Archive for ‘Stress Transformation’

September 25, 2017

#536 – #RABlogWeek: Day 1 – Mental Health and RA

 

In a workshop, I once asked when I would finally be over an issue that plagued me most of my life. “When you’re dead,” came the swift and pointed reply. Upon reflection, I gleaned the wisdom in those words. Life is an evolving process, with ups and downs, twists and turns. It’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope of emotions, thoughts and feelings, all of which are impacted by hormones, food, exercise, sleep, medical conditions such as RA, work, social scene, climate, perceptions and more. In other words, life.

 

 

Mental health is very much dependent upon cultivating resources, particularly those that enable you to weather the storms, which can vary in duration and severity. It is about taking action and being directly involved in your own well-being. Action that can be as simple as learning the importance of breathing, something you do anyway, so why not make it count. Action that involves reaching out for help to learn strategies to help you navigate your life. Action that helps you cultivate your innate healing powers and wisdom in order to recognize that while it may not be fair, your life path is strewn with bumps, hurdles, detours and stops. It also includes beautiful scenery, unexpected journeys and friends, new and old.

The diagnosis of a chronic illness, such as RA (rheumatoid arthritis), can send you into a nose-dive. Frustration, impatience, pain, regret, guilt, fear, sadness, etc. –  the list can be a large storm surge of negative, stress-producing emotions, thoughts and feelings.

The Dark Days

I’ve experienced periods, some longer than others, when it seems that I am in the winter of my discontent. I won’t bore you with the details, but some adjectives that applied during those times are useless, incompetent, pointless and hopeless. Neither work, nor friends or family seemed to get me out of that darkness. However, gradually, the light got in, the heaviness lifted and I found my equilibrium. All of that was pre-Auntie Stress days. It turns out that there is wisdom in growing older. Imagine that!

My Strategies

Now, my toolbox is full of self-care/self-help strategies. As the primary driver of the vehicle that is me, it is empowering to take responsibility, (even if sometimes I’d rather not!), for my life. If not me, who then? After all, I have the most vested in me. I am here from the beginning to the end, through thick and thin, sadness and joy, disappointments and successes.

However, that does not mean I am the island that John Donne elegantly wrote in 1624: “No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”

When I’m feeling wretched I know that I can do something about it. I am also aware that I won’t feel that way forever, just like I know that a flare won’t last forever, if you take steps to address it. In this instant world we live in, we’ve been conditioned to having things happen right when we want them to. Life does not necessarily work that way. It can take as long as it takes – not much comfort when you are fighting a flare or flailing around in the whirlpool of despair.

I’ve learned to dig deeper. Breathe. Use the power of my heart. Ask what I need versus what I want. Breathe. Use the power of my heart. Don’t eat my feelings – a decades long habit that I’ve mainly overcome. (Yes, I have set-backs, but not like I used to!) Breathe. Use the power of my heart. Spend time doing the things important to me, such as spending time in nature. Exercise helps, as does realizing that mood and food are very much related. Breathe. Use the power of my heart. Sleep, or lack thereof, is a huge mood downer for me. I am faithful to my sleep regimes, because when I’m not, I don’t want to know me! Yes – more breathing and more heart power.

I have dark days, like anyone else. Challenges. Family concerns. A chronic illness. Dashed dreams. Unfilled wishes. I work on not letting the broken sewer pump of negative emotions flood my life. If I need to rise above the dark stinky mess, I first turn on the light and rummage around for one of the many techniques in my toolbox. If I can’t find the right tool, I know where to go for help. However, there is usually always something there to help me move forward.

Cultivate Your Resources

It can be an easy trip down the road to despair, especially if you have a chronic illness. RA has a voracious appetite for energy. It can be relentless in a flare, resulting in a tsunami of damage, that leaves a path of destruction that can touch many aspects of your life – work, relationships and  finances, to name a few.

You have more power than you realize over your emotions, thoughts and emotions. Be patient. Breathe. Access the power of your heart. Add to your toolbox. Trust yourself. Give yourself time to learn, change and grow. Build a support system, whatever that looks like to you. Access and cultivate your resources. Just like life, the road to well-being is an on-going process.

Finally, ask the birds to leave your hair alone and go build a nest elsewhere!

 

 

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August 24, 2017

#532 – What to Do at the Beach When You Have RA #4

BeachZone

Put away your phone. Put down your book. Stop chatting.

For the next few minutes get into the zone. Let yourself be transported by the grace of nature into a place that resonates with the beat of your heart.

To do:

  1. Go to your favourite beach.
  2. Get comfy, either on the sand, a chair, the dock or a log.
  3. Pause.
  4. Exhale slowly to the count of 5 or 6.
  5. Inhale slowly to the count of 5 or 6.
  6. Establish a nice smooth rhythm which you will continue for Steps 7 to 10.
  7. Gently shift your attention to your hearing. Notice the symphony of sounds such as the water lapping along the shore, the wind whistling in your ears, the birds singing, etc.
  8. Next, pay attention to what you see. Nature has provided a living landscape for you to enjoy. Notice the colours, the light, the patterns, etc.
  9. Finally, notice your breath. How do you feel? Is there any tightness anywhere? What does the sand feel like under your feet? How does it feel when the sun kisses your skin? Perhaps your feet are being massaged by the water at the shore – what does that feel like? Has your mind quieted down? Do you feel more peaceful?
  10. Repeat often.

 

 

 

 

March 1, 2017

#518 – ºFloatingº○°○°

I’m always interested in experiencing new things, especially if they can augment my health.flotation pod

Over the last year or so, float tanks have been consistently offered on the Daily Deal sites such as Groupon. After reading about Flotation Tanks in Tools for Titans by Tim Ferris, I decided to take the plunge.☺ After all, I am a water baby.

Here is what Dr. Dan Engle had to say on page 110:

[Floating in an isolation tank] is the first time that we’ve been without sensory experience, sensory environmental stimuli, since we were conceived. There is no sound, no sight, no temperature gradient, and no gravity. So all of the brain’s searching and gating* information from the environment is relaxed. Everything that was in the background – kind of ‘behind the curtain’ – can now be exposed. When done consistently over time, it’s essentially like meditation on steroids. It starts to re-calibrate the entire neuroendocrine system. People who are running in stress mode or sympathetic overdrive start to relax that over time, and you get this bleed-over effect into everyday life. It’s not just what happens in the tanks.It continues outside of the tank. You see heart rate normalize, hypertension normalize, cortisol normalize. Pain start to resolve. Metabolic issues start to resolve.

Anxiety, insomnia, and mental chattering can be significantly improved in [2 to 3 times per week for a total of] anywhere between 3 and 7 sessions. For pain, it’s normally 7 to 10 sessions. I recommend doing a 2-hour float if people are able.

Apparently, it is more beneficial to do a 2-hour session, but for some people, the monkey-mind may rule. In that case a 1-hour session may be a better choice.

*Sensory gating describes neurological processes of filtering out redundant or unnecessary stimuli in the brain from all possible environmental stimuli. Also referred to as gating or filtering, sensory gating prevents an overload of irrelevant information in the higher cortical centers of the brain. ~ Wikipedia

My experience

When I entered the private room and saw the pod, the first thing that came to my mind was the movie Cocoon. Extrapolating from what Dr. Engle said, I suppose a regular float sessions could serve to slow down the aging process. With your mental and physical aches and pains out of the way, you might very well have a spring in your step.

The 98 degree water is 9 inches deep. When you float you can close the pod for complete darkness. You also have the option of coloured lights.

I have difficulty getting down on the floor. If I could change 3 things to make it easier, it would be:

  1. The pod should have a wider “lip”, which would make it easier to rest upon as you transfer into the water. (This is a design issue.)
  2. A low stool which can be put into the pod to augment getting in and out.
  3. A rubber mat, so the anti-slip floor doesn’t dig into your knees, especially since it may take awhile to get in or out, if you have mobility issues.

I was told that some people fall asleep, which I was hoping to do. However, 5 things prevented that from happening:

  1. The novelty of the experience.
  2. I was “busy” thinking about how I would write this up as a blog post.
  3. I had other things to do that day, so I was thinking about them.
  4. As a swimmer, I “felt” like I should be “doing something”.
  5. I started thinking about having to go to the bathroom!

What I noticed:

  • I was quite tired, hungry and thirsty when I finished my session.
  • Later in the day, the pain in my lower back and shoulders had dissipated.

My second experience

With the novelty out of the way, I was able to quiet the chatter in my head and simply float. Ahhhh!

Recommendations:

  1. If possible, before you book, check out the facility to see if it suits your level of mobility.
  2. You want an empty bladder before you enter the pod. It’s probably best not to drink too much prior to going.
  3. The edge of the tank is quite slippery. Drape some wash cloths or towels over the edge where you place your hands. This will give you a better grip.
  4. Schedule it later in the day when you don’t have much to do afterwards.
  5. Bring water and a healthy snack to consume on the way home.

How I would design the tank

These pods are not very conducive to people who have mobility issues, which is unfortunate because I think there would be lots to gain from this experience. It was hard enough for me to get in and out, but for someone who is in a wheelchair, it would be next to impossible.

If I were designing  the flotation pod, I would make it with a wide lip for the transfer, with grab bars for safety.  I would also have a reclining bath lift, similar to this, so that the person could transfer easily from the chair, onto the wide lip, then into the water.

I’ve seen another model that looks more like an enclosed shower stall. Perhaps these could be more easily adapted for people with mobility issues.

January 19, 2017

#515 – Lose Yourself (in an Activity)

I’ve found that getting immersed in something other than my disease is a good way to forget, if only for a while, that I haveonceuponpiecepaper a chronic illness. When you focus on the pain, it tends to reinforce that pain.

Researchers at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf used an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and discovered that mental distractions helped to inhibit the response to incoming pain signals. It was found that endogenous (naturally-produced) opoids reduced the amount of pain signals travelling to the higher-order brain regions. Study participants were given memory tests at the same time as heat was applied to their arms. As the participants devoted more attention to the problems they were given, the fMRI detected less activity in the spinal cord, which equated to the perception of less pain.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) helps people develop alternate ways of thinking and behaving in order to reduce their psychological stress. The pain study shows how CBT can play a role in pain management, as well.

There are a number of ways in which you can distract yourself:

  • Learn a language.
  • Take a course.
  • Join a singing group.
  • Learn a new skill.
  • Lose yourself in an art activity.

One word of advice: Get good at listening to your body. Know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. If you take an outside course, you may wish to let the instructor know that you may have restrictions and/or that you may need more time to complete the activity/lesson.

To get you started, I have an activity that you can do on your own terms. Please see my giveaway on Auntie Stress Café for Once Upon a Piece of Paper – a collage kit that shows you how to play with paper (again). All you need are scissors, glue and your imagination to transport you into the world of creativity (and less pain). The kit comes complete with starter ideas and a packet of 100 printed pages ready for you to use. If you already use coloring books to help you be more mindful (and playful), Once Upon a Piece of Paper is billed as the next step up.

The giveaway, which is open to anyone, anywhere, closes at PT, on Friday, January 20th, 2017. Visit Giveaway: Creativity with Once Upon a Piece of Paper to find out how you can enter.

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