Chronically Living and how to make the most of it

Mindfulness and Health

January 24, 2021 Kelsey Season 1 Episode 31
Chronically Living and how to make the most of it
Mindfulness and Health
Chapters
Chronically Living and how to make the most of it
Mindfulness and Health
Jan 24, 2021 Season 1 Episode 31
Kelsey

This week we take a dive into mindfulness! While we've touched on it in previous episodes, I am passionate about mindfulness and wanted to share why it's beneficial for chronic illness, mental health, and quality of life for everyone. 
In this episode we discuss:

  • different types of mindfulness activities
  • excuses to not practice mindfulness
  • reasons you should practice mindfulness
  • mindfulness and chronic pain and chronic illness

Follow me on Instagram @janeversuspain and on Twitter @janevspain.

Show Notes Transcript

This week we take a dive into mindfulness! While we've touched on it in previous episodes, I am passionate about mindfulness and wanted to share why it's beneficial for chronic illness, mental health, and quality of life for everyone. 
In this episode we discuss:

  • different types of mindfulness activities
  • excuses to not practice mindfulness
  • reasons you should practice mindfulness
  • mindfulness and chronic pain and chronic illness

Follow me on Instagram @janeversuspain and on Twitter @janevspain.

Kelsey Harris:

Welcome to the chronically living and how to make the most of it podcast. I'm Kelsey Harris, a chronic pain warrior here to inspire hope and strength to the spoonie community, get ready to lift each other up and find ways to live the best life possible. Hey, chronic illness warriors. Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode on mindfulness. So this is going to be a great episode not just for people with chronic illness, but also if you have any mental health problems. And really just the general population as well, because mindfulness has so many benefits for everyone. Um, it's also become one of my favorite activities over the past few years, few years. So if you're kind of wary about trying it out, then I'm hoping I can maybe open your mind to the positive effects of it by the end of this episode. Because I really do believe that there are a lot of benefits. No, I do not think that any amount of meditation or mindfulness is going to cure you. But it can definitely help with some regulation in different areas. And I think just make your quality of life better overall. But of course, some of that is up to you and the effort you put in. Okay, so like I said, I'm a huge fan of mindfulness. And I've been thinking about doing an episode on it for a while, I thought we'd start by kind of giving you guys an overview of my mindfulness journey, so you can see why I have become passionate about it. So I started to go to both psychotherapy and see the naturopath about four years ago, I was really struggling with a breakup some anxiety in general. And of course, my illness, which at the time, we thought was lupus. But since then we've we're thinking it's it's probably undifferentiated connective tissue disease. So my illness was also really, really wreaking havoc on my mental health a bit. So of course, I had set up the whole healthcare team, many of which you have been introduced to on this show, to help with my physical and emotional symptoms of what I was dealing with. And one of the things that both my psychotherapist and my naturopath brought to my attention was the use of mindfulness. So they suggest using apps like Headspace or Calm, which are the ones I'm kind of recommending to you as well, I personally use Calm, and I've used headspace in the past. And then to try to get a routine going as well, just by starting small. So they suggested that I just start with like five minutes a day and try to do it every day. On top of that, my naturopath actually started incorporating mindfulness meditations into my acupuncture sessions. So initially, it was like 10 minutes of the 30 minute session. So typically, like a session with my naturopath would be 10 minutes like discussion of how I've been and maybe some recommendations on supplements and, and that kind of thing. And then 20 minutes of acupuncture. So initially 10 of those 20 minutes of acupuncture was using meditation as well. I'm actually by the time I left Toronto, this past December, we were up to 25 minutes. So basically, almost my entire session was acupuncture with a guided meditation. And actually my last session, I left having felt like I weighed 1000 pounds, but was floating through the air. So if you if any of you watch Avatar The Last Airbender, basically I was Appa, which, you know, pretty cool, because that was a great character but but that's, that's kind of the the sensation and thoughts and feelings that I had at that point. I've also done mindfulness exercises in therapy sessions over the years as well. As far as doing at home, I started initially with five minutes and worked my way up to 10. And I can definitely do as long as 15 minutes now, I've even done 20 minutes before. You know sometimes that is about finding time and sometimes just like, you know, you just know when you're done. We're gonna get to that. The most important thing that I found, regardless of how many minutes I practice, is being able to practice nearly every day, so every day would be ideal. I'm not going to lie and say that I always do every day. I would say I do most days. I've done many weeks where I've done every day. But that is definitely been the most helpful for me. And it's really what's recommended is trying to do it daily. So what has this helped me with, you might be asking, Well, for one, it really ease my anxiety and lowered my stress, because of the relaxation effects certain breathing techniques have on your body and your mind. So it's that mind body connection that we often talk about. It has also allowed me to be aware and tolerate pain and other symptoms much better. By using things like body scans and progressive muscle relaxation, to build awareness and tolerance of what's going on in the body. It has also improved me, it's also improved me, it's also helped me improve my focus, to the point where I actually have very few episodes of brain fog, I definitely had more before I started doing mindfulness and almost never now. And then important for my career wise, it has also allowed me to improve my non judgmental awareness. An important piece of mindfulness is to not judge yourself or your practice, which can then actually help you extend into not judging others or situations in the rest of your life. I also want to point out that mindfulness is really hard. And it requires a lot of practice. It's literally never perfect, and I struggle with it at times. And really, if you talk to anyone who practices, they're going to tell you the exact same things. So this isn't like you're going to just hop in and be a pro, like, you're probably never going to be a pro at it. It's tough. So right now I can hear some of you grumbling, that you can't meditate or engage in mindfulness, it's just too hard. And I'm gonna get into what mindfulness entails beyond meditation. But let's just start with meditation. So I was doing some prep, to run a group counseling course at my practicum. And I was reading through all the materials. And one of the topics that we are going to be doing in the group is mindfulness. So I'm just going to say that some of my information today is coming from those materials, which are all based on psychology and written by psychologists, and they are fantastic materials. So yeah, the the top five excuses that people give to not meditate are it sounds boring, I can't sit still. I don't have time. I'm scared to be alone. And my mind moves too fast. So let's break those down. It sounds boring. It may not be a super stimulating activity at first glance, but it does require active presence and awareness. So like I said, it's kind of hard. Which makes it kind of the opposite of like passive and boring, you're you're engaged in being aware and letting thoughts go. So you know, it's not actually a boring practice. It's like a one I can't sit still. First, you don't actually have to practice for a long time. So even two minutes of deep breathing can be very helpful. And then you can always work your way up to longer practices where you are being still for for a longer period of time. Second, you don't necessarily have to sit, you could stand, you could lie down. And those are easier for you. We're going to talk about other like I said, mindfulness practices that don't require you to be Stowe. But for meditation wise, yeah, you definitely don't have to sit. And that's kind of an issue for you. And you don't have to practice for long periods, if that's an issue for you. I don't have time. So this is really all about prioritizing. If you want to engage in some self care, everyone can find five to 10 minutes a day to set aside for themselves. So it's kind of a silly excuse. If you're setting aside 5 to 10 minutes a day to do something else, you can probably also find that same time. I'm scared to be alone. So you don't actually have to close your eyes. If that is triggering for you. I actually don't recommend you close your eyes. I mean, I mean, we get into that, if it's triggering, let me get to that in a second. What you can do if you don't close your eyes is just lower your gaze or focus on something specific. So like a.on the wall, for example. So like I said, it's actually I don't recommend and it's not recommended that if you have any trauma, trauma in your past that you haven't dealt with that you don't close your eyes. So because it's not supposed to be a triggering practice is supposed to be a helpful practice for him. My mind moves too fast. Hey, that's okay. It's out Not, it's not about not thinking, it's kind of a weird thing to say. But it's not about not thinking. What it's about is acknowledging your thoughts as you notice them, and then just non judgmentally, letting them go. I think I literally think all the time during my practice, but what I do is that every time I have a thought, I don't necessarily notice it right away. But as soon as I do notice it, I just let it go. And then just like return to breathing and focusing on my breath, and then usually another thought comes up at some point in the night, do the same thing, like just like, let go and go back to focusing on my breath. You know, and that's exactly what mindfulness meditation is, it's just catching those thoughts, letting them go, catching the new thoughts, letting them go. It's not about not thinking. Yeah, so I mean, if these are your excuses not to meditate, I'm gonna just kind of counter that with five reasons why you probably should be meditating. So first, it can help you understand your pain. So whether that's physical or emotional pain, it doesn't matter. What it does is it brings awareness to your body sensations that are in it, and it increases your overall awareness of what's happening. So sometimes when we have emotional pain it manifests in the body, like we've talked about on previous podcasts. But whether it's physical or emotional pain, just noticing where the pain is what it feels like, really getting into a different awareness and mindset about it, it can be very beneficial, especially if you do have a chronic illness. So I mentioned that it helps me with my physical pain, because it not only increased my acceptance, but it brought brought it to focus. So the second thing it can do is it can lower stress, it literally has a calming effect on the body and the mind, which actually helps increase your stress tolerance as well. Third, it can help you connect better. So both with yourself and others, because it is that non judgmental piece of the practice where we're not going to judge ourselves, we're not going to judge other people. Fourth, you can improve your focus. So as I said, spending time concentrating on something like the breath can really improve your overall focus in daily life. Fifth, it reduces brain chatter. So this can be helpful, especially for things like rumination, where you keep going over the same thing again, and again and again. And it's usually something that you know, you're upset with yourself with or a situation that you're unhappy with. And rumination is very common in things like depression. So reducing that chatter, how that happens is, you're learning to let those types of thoughts go. Because remember, we're thinking and we're letting it go, thinking in that letter, and go. And it just allows us to do that in our lives much more quickly and more So as I mentioned before, mindfulness doesn't just have to easily. be meditation. So if you really are anti meditation, that's fine. There are other ways you can have some mindfulness going in your life. So there are tons of activities that can be that are either mindful and by nature, or they can be mindful if you make them so. So if we're going to kind of stick in the realm of meditative like practices, using body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing are great, great things to be mindful, but very specific, in what we're focusing on. Beyond that, contemplative prayer is a mindful activity. So what contemplative prayer is, is that it usually begins by focusing on either a word or phrase and just repeating it over and over so that God can hear it better. It's basically a combination of traditional prayer, but with the incorporation of Eastern meditative practices, because typically in prayer, you wouldn't just repeat the same thing. In traditional prayer, but in in this kind of contemplate of prayer you are. There's also yoga, which includes mindfulness of your body movements and certain types of yoga, or using certain positions. increases this, this awareness even more. So yin yoga, for example, is a type of yoga that I enjoy. That includes a lot of mindfulness because you're holding positions for several minutes. I know a lot of Yogi's don't like to do yen because of the holding the position for for several minutes. But it is very mindful when you do that. I also did like a Yang Yin style yoga in the summer. And that begins with like more active movements, and then slows down during the last half of practice. So it's really interesting because you are being mindful, but in different ways. Throughout the practice, martial arts actually involve mindfulness. So I took karate as it as a child, and we ended every practice with a few minutes of meditation, specifically, but martial arts also require you to be mindfully aware of your body, your movements, and others in your space. So so for example, I took non contact, karate, Shotokan, karate, that was no contact. And in that kind of karate, you need to get within like, like a centimeter of somebody's face or body when you're throwing a punch. But you can actually hit them I'm telling you that the eye requires a lot of mindful awareness because you have to know exactly where your body is, where their body is, and where you're going full speed. Yeah, sometimes accidents happen. But like, you know, you that presence, that awareness is so important, and so involved. Another type of activity you can do is spiritual dancing. So there's different types of types of these I was looking up so Sufi, whirling, five rhythms, dance, folk circle, dance, Middle Eastern belly dances, 21st century trance dance, and there's like tons of other ones. They all require presence and mindfulness of your body as well. Now, some physical activities, such as hiking, horseback riding, and walking, can also be mindful if you are opening your awareness to the sights, sounds, smells and sensations you engage in during these activities. So that really requires you to go into with the mindset that I'm going to be mindful while I'm on my hike, I'm going to be mindful during this walk, I'm going to be mindful while I'm horseback riding. But totally, totally a great way to practice some mindfulness. So basically, what I'm saying is that you don't have to meditate. There are other ways you can get engaged in mindfulness that will give you similar outcomes. Hey, everyone, I really want you to check out shape and foster calm. Because as you know, I'm a huge advocate for self care. sheep and foster is a lifestyle development app that provides monthly actionable insight from six experts in mental health, financial planning, nutrition, fitness, yoga, and a life coach. This is your one stop shop for self improvement. The app provides a proactive and informed approach to improving your mental well being by enabling practices and habits to be built. lifestyle development is about enhancing your quality of life by improving awareness, identity and potential. One community of actionable insight learned from six pillars to healthy heart and healthy mind in one unique app. To get your free 14 day trial, just visit WWW dot shape and foster calm. Alright, so Dr. Margaret Caudill wrote a book in 2016, called managing pain before it manages you. And I'm really super interested in reading this book. So I really can't I'm looking to get my hands on a copy. And when I do, I'm sure I'll bring you more information from it in a future podcast, but what the book does, it looks at using body mind techniques to reduce pain, decrease it come discomfort, depression and distress and allow you to be more active in your life, which sounds really great to me. So, again, that's kind of why I'm looking to read it and it's based on scientific research, right? So there's probably some really good stuff in there. So if any of you have read it, please let me know as well and any takeaways you have for me because I'm really interested in hearing. So looking at some scholarly research on the topic of using mindfulness with chronic pain or chronic illness Ceisa and Seretti from 2011 conducted a meta analysis of the literature and found that in general the use of mindfulness based interventions, reduce chronic pain symptoms and lessen depression. Now, but the caveat to that is that they're not really sure which specific techniques are most effective. But this may be a good reason to at least try some mindfulness out a few years earlier in 2008, Ludwig and Kabat-Zinn, and you've probably heard the Kabat-Zinn name before if you have been engaging mindfulness, because he is leading figure. So they found the very similar results in studies done with chronic pain patients who use Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which is a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness intervention. And then they also found that on top of that, that mindfulness seems to be partially effective in treating illnesses such as psoriasis, type two diabetes, sleeping disorders, ADHD, and like a whole bunch of others. So again, you know, more research is always needed. And the exact mechanisms of how it all works are not 100% knowing. But I would say that is another really good reason to engage in a bit of mindfulness. Okay, also, let's be realistic for a moment and say, you know, what can it hurt to try it out. And when I say that, don't mean try for like a day, a week, a month. Yes, I'm also singing the Friends theme song in my head right now. So if you are, I don't blame you. But you know, we don't want to just try it out for a short period, because it's typically not long enough for it to really start to see results from this. You need to give it a couple months or longer. I know for me, it was really like at least three months of everyday practice before I really started to notice a difference. And like I said, that started out with being five minutes every day. When I when I was intermittent in my practice. So like To be honest, when I started, I was lucky to remember to do it a few times a week. And back then I didn't really see an improvement in any any area, awareness, focus, non judgement, pain, anything at all. So, you know, if you're going to start, let's just start again, small, five minutes a day, but every day, every day for a couple months and see, see how that works out for you. Okay, this week's quote is from Winnie the Pooh. So fun fact, when he was named after the city of Winnipeg, which is where the original bear and story originates. It's also the city I was born and raised. And the quote goes like this. What day is it? asked Pooh It's today, squeaked Piglet. My favorite day, said Pooh. It's simple. It's about being in the moment being present without worrying about the past or the future. And mindfulness can help us do that. At least I found it can help me do that. What day is it? asked Pooh. It's today, squeaked Piglet. My favorite day said Pooh. Does anything it? Does anything exist beyond this moment that matters? The future isn't written. The past has already gone. Oh no, I like it. I like the thought. That thought because it means we have control and freedom and choice. You know, we you know maybe not over every aspect of our lives, but certainly over most things. So even if mindfulness just just lets you have awareness of that, I think it can be very helpful. Now I thought that since this is an episode on mindfulness, we should do a short guided mindfulness exercise together. I think that a body scan seems appropriate since we're also relating the use of mindfulness for chronic pain and chronic illness. So, to begin, make sure that you're seated or if you prefer standing or lying down. Close your eyes If you feel comfortable. Otherwise, just find a spot to rest your gaze upon. I'm going to start by taking a deep breath in for 2, 3, 4, hold that breath. 2, 3, and let it go. 2, 3, 4, 5 repeat at once on your own. So in... hold... out... Okay, now bring your attention to the top of your head. Notice what you feel.... any sensations. Then you can bring your focus down to your forehead, your face and your jaw. Notice your expression, tightness, clenching. You can let that go if you want, or you can just leave it as it is. So important is that you notice what is going on. Now focus on your neck. What sensations are there?... your shoulders. Often your shoulders are tight, especially if you're stressed. Again, you can let it go or not. It's up to you. Bring attention to your arms. Upper and Lower. Your wrists and hands. Notice what you feel. If there's pain, tightness, tingling. Move your attention to your chest. Just notice your breathing. The way your chest moves up and down. Lower down to your belly and how it moves as you breathe as well. Now let's move attention to our back. Upper, lower. Acknowledge any pain or other sensations you can breathe in to any areas of pain or tightness if that feels good for you. Now focus on your hips, your pelvis and glutes. How does the seat feel beneath you? Bring your attention to your legs, thighs, hamstrings, shins and calves. What do you notice? Finally your ankles, feet and toes. Notice sensations as well as the pressure of the ground beneath them. Before we end, just take notice of your entire body and how it feels. When you're ready, feel free to open your eyes. Okay, well, I hope that that you feel more relaxed and present after that exercise. If you did try it with me, I know that I almost always feel more relaxed after doing a body scan. You know, like I've been saying, mindfulness is just one technique that can be used to improve our lives, you know, in many different areas. And it's not the only technique to use, of course, I personally recommend using it in conjunction with something like acupuncture, or therapy if you have the means to do that. I think that therapy is especially important if you are dealing with any trauma, or any difficult emotions that you need to be able to process with a professional afterwards. Otherwise, I challenge everyone listening to start doing just five minutes of mindfulness a day for the next week. And then let me know how it goes by either dming me on Instagram. If you're not following me right now, it's at jane versus pain, or writing me a review on iTunes and just putting in in there, how that challenge has been going for you. And until next week, keep making the most of it. Thank you so much for joining me today on the chronically living podcast. If you love this week's podcast, please subscribe, rate and leave a review. Until next week, stay strong.