Always Hope

 

Cannabis for Fibromyalgia and Invisible Illness (And Ways To Use It)

There has been much talk about the use of Cannabis for treating Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses. I recently featured John Martinez from Axon who wrote about using CBD Oil for treating migraine headaches. Today I want to share various ways you can use CBD Oils to obtain optimum health. 

While there are many cannabinoids in the plant, THC and CBD are the ones “in charge” for fighting pain and inflammation. What about Hemp? Hemp has some very mild “anti-pain” properties, its use is best suited in other applications. This article by Cannadish gives an excellent breakdown of all three components. 

So how do you use Cannabis to help with a medical condition like Fibromyalgia or MS or arthritis? 

As an example, a Cannabis-infused Topical lotion can be applied to the skin on the areas affected by your health condition, but having a bath is a great solution to have your whole body relax with cannabis oil. It’s especially great before going to bed. One easy way to do this is by making cannabis-infused bath bombs.

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The Process

 

INGREDIENTS

100mg CBD from the dealer of your choice*

1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil.

1 cup baking soda

1/2 cup Citric Acid (can be purchased at any soap making store)

1/2 cup Epsom Salt

1/2 cup corn starch

1 teaspoon water Food colouring of your choice

Your choice of essentials oils 30-40 drops

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with a whisk.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the liquid ingredients together, including the CBD oil until well blended.
  3. In the large bowl, very slowly add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients a little bit at a time. The mixture should hold together when squeezed without crumbling.
  4. When well mixed, pack the mixture into your bath bomb mould and pack tightly, then let it dry. Make sure you work quickly so the mixture doesn’t dry out in the process.
  5. Bath Bombs need a full day to fully harden. If they’re not quite hardened enough, they may crumble when you handle them, so check to make sure before taking them completely out of the mould
  6. Makes one good size bath bomb, or several smaller if you are using smaller moulds

*Note: Depending on the strength of the CBD oil you have, the volume (drops or ml) of oil needed for this recipe will vary. For instance, an oil containing 1mg CBD per drop will require 100 drops. Having trouble calculating? Try this CBD oil calculator

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To use your new bath bomb, simply add to a tub of warm, almost hot water and relax for 20 minutes (min). 

Other Forms Of Use

The Patch

Cannabis can be used in other forms as well. Some companies have been selling a Patch. Like the patch used for the diabetic nerve pain treatment, it provides the patient with a controlled release of the medication:

  • Through a porous membrane covering a reservoir of medication.
  • Body heat melting thin layers of medication embedded in the adhesive which will contain high potency cannabinoid (CBD) extract. This extract slowly enters the bloodstream and then penetrates the central nervous system of the patient thus delivering the pain relief sought.

Edibles

This excellent article talks about Cannabis Edibles and the many ways you can enjoy the benefits of this particular form of consumption.  Instructions are given as to dosage, benefits, side effects and more, and it also contains a bit of history as to how edibles came to be so popular. 

The author and I share very similar views that all these forms of ingesting Cannabis are beneficial to those who suffer from Fibromyalgia, MS, Lupus, Arthritis, and more. 

I recommend finding a store near you where you can begin a relationship with the staff to get all your questions answered. Many US States are now allowed to sell legally and Cannabis is legal in Canada as well. 

Get to know the staff, let them show you their favourite products and ways to use Cannabis, and before you know it, you’ll hopefully be finding the relief you’ve been seeking. No, Cannabis doesn’t work for everyone (in fact, I’ve tried it myself and am one of the people that it does nothing for!). Don’t get discouraged right away…try other forms such as the bath bomb if an edible didn’t work for you, or vice versa. 

Cannabis is NOT a miracle cure, but when it works, it can really bring relief to an overwhelmed body. I hope you find this to be true in your case. Remember…

There is always hope

Using CBD Oil In The Bath

Coping With Loneliness When You Have Fibromyalgia

The Problem of Loneliness

Chronic pain and Invisible Illness are difficult conditions to live with and can lead to social withdrawal and loneliness. When you get sick, not only do you have to process and deal with things like surgeries, recovery, medications, new symptoms and flare-ups but socially you may have to give up hobbies and activities you once loved, making it hard to nurture friendships and relationships with those close to you.

 

It’s hard for those who love you to understand why you might have to cancel plans last minute or leave during the middle of the evening. Because they’ve never experienced what you’re going through, it’s hard to have a frame of reference. Unless you’ve lived it, it’s impossible to make others understand.

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Social Isolation Is Serious

Because of these changes that we have to make – like leaving in the middle of something or cancelling plans – we open ourselves up to feelings of social isolation, depression and anxiety and guilt.

Social isolation is defined as an occurrence when a person lacks opportunities to interact with people while loneliness is the subjective experience of distress over not having enough social relationships or enough contact with people. It is possible for a person with a chronic illness to be socially isolated and not feel lonely and someone with a chronic illness can feel lonely, while not being socially isolated. There are several issues that people with chronic illness face that can lead to social isolation and feeling lonely:

  • Disbelief from others when you don’t have a clear diagnosis
  • Physical limitations due to pain or fatigue
  • The unpredictability of symptom onset
  • The trigger of symptoms related to noises, smells, etc.
  • Lack of a strong support system (Family and/or Friends)
  • Changes in employment or financial stability
  • Loss of hobbies and outside activities

Social isolation and feeling lonely are important health problems and should not be overlooked. The chronic illness population is at an even higher risk for social isolation and this problem should be addressed with your Doctor along with other symptoms and risk factors.

What You Can Do About It

When you are socially isolated and have feelings of loneliness, it can actually make your chronic illness worse. The longer you are experiencing isolation or loneliness, the more you start to develop feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, distrust and abandonment toward yourself and others. The more these feelings grow, the less likely you are to seek out real human connections.

So what can you do when you start having these feelings?

1. Recognize loneliness for what it is, and accept that you have these feelings. Self-awareness is important in making positive changes. When you catch yourself falling into old habits, you’ll be able to more quickly turn things around.

2. Use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to help reframe your thoughts to become more positive and open to socialization. This can be done with the help of a therapist or through online courses and over time, can be very effective.

3. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself and start forcing yourself to recognize if this is your “go-to response. Deliberately try doing the opposite of what you’re feeling – instead of retreating into watching TV, take a walk or pick up the phone and call someone. The more you resist the temptation to isolate, the easier it becomes

4. Fill your life with loving positive people who are patient and trustworthy and who truly try to understand what you are going through. They will be your encouragers and biggest support system. Remove negative people from your life…you don’t need their energy.

5. Try one new thing each week that will get you to meet new people. Try an art class, go to yoga, volunteer… anything that will get you to meet new people who like doing things that you like to do.

6. Seek out a support group for your illness. This is a great way to meet people who really do understand what you’re going through. Even an online group is fine to get started as being with like-minded people will help to engage you instead of isolating you.

7. Ask for what you need in your life. Don’t feel you’re being a burden on others…when someone asks what they can do for you to help, they genuinely want to help. Let them…give them the opportunity to be of service to you. Perhaps it’s to invite you out for coffee once a week or to go take a class together. You’ll be helping them as much as they will be helping you.

8. Consider therapy. It can help you explore any deeper issues that might be contributing to loneliness or social isolation. Therapy can also be a great accountability and skills training support to help you manage all of the difficult things you are going through in a safe way.

Remember, 

There Is Always Hope

11 Steps For A Better Night’s Sleep

If you ask someone how they slept last night, chances are you’ll get one of two answers – “fantastic” or “not at all”. It seems like a lot of people have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. The reasons can be many – having young children, an uncomfortable bed, too hot, too cold, too much stress…the list goes on.

When you live with Chronic Pain, it’s an entirely different story. Pain is usually the main factor in keeping us awake, and the likelihood of a good night’s sleep is generally not to be expected.  Read on to find out more about what it takes for a good night snooze. 

man sleepless in bed

 

Sleep And Your Immune System

Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye.  Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing your body’s ability to respond.

Stock Up on Naps

To stay healthy, especially during the influenza season, get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night. This will help keep your immune system in fighting shape and also protect you from other health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.  If your sleep schedule is interrupted by a busy workweek or other factors, try to make up for the lost rest with naps. Taking two naps that are no longer than 30 minutes each —one in the morning and one in the afternoon—has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system.  If you can’t swing a half-hour nap during the workday, try grabbing a 20-minute siesta on your lunch hour, and another right before dinner.

Other Healthy Tactics

Person washing their hands

Of course, there’s more to boosting your immunity and guarding against illness than getting ample sleep. It’s also important to practice smart stay-healthy strategies such as washing your hands with soap regularly, avoiding close contact with people who are obviously under the weather and talking with your doctor about getting an annual flu shot.  And remember: Even if you do come down with a case of seasonal sniffles, you’ll be able to bounce back faster if your body is well rested. 

11 Tips For A Better Sleep

  1. Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
  2. Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
  3. Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
  4. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
  5. Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
  6. Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings. Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  7. Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
  8. Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
  9. Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
  10. Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
  11. Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
  12. Take your medications on a regular basis. If you take sleeping meds, take them on a regular basis as directed instead of just hit and miss each night. 

Some Items to Help with Sleeping

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Yolmina 3D Contoured Eye Mask for Sleeping

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ZzzQuil Pure zzz’s Sleep Aid

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Contoured Heating Pad for Neck and Shoulders

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White Noise Machine

Conclusion

Good sleep is available to all of us, but it can take some work to achieve it. Just think of the benefits at the end though…those zzzz’s are worth it!

There is always hope