You know those days when everything seems to go sideways? I have chronic pain, so I understand about bad days. In the past I used to feel like I was getting tossed around, rolled under and half-drowned by how out-of-control my life felt. But pain is a great teacher. To avoid going off the deep end I had to learn to surf, taking each day (sometimes each hour or each minute) as it came. And whether you have chronic pain or if you are just having a pain-in-the-ass day, I want you to know that when life sends you a rouge wave, it is possible to grab your board and enjoy the ride. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about avoiding big wipe-outs while surfing life’s ocean.
When you argue with reality, you lose…but only 100% of the time. – Byron Katie.
1) Accept the wave, whatever the ride:
The biggest thing I’ve learned from my journey with pain is to accept wherever I’m at in any given moment. If your day suddenly takes a hard right turn into Cray-cray-ville, that’s what it is. When you refuse to accept that your day is off the rails, then all your energy goes into pushing away that reality. Your muscles get tense, you clench your jaw, and inevitably the stress intensifies. When I learned to open up and allow my pain, I was able use all that “denial” energy to cope rather than to fight. There is something truly transformative about saying, “Okay, this is happening right now. Now what can I do about it?”
2) Let your body lead:
In this age of smart phones, social media and 24-hour “connection”, our bodies often get lost in the shuffle. And when we are disconnected from our physical selves we lose our link to our internal GPS. Our bodies always know what’s best for us; the trick is learning to shut up and listen. So when you are feeling consumed by a day from hell, try this technique: Find someplace quiet to sit comfortably for 5 minutes, close your eyes, take some deep breaths and scan your body slowly from head to foot, pausing on each body part to ask: What does my forehead feel like? What does my neck feel like? What do my shoulders feel like? Slowly working your way down until you have a clear sense of what state your physical body is in. When you find a place of tension or discomfort, ask, “Shoulders, what do you need?” For me, rest is frequently the answer (I have a tendency to over do it, exacerbating my pain). But sometimes what my body wants is movement (some exercise to “blow the stink off” as my mother says). Sometimes I want to dance! Whatever you need, your body will tell you. Just be open to the request and be brave enough to act on it
3) Don’t buy into the story:
My brain is a champion Story-Teller: “You’re never going to be pain-free again!”, “Kate is mad at you, that’s why she didn’t text you back!”, “If you rest now you’ll lose everything you’ve worked for!” I can create a lot of pain just by telling myself stories. So don’t believe the hype! Deal only with what you know to be 100% true in that moment. You can’t know what other people are thinking, you can’t know what will happen in the future, and you can’t change what’s happened in the past. So shit-can the story telling! Go minute by minute if you have to, but stay out of your head and stay in the present.
4) Create a Cocoon:
A cocoon is a safe place to rest and rebuild yourself, and it is a vital stress management tool. Give yourself permission to curl up away from the world and look after yourself on a regular basis. For some people their cocoon might be time on their sailboat or browsing in a record store. For me, it’s a hot bath. Every night, I run a bath, dim the lights and soak in the tub. Whatever makes you feel peaceful and calm, make room for that in your life and practice it regularly. Self-soothing habits are about restoring your energy and regaining your perspective. Taking time to look after yourself is vital to balanced life. So check your guilt at the door and treat yourself.
5) Ask for and accept help:
Let go of that “suffer in silence” mindset; martyrs are so 13th century! No one can solve all your problems, but a back rub, a hug, or even just a sympathetic ear can do wonders to improve your outlook. So accept some comfort from others. Also, recruit loved ones to help lighten your load if you’re having a bad day. If you don’t have anyone you are comfortable asking for help, then make use of service people you can pay to help you. Delivery men, odd-jobs people and house cleaners are just a few examples of people you can employ to help you out. Plus you’ll be supporting small business owners!
My stress level and pain decreased sharply when I began to take 15 minutes out of my morning to practice breathing meditation. If you are reluctant to try this on your own, there are a tonne of great guided meditations available online for free or to purchase. Find one you like and get sitting!
7) Go outside:
I don’t know why it works, but it does. They’ve done studies! Go for a walk, sit in the park, or even just open a window. Nature heals!
8) Pacing and prevention:
Know your limit and play with in it. I used to drive myself endlessly to go-go-go! Now I understand that pushing myself past my limits only creates more work down the road. The less stress you have day-to-day, the easier it is to manage. Don’t wait until things are bad before you take counter measures. Learn what triggers your pain or stress. Get to know the signals your body sends when it’s getting tired and then honour those signals. For example, if you know that large social gatherings wipe you out, learn to take periodic bathroom breaks to recoup your composure. ☺
How do you Hang-Ten?
It is my dearest wish that you can learn from my journey so you don’t have to get sucked into the riptide like me. But I know I am not the only one who has ridden these waves, so if you have any other tips or tricks you’d like to share, please leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.