As we move through the pointy end of the festive season, the likelihood of pain flares rises. In this post I list some emergency tips for handlingthe pain flares, if they arise.
Last week I covered preparing for the season so you can avoid unnecessary flares. Check that post out here.
Your Traffic Light System – Acting on the early signs
Last week I talked about developing a clear list of your early, mid and late stage symptoms, and having an action plan ready, so if you experience a symptom, you’ll know exactly what action you need to take to stop the flare developing.
When pain begins to niggle but you don’t need to leave just yet
The beauty of having developed your traffic light system is that you’ll know what actions you need to take at the appearance of each symptom. Here are some that work for many people.
I mentioned in the last blog that at my first sign of an impending migraine, I need to move the position of my body. This is my green zone, within my traffic light system. And when I’ve had big, heavy meals, with too much sugar and alcohol, migraines and stiff joints are much more likely.
So I know, even before a symptom may appear, if I get up and walk around a little or stand up instead of sitting, my hips and head will fare better. Amongst family and close friends, I even get up and do some stretches for my hips and neck.
Knowing how to move your body in ways that can mitigate pain, is important. These actions should be part of your traffic light system and make sure you stick to the traffic light plan of action.
Can you go to the bathroom and stretch? Can you go into the yard and walk slowly? Can you find a seat when your knees are aching from standing up too long?
Find a support person
Another helpful thing is to have a “wing man” or person who can help you take these self care breaks. I was at a party once with a medical condition that made me suddenly nauseas and dizzy for periods. I had one friend there who knew this, and she was able to be more pro-active, on my behalf, than I was, given the social awkwardness of having to sit when no one else was sitting. She found a chair for me, at this stand-up cocktail type event, and made sure I was sitting a lot of the time.
Stay body aware
When the first twinge of pain arises, let it be a signal to do an all-over body check. Take two or three deep breaths. Where are you hurting? Where are you tense? Where are you tired? How’s your posture – shoulders hunched or raised; weight not evenly spread between both feet; lower back supported? Asking these questions and staying aware of your body can help calm a flare that’s trying to get your attention in order to change how you’re using your body.
I will say this a few times here, but talking to your pain, and listening to it, can do wonders. Take a moment to focus on what’s starting to hurt. Ask it to tell you what it would like you to do…what would help it feel better? If you can, do that!
Know your plan
I can’t stress enough – have a plan! Pre-think your words and choices, for each particular event. If you know it’s a stand-up event, know how long you can stand before you’ll need to sit, then move rooms and find a quiet spot to sit, go out to the lobby or yard. Know your traffic light zones and take action when you reach them!
When pain ups the ante
When you notice your pain is starting to get louder, it may be time to leave, take some meds or take other action you’ve prepared in your traffic light system.
But here are a few things I do, to see if I can mitigate any further onset:
Take a break to give your body rest
You can do this in the bathroom if no other space exists! Sit or stand, whichever brings more relief to your body, and close your eyes, breathe a few deep breaths and feel where your body is hurting. Then repeat, with love and gratitude, “Rest now. I give you rest now. I am resting for you”. Slowing your breathing, offering conscious loving care to your pain, and taking a break from the social situation, all help your body cope.
This sounds so simple and silly, but often if I am experiencing flare symptoms, I’ve been frowning or serious or worried or thinking negative thoughts of some kind, which raises stress. Just smiling and listing off a few things, right there in that moment, to be grateful for, can change the internal environment. Then repeat!
Have music or a mantra that connects you to peace
In last week’s blog I talked about having a morning and evening routine that develops a relaxing and loving environment within you. Having a mantra or piece of music to go along with that means, at moments of pain flare, you can escape somewhere (again, the bathroom works) and quickly listen to that music for a minute, breathing deeply and getting yourself back to that peaceful state, or even in the social situation, repeat your mantra a few times as you excuse yourself to get another drink or some food. The stronger you’ve made the connection between feeling peaceful and your mantra, the quicker it will work for you.
Find your perfect life vision
Building on the last idea, I have a meditation to connect you to the life your true spirit longs to live (you can buy it in a five-meditation pack here). Once you have discovered that vision, and explored it further, you can mentally put yourself there while sitting in uncomfortable social situations. My perfect life vision involves being near Balinese jungles, so I can move my mind to the amazingly relaxing sensation I feel in that topical, rainy jungle, when the relatives feel too stressful!
Determine a higher purpose for your day
This grows from the morning routine I’ve mentioned above. Knowing what your higher self wants to be, in that moment, can lift your whole internal environment. I recently had a very stressful day, with bad news and impending large, unexpected bills. With a few other issues floating round as well, I was feeling very negative. As I left the house to run a few hours worth of errands, I thought “No! Bad as my ‘luck’ is today, I will bring the love to any situation I am in. I can still choose to bring love.” That thought carried me through the day and I repeated it often “I choose to bring the love into this situation. I am the bringer of love.” This creates a much more relaxed and beautiful sensation to my internal environment. What is your purpose for the day?
Positive Self Talk
This is also a big part of my program for combating chronic pain, and you can read more in a previous blog I wrote about positive body talk here. The short version is, however, that you keep your internal environment positive by having a constant stream of love-based, affirming things going on in your mind, mostly about yourself. Such as: “You’re doing so well, I know this is a difficult day” and “You’re a good person, you’re so valuable and I love you” or “I’m so grateful that you’ve come so far and grown into the person you are”. Also talk directly to your body, as in “I know this is hard, I hear your pain” and “You’re doing so well, I will rest you soon” etc.
Physical aides like essential oils, muscle rubs, knee rugs or heat packs
Carry these with you and don’t be afraid to use them. If your pain issues start with tense muscles or cold-weather-affected joints, then knowing the physical aides that can help, and carrying them with you, should be second nature to you, just as carrying your pain meds probably is. I love a “shot” of peppermint oil to clear my head and brighten me up – this can relax me enough to help lessen some pain, a heat pack on my shoulders can help relax muscles on their way to a migraine, a knee rug can warm up my cold body so it’s not tensing to keep warm and my joints aren’t tense with the cold. I also carry a natural muscle rub, to really work some sore muscles if necessary.
Loving Kindness Mantras
This will work better if you’re used to doing loving kindness type meditations, but the mantras can work in stressful situations, to relax the body. Simply repeat to yourself and to the parts of your body that are hurting, the statements “May you be well. May you be loved. May you be at peace.” It can sound almost too simple, but these statements really can be powerful at releasing tension in the body – say them to your gut if you’re full, your feet if you’ve been standing, your eyes if they’re tired, your hands if they’re weary.
Drink more water
I know it sounds ridiculously not helpful, but not drinking enough water is bad for your body. When it’s combined with too much alcohol (dehydrating and straining the liver) and tiredness (stress on the body) and heat – here in Australia – (dehydrating and drying) and heavy, salt-filled, fat-filled, sugar-filled eating (dehydrating the body and making it work harder), water actually becomes a really, really powerful destress agent. Filtered water is best and I strongly recommend installing a filter or buying a water filtering system, so you’re not relying on bottled water which is exceedingly damaging to the environment. But even drinking the tap water is better than nothing.
When it’s time to uplevel your self care and leave the party
Once you reach the orange or red zone of your traffic light system and it’s time to be the loving parent to your body and take it home to rest, it can be hard. When you’re in the middle of a family lunch or social drinks engagement we can often feel socially “compelled” to stay.
To be better prepared for this moment, give yourself a minute when travelling to an event or getting ready for it, to think about who you’ll need to thank and apologise to, if you’re leaving early. Who may be disappointed or put out? Who do you consider important to speak to at the event and so, if you’ve not done so yet, will need a quick word before you leave?
Next, prepare how you’ll say it. Write a script for yourself. This will make it easier to say to do. Knowing that someone will likely be disappointed is hard. But it’s OK. The world wont end if you leave early. They will cope and if you handle things maturely and honestly, your relationship with that person will cope.
In my experience, the measure to which someone is upset with you because you’re leaving to avoid a pain flare, is the measure to which that person isn’t self-caring enough to allow themselves the same freedom. And that probably means they have a chronic pain issue, as the two go hand-in-hand.
But you are on a healing journey now, not a self-depricating, martyr journey that ignores the body’s pain, grinds the self into the ground trying to be and do the “right things”. No more of that for you!
So if your choice to value self care does create that response in someone else, have compassion on them just as you are having compassion on your self…..their body, mind, emotions and spirit are living in constant punishment. You’re setting the example of a different way of being. It’s the most loving gift you can give them, whether they recognise it or not.
Needless to say, knowing what to say and who to say it to, and then having the strength to leave an event, will probably still be difficult. Be sure to repeat many affirming and congratulatory statements to yourself, thanking yourself for valuing self care over social duty or “keeping someone else happy”. This ensures your internal environment (which I also talked about in the last blog) is positive. You’ve done well!
Other helpful tips
There are a whole range of other tips and tools I would suggest investigating, to help cope with stressful or uncomfortable festive events that can induce pain flares. Here are some of my favourites:
Dysfunctional Family Bingo
This one I got from the fabulous Martha Beck and she suggest having a friend to do this with – you can text each other through the event as you mark things off, to see who wins.
Draw up a 3 x 3 grid and write something in each square that creates stress or tension for you, at family events. Things like: “Uncle Bob drinks too much and starts an argument over politics” or “Mary gives a cheap gift to the person whom she most disapproves of” or “Mom says ‘well, no one really cares how I feel’ when she hasn’t been specifically asked for an opinion on something”.
This will turn painful and stressful family patterns into a game! Read more about it from Martha here.
Dan Howard’s Resting Meditation
This is one of my most favoured meditations and I highly recommend spending the small amount he charges for his Deep Rest recorded meditation. It’s 25 minutes of rest for your body that will transform how you feel physically and can often induce sleep! Get it here.
Insight Timer Meditation App
This is a free app, available from the app store, that enables you to do meditations based on how much time you have, what type of theme you want, or just offers background sounds/music for free meditation. You can set timers, bells to sound at intervals….it’s a fantastic app for a quick meditation relaxation in the midst of a busy and stressful day! Get it here.
Martha Beck’s Storm Proof Your Life Short Course
I highly recommend anything Martha does, but this is a new offering, on sale until January, to help you cope with particularly bad phases in your life (‘storms’). I’m about to embark on it and highly recommend it if you’re going through particularly rough, sad or dark times. Read about the course here.
Need more help?
Book A Session. I’m available for “emergency self care” pep talks through the festive season, except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day (Sydney time). Contact me for a session of powerful relaxation meditation, unpacking the thoughts that create stress and pain, looking at your internal environment and cleaning it up and setting yourself a schedule for self care. Book a session here.
FB Live Lunchtime Learning Sessions. I’m doing a lunchtime learning session on this blog’s topics today at 12.30pm, Sydney time. Check it out on my FB Page here. There’s also worksheets to help you following along, available if you sign up, below.