We were lucky enough to catch up with Jackie Waters who wrote to us in an effort to help more people like herself living with chronic pain. Jackie was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her mid-20’s. After her diagnosis she began making lifestyle changes to minimize the number of medications she would need to take. As a self-described neat freak, she has always been obsessed with a clean home. The first thing she did was throw out harmful cleaning products and reorganized her home to manage her “bad” days. She also made diet and lifestyle changes to minimize, as much as possible, her joint inflammation. Jackie understands how scary it is to be diagnosed with a chronic illness. She therefore wrote this article to offer her tips and advice to those who are newly diagnosed or struggling to cope with pain.
You’ve been limited by pain for weeks, months or years and now you finally have a diagnosis—one that still comes with some unanswered questions in the form of chronic pain. When your body continues to send pain signals to your brain after an injury has healed, you not only feel chronic pain, but also fear, anxiety, frustration and depression.
The mind plays a central role in chronic pain. Pain is extremely subjective; the intensity, frequency and duration is often only able to be defined by the person experiencing it. The optimistic reality here is that the brain can also play a key role in managing that pain. For those experiencing chronic pain, you can train your mind to cope with persistent pain with these three scientifically-proven mental and behavioral techniques.
#1 Create a soothing home environment
The more stress you feel, the more pain you’ll feel. And then—guess what—the more pain you feel the more stressed out you’ll get. This cycle of pain and stress can really inflame your chronic pain and does little to get you feeling hopeful, happy or motivated. Creating a soothing space in your home that will encourage you to relax is a great way to break this cycle. Maybe it’s a massage chair and some relaxing music or perhaps it’s a serene meditation space to focus on your breath and do some yoga. Even without a dedicated space for relaxation—or even better, in addition to—creating a clutter-free, organized home can also help with stress reduction. Here’s how:
Organize closets and cabinets so that you’re better organized when you go looking for that heating pad, comfy blanket or pain medication. Nothing is more frustrating that not being able to find relief when you need it.
Declutter your living areas. Making sure you don’t trip and fall or feel overwhelmed by clutter will also help reduce stress and help you manage chronic pain. Living in a clutter-free space can help eliminate negative emotions—like feelings of hopelessness and despair—but also instill positive emotions, like confidence and contentment.
#2 Manage symptoms with mindfulness
Mindfulness is a way to stay focused on the present moment, which helps us stop worrying so much about the future and fixating so much on the past. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that can use your breath to help relax your body, which reduces pain, while also focusing on cultivating a mindset of gratitude. Mindfulness can help you not give into the pain.
#3 Get into your body
Getting active is an effective way to manage physical pain, as well as distract your mind from fixating on the areas that are sore or tender. Go for walks, join the gym, take exercise classes. The endorphins released from exercise have been shown to reduce pain and improve mood. Be sure to get the okay from your doctor before starting any physical activity. Other ways you can manage pain through your physical choices include:
Eating well: When in pain you may be tempted to turn to carb and sugar-filled comfort foods, but it’s important you eat a well-balanced meal. Not only can the nutrients help your body heal and recover, but natural foods often have anti-inflammatory qualities.
Relaxation training: As with mindfulness, training your body to relax also means training your mind. Doing progressive muscle relaxation techniques, where you start at your feet and tense then relax each muscle leading up to your head, can help soothe chronic pain.
Massage: Massage is a great way to cultivate temporary relief from your chronic pain. You can go see a massage therapist who specializes in your type of pain, or learn self-massage techniques that, when partnered with deep, relaxing breaths, can help reduce pain and inflammation.
While the brain can help manage pain, that doesn’t mean the discomfort is all in your head. Experiencing chronic pain can cripple you mentally, emotionally and physically. Ideally, training your mind in chronic pain management techniques can help you feel less reliant on medication and more empowered to take back control of your life mentally, emotionally and physically. Ideally, training your mind in chronic pain management techniques can help you feel less reliant on medication and more empowered to take back control of your life.
With the new year comes new years resolutions. Plans to be better than last year. Ideas of starting fresh. But often times, as soon as the new years rush ends, so do our resolutions and plans for change. Luckily there are some easy ways to keep your resolutions to keep you going strong all year long. It all starts with goal setting.
Goal setting is especially important for endurance athletes. When we reach tough points in our training and racing, remembering our motives keeps us from giving in. There is a simple process for goal setting but it takes a hard look at ourselves. What things are we doing right? What things are we doing wrong? What are our big lofty goals? What are we passionate about? These kind of questions define how we decide where we want to go and how we are going to get there. The whole process in itself also teaches us how to be mindful and make the right decisions for ourselves. So where do you start? Read on:
1. Think BIG! What are your big, scary, lofty goals?
Thinking about and knowing what your ultimate goals are will give you the drive to successfully navigate through the steps to getting there. Sometimes reminding yourself that each frustrating or rough day is just a part of the process is enough to get you through them. There will be times that we slip up, miss some training days, skip workouts, run out of time to fit in the prescribed mileage, but take these days in stride. When we are under stress we need to give ourselves some space and not feel married to our goals. This is essential in allowing us to ultimately meet our goals. Feeling down about missing a few workouts is one of the number one reasons we sideline our goals. We think, “we missed a week, there is no point now” but that does not have to be the case. This leads us into our second step of goal setting: planning our route to success.
2. Create small goals or milestones to achieve along the way.
One way we can do this is to first start with a goal race. This will help to keep us focused on a particular point in time and allow us to keep in mind what ultimately matters through the course of a season. All of your races in a season may not be perfect but keep in mind that they are just a stepping stone to preparing you for goal race day which is ultimately the day we want to be our best. The next thing to do is to back out from our goal race and plan small goals that we need to hit in order to see improvement in our goal race. This could be like doing at least 10 min of strength work 3 times per week or taking 1 day off a week. Whatever these goals are, think about what things from your previous training cycles and races that you can fix. Also think about what things you did right so that you can set goals to keep them going. If everything goes right you may just see yourself hitting your big lofty goals!
3. Make sure your goals are measurable, attainable, and are process goals not outcome goals.
This is a tough one but is the best way to keep focused on what you are trying to do. Measurable and attainable goals allow you to track your progress to see if you are getting closer or not. The other piece to this is outcome goals vs process goals. You want your goals to be things within your control. Outcome goals tend to have variables that you may not be able to control. Process goals allow us to make goals that we can work towards through the powers within us. Example: An outcome goal could be to finish top in your age group. You don’t know who might show up so you can’t control that. A process goal would be to know what time typically wins for your age group and change your goal to be to hit that time. This way you can structure your training around hitting that goal and assess along the way whether or not the goal is attainable. On race day you may or may not win, but you will have a good shot of hitting your time goal and have something to be proud of.
4. Prioritize your goals
As much as we want to be superheros we can’t do it all. Figure out which goals mean the most to you and figure out a plan to reach those goals without spreading yourself too thin. It helps to schedule time to work on your goals. Fit in important parts of your training at times that will stick. If this means getting in before work then so be it. Also think about your responsibilities and realistic with what you can and cannot do. It is entirely possible to reach your goals when you have a busy schedule. You just have to get creative and structure your training effectively. There are multiple ways to reach any outcome, find what works best for you!
5. Enjoy the process and reflect on your progress.
The only way to fully stay motivated is to enjoy what you are doing. Find ways to keep your grind going strong. Keep away from focusing on the bad parts and remember why you are passionate about what you are doing. Figure out what motivates you, excites you, and gives you energy. In saying this I don’t mean that you need to be always on. Feeling controlled by your goals will lead you to resent your passion. A good way to enjoy the process is to keep a log of your training. In this log make it a point to really lay it all out there. How did the workouts feel? What were your paces? Were you happy with your day? Where there any stressful events that affected your performance? Recording this will help you when you look back at your progress, which is a practice I urge you to do at the end of each week and month. This will give you piece of mind and the confidence to continue!
6. Share your goals!
The last and maybe one of the most important tips we have is, SHARE YOUR GOALS! Tell your loved ones, your friends, or anyone who will listen, what your goals are. This will hold you accountable and will also give you people to support you along the way. When your goals live solely in your own head it is easy to let them slide. When you have a bad day you immediately forget the good things you have done and sometimes it takes an outside perspective to re-center you. Plus it is more fun relishing in your success when those who have been following your journey see you succeed. By that same token it is also easier to recover and move forward after defeat when you have others cheering you on.
So are you ready for 2018?? We hope this goal setting guide will help kick-start your new year of training so that you will be nothing but successful this year. Need more insight into goal setting? Check out this great blog with Oiselle’s Lauren Fleshman who is practically an expert in goal setting! Now go get after it!
Photo 1: https://www.active.com/running/articles/goal-setting-advice-for-runners?page=1
Photo 2: http://www.oiselle.com/blog/goal-setting-with-lauren-fleshman