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5 Mindfulness Strategies to Cope with Chronic Illness and Pain

Many of us know the words; “Mindfulness,” “Self Compassion,” and “Self-Care.” We also know what PT exercises to do, but… life, illness, fatigue… should I carry on? We scour the internet for answers, anything to help with the pain, or symptom relief. We organize ourselves; we start to do the recommended “thing.” But… life/illness. Ugh!!! It is a never-ending flood of hard from every direction. I feel like I get one thing sorted out and 5 other things pop up in its place – like my disease is a Hydra! WHY?!?!? After the WHY?!? Comes the “I should…” followed by “why cant I just…” Concluding with “I’m a complete failure at life and adulting.” It has taken years to get to a place where I can self-sooth and pick my exhausted self up off the floor and carry on. Below are 5 of the strategies I use to help me out. Both to keep me balanced and to pull me out of the well of darkness when I went a little too far down that rabbit hole. Please let me know if you do any of these things too, or if any were new and helpful for you.



5 Mindfulness Strategies to Help Cope with Chronic Illness and Pain…

1. Self Compassion Through her doctoral work Dr. Kristen Neff realized the self-esteem paradigm was leaving something to be desired. The never-ending cycle of one-upmanship, validation/invalidation, perfectionism, and striving for social approval, left an ever-gaping wound in one’s self-esteem rather than filling it. What Dr. Neff discovered is a healthier alternative to self-esteem is self-compassion. She describes three key facets; mindfulness, kindness and common humanity. Self-compassion allows for our humanness to remain as is in all it’s ridiculous glory and mundane boringness. Self compassion gives us permission to accept our little faux-pas and imperfects and acknowledges that we are not the only humans to have ever made his error, nor will we be the last. In her book “The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions,” Dr. Neff explains in great detail the science and practice of self compassion – this book is available free on audio or digital download through many libraries. She has also written a companion book “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. A Proven was to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength and Thrive.” I have both these books and have found them helpful. Here is a link to her website full of guided meditations, self-compassion practice tips, and other resources: https://self-compassion.org/


2. Tension Release Guided Meditation

There are so many different types of meditation. So many different lengths of time for each one. Who has time for all that? I’m exhausted thinking about it most of the time, and frustrated flipping through YouTube looking for one that isn’t annoying. I have found one that is only 11 minutes long, perfect for before bed, or when you need a nap, but you are fighting a nap because you have too much to do and that’s all you can focus on, and cant settle your mind enough to give yourself permission to have the nap… Unless I am the only chronically ill person who experiences this dilemma? Please let me know if it was helpful at all.


3. FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING

Yes I wrote that in all caps. I did this program though the hospital. The hospital “mindfulness-based stress reduction” MBSR programs are based on this book and the work by the author Dr. Jon Kabbit-Zinn. Like Dr. Neff’s book, this one is also available free from most libraries either in audio or digital book download – or you can buy it through audible, or amazon. It is an enormous book, seriously. You may need to wear your wrist braces and all finger splints to hold it – get the digital copy if the weight of a book is a challenge for you. Most of the guided meditations in the book are available on Youtube. You can learn more about Dr. Kabbit-Zinn through his website here: https://www.mindfulnesscds.com/ He is currently offering free guided meditations every weekday at 2pm EST. Here is one of his most popular guided meditations (also used in yoga practices…) The video below is audio of one of his most popular guided meditations, “The Body Scan.” (30 mins)



4. Laughter Yoga

Is that even a real thing? Yes it is!! Laughter yoga isn’t about pretending to be happy. It is about creating the action of a smile and breathing, creating the sound of laughing to trick the brain in to releasing the happy hormones. This often leads to real laughing. To some the idea of Laughter Yoga may feel “icky.” If you have been masking for your whole life, or “putting on a brave face,” the idea of pretending or “fake it ‘til you make it,” or force it even one more second to “appear happy”--- is enough to make the bile rise. The difference is Laughter Yoga isn’t about making other people more comfortable with your chronic illness. Laughter yoga is about you practicing a moment of intentional laughing and breathing to trigger a neurological cascade of endorphins to reduce the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and even a reduction in pain. Did you catch that last one? A reduction in pain? I will fake laugh my butt off to reduce some pain by even 1 point, that sh*t is no joke! I have collaborated with Cathy Nesbitt for over a decade on various endeavors. Her heart is always in the right place, she genuinely wants to be inclusive, please reach out to her if there is something in the class that is inaccessible to you. She is very enthusiast, caring and giving. Cathy offers a FREE Tuesday Morning Laughter Yoga Class on line, you can join in from anywhere! Here is a link to more information and how to login: http://www.cathysclub.com/


5. Making a Relationship with Pain and Joy My bias is going to show here… I have studied Buddhism for over 20 years, and have been following Pema Chodron for 15 of those years. When I fall into the dark abyss that is Chronic Illness, there are times only her voice can draw me back out again. The first talk I heard by her was “Start Where You Are” in 2005, while I was struggling with post-partum mood disorder. To this day it is my favorite book of hers. Pema Chodron has an open, down to earth, and easy to relate approach that is easy to connect with. I encourage anyone with chronic pain and chronic illness to listen to this hour long talk and teaching about this style of meditation – this is NOT A DEVOTION to Buddhism or religious in any way. It is just a form of meditation that is extremely applicable to people with chronic pain and illness. Here is a link to the audio https://soundcloud.com/pema-chodron-foundation/pain-and-joy


Have you used any of these mindfulness strategies in the past? Were any new to you? Was there one that was helpful for you? Join the conversation here, on Instagram, on Facebook or our Facebook group “Homesteading with a Disability,” we would love to include you in our community.



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