We are living through very strange times. How might this affect our health and in particular pain?
If you have read any previous posts it is now very clear that pain is made up of many complex factors. It might be that not carrying out our usual routines are affecting our ability to deal with our pain or that it makes us more likely to get an onset of an old pain or even make us more susceptible to a new ache or pain.
Something I tell many of my clients is that in my experience bodies like a rhythm to the day, week and year. You often find the onset of pain coincides with changes to routine behaviour, such as a new baby, a new job, even going on holiday. If I am right it is likely that we learn patterns of movement and behaviour that do not tax our systems too much. We are geared fundamentally to the conservation of energy. This does not mean that sitting at home during lockdown is good for us as we are conserving energy! It means that our rhythms change. For instance someone who has a body used to hard physical labour, might find it aches more when it is not getting it; muscles and joints stiffen a little as exercise creates elasticity alongside heat.
If you are an office worker you may find yourself working from home on a laptop poorly positioned on a table that is not suited to working from. The evidence shows that ergonomics are not as important as we once thought. Getting up regularly and shifting position can be very helpful, as well as getting exercise in during breaks. However I am talking to those who are working from home and they are struggling with their work space and actually finding working from home quite stressful.
On top of this and very importantly is the stress we are living under. Not knowing what the future might hold, missing contact with family and friends, financial strain and worries about the health of our family members and ourselves. We can generally have systems that can handle stress well, but if sustained too long or the stressor is greater than our resources to deal with it then pain or other inflammatory state might occur, often something pre existing, like a skin complaint flaring or a diabetics blood sugars going out of kilter.
So what is the best recipe for maintaining health and wellbeing?
Well we all have to go back to the essentials. Make sure you get good amounts of sleep. Sleep is healing and lack of sleep is a powerful contributor to pain (50% of insomniacs suffer with chronic pain). When we are stressed it is sometimes easier said than done. Have a bedtime routine, don’t drink stimulants a few hours before bedtime, keep your room gadget free (I am working on this one still), talk to family and friends regularly and get your anxieties heard, exercise every day, even small amounts, but not too soon before bedtime. Listen to tapes- I like the mindfulness body scan and free versions can be found by a google search, or hypnosis which works very well and helped me over a period of insomnia several years ago.
I have already alluded to exercise, but as well as being good for the body, it is also a powerful antidepressant and actually comes out equal to medication as a first line approach to depression. It also gets you out and if you possibly can visit somewhere that is in a natural setting like the local coast, woods or fields. Do an online zoom yoga class or, dare I say, the Joe Wicks daily workout. I think it helps to feel as normal as possible, so if you can attend your usual class on zoom, you can see your class members and teacher, creating a sense of normality that is very helpful to our mental health. If you don’t exercise and you are furloughed, well what a great chance to start. It is the hardest thing for all of us to start new habits, but if you do small manageable and regular slices and congratulate yourself for it, you soon start to develop a new healthy habit.
Get cooking and choose things every now and again that are challenging and new. Boogie around the kitchen or living room to your favourite tunes. Make a compilation of music that brings you back good memories and take time to savour those memories. Sit down and visualise a time in your life that was very happy. Think about it in detail, where were you, who were you with, what were you wearing, what did you see, smell, hear taste, touch. Perhaps look at some old photos to help you get a sense. Savouring is a researched positive psychology tool. You can also savour giving yourself a treat every day, be it a favourite film or paying for one you missed out on, taking a luxuriant bath or spending quality time with a family member. The evidence is now clear that positive experiences and memories of them are highly beneficial to our mental health. Another brilliant and evidence based thing we can do is the simple exercise of gratitude and here is a great website that allows you to name three things daily to be grateful for: https://www.tellmethreegoodthings.com/?q=node/add/three-good-things
One last and I think very important point is to try to stay motivated and to attempt to achieve at least one goal everyday. It is easy to slip into inertia, but planning a few things to keep yourself motivated and occupied and perhaps learning something new along the way will help you navigate your way through this uncertainty.
If you still have pain that doesn’t go away or is troubling you a lot, help is at hand. Telemedicine is now becoming a big thing. But you are a hands on therapist I hear you say. Well true, but the evidence actually shows virtual pain management has the same outcomes as physical therapy. This may surprise you, but as anyone who has seen me knows I spend a lot of time explaining things and listening to your history. Working out your problems with another expert (you being the expert in you) produces much better outcomes than trying to work through it yourself when you are suffering. I can give you useful links, recordings to listen to, emailed video exercise programmes and a whole lot more.
So stay safe and indoors and do get in touch if you are suffering. I now have a booking system and a section on online therapy, that can be through a simple phone call, email or whatsapp video, zoom, facetime and a host of other video conferencing tools.