the-importance-of-gratitude

Gratitude

Looking for an easy way to hack your brain? Consider practicing gratitude on a daily basis. It’s rather simple, but sometimes hard to do. When we practice gratitude, we are stating to ourselves and those around us that we are worthwhile and we appreciate our life. Gratitude is so important to our overall well being, it really does re-wire your brain to focus more on the positive and make healthier choices.

Gratitude can help you manage your stress, your illness, and how you operate in the world on a daily basis.

In the month of November, I try to focus on gratitude in some capacity. I decided to do it a few months early this year because gratitude should be a year-round thing. Doing it for a month out of the year, a week, or a day, is not enough to make meaningful changes.

Gratitude should come as a daily practice if we want to truly rewire our brains to be healthier.

The Science of Gratitude

Often we look for quick and easy solutions for our problems. Living in an age of instant gratification dulls our ability to be patient, so finding a solution to a long-term problem is difficult sometimes. With that in mind, gratitude is one of those easy to do exercises that offers a short-term response with long-term ramifications.

Have you found yourself feel better after doing something nice and unexpected for someone? Or when you express your appreciation for someone without cause? It might be a temporary good feeling, but science backs up that these moments, when added up, can re-wire your brain to be more receptive to positive experiences.

But when you are dealing with a chronic illness, sometimes the last thing you want to do is express gratitude for yourself or the world around you. After all, your body’s betrayed you. Often all we can think about is what we lack, such as our health, and not what we have.

When we take the time to incorporate more gratitude in our lives, despite our illness, we rewire our brains to spend less time on the negative aspects. Focusing on the positive brings us into a space to make healthier decisions for ourselves and can lower our overall stress.

And stress is something we strive to avoid in chronic illnesses.

Creating Space

We must be present in our lives, chronic illness or not. We choose to take a chance to do what needs to be done, or we choose to let life happen to us. If you struggle, like I have, with incorporating gratitude, consider creating a five-minute space to practice one instance of gratitude each day. Often the recommendation in the morning to set the tone for the rest of the day, but if that’s not possible, do whatever time works for you.

I learned this lesson recently: there’s an expectation to do things at a specific time because “that’s what’s right,” but that may not work for you. If your moment of gratitude is in the middle of the day or before going to bed, then do it then. When it happens does not matter. Just that you are doing it.

Try to set the alarm at your preset time if you often forget to do something, and commit to a short practice of gratitude for five minutes. Five minutes out of all your day is but a drop and passes by rather quickly.

Practicing Gratitude

Find the practice that works best for you, there are so many ways to practice gratitude. Try until you find something that works, don’t settle on what you think you’re supposed to do. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

  1. Buy a gratitude journal and follow the prompts
  2. Think of something silly about yourself that you love
  3. Do a random act of kindness for a stranger with no expectations of a acknowledgment/validation (i.e. don’t post about it on social media)
  4. Compliment a stranger on something you genuinely like about them
  5. Create and maintain a list of things you appreciate everyday. Add a new one during your gratitude time
  6. Find a silver lining in a difficult situation
  7. Relish a challenge or adversarial situation, rather than taking on a victim role
  8. If you are able to, volunteer your time
  9. Surround yourself with people who are grateful and make you feel good about yourself
  10. Find a gratitude rock or object that you can keep near yourself at all times to remind you of being grateful

The Importance of Gratitude

We don’t have to wait until November to practice gratitude in our daily lives. If you want to work towards rewiring brain towards a more positive outlook, just start with gratitude. It’s still going to take time to undo what might be years of negative thinking, but it gets you into the head space you need to be in to be receptive to change.

That’s the best space to be in: open to making positive changes in your life if you’ve previously struggled with it. Gratitude truly is one of the easiest and quickest ways to get into a positive space for yourself. I am already finding that I let things go a lot quicker than I used to, and appreciate the moments I have more.


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Learning through Painful Experiences

On the Adult Swim show, Rick and Morty, there’s a minor character named Mr. Meseeks. In a moment of extremely dark humor, something the show is famous for, Mr. Meseeks admits that “existence is pain.” When you live with a chronic illness, there’s a lot of truth to that phrase: life can be literally and figuratively painful at times. But there’s something we should know: we can learn through the painful experiences.

While the Mr. Meseeks character can “poof” away after fulfilling its purpose, we cannot leave. We are stuck trying to find a healthy way to manage our physical and emotional pain.

What Pain Teaches

Pain comes in many forms.

It can be physical, mental, or emotion. Often, we find it’s a combination of these three: if I am in physical pain, I might feel it emotionally as well. One leads into the other in a domino effect.

Physical Pain

When pain is in a physical form, it can teach us what we are capable of handling. If it’s an expected pain, one that we can mentally prepare ourselves for: an outpatient procedure, exercise, or giving birth, it reminds us that we are strong.

Often, after these moments pass, we recognize we’ve become stronger because of the pain/discomfort endured. Scar tissue heals tougher, muscles build up, or we have a beautiful little one to show for the struggle. We endure, we grow stronger, and we have something positive to show for it.

When the pain is unexpected, such as an undiagnosed chronic illness, it can be discouraging. Even if we expect the pain due to our illness, it’s often coupled with the uncertainty as to when it will end. When we willingly put ourselves through a physically painful experience, we have an expectation of knowing it will eventually end.

Exacerbations and chronic pain do not adhere to such a timeline.

But this pain can still teach us what we are capable of enduring, even in the moments we feel like we’re barely tolerating it.

Emotional & Mental Pain

Emotional pain is harder to grasp. It’s so nebulous that when we think we’ve caught it, rooted it out, and dealt with it; it pops up in some other form in another part of our life. Emotional pain is a constant game of “whack-a-mole.”

The scars are harder to see when we’ve endured emotional abuse. Anything can cause our emotional pain to grow out of control. Even the slightest look from a stranger can turn our positive mood into a dark space. It might take hours to days before we get back into a balanced state.

Mental pain can be equally difficult to deal with. It may be out of our control, requiring chemical intervention. Please continue to follow your healthcare professionals recommendations if you require chemical intervention to manage your mental pain.

These types of pain also provide important lessons: emotional pain teaches compassion, while mental pain teaches us to honor and nurture our fragile nature in a healthy way.

I found that these three forms of pain, physical, emotional, and mental, all teach me one thing: I can endure, and I grow into a stronger person because of it. Without pain to push me, I stay within my comfort zone and do not develop into the person I have the potential of becoming.

You can’t Stop the Pain…

As much as we’d like to, there’s no quick fix to handle our pain. We can abuse medication or find other unhealthy ways to escape it, but that isn’t handling the pain as much as it’s kicking the can down the road. This form of avoidance can deepen the pain, making it more difficult to manage, which turns into a negative cycle.

Please note: I am not referring to using prescribed pain medication as directed by an ethical healthcare professional. I am referring to the intentional abuse of prescriptions or illegal drugs as a means of escaping physical, emotional, and mental pain. If you, or someone you know, is abusing medication, please seek help now. You can break the negative cycle.

Pain will always be a part of our lives. We cannot escape it; we cannot avoid it. When we try to run from it, like “checking out” or procrastinating, it can exacerbate the pain, specifically mental, and make it feel more overwhelming. It’s often a struggle to confront it, which is what we must do if we are to move forward.

If you cannot stop the pain, what can you do?

…But you don’t have to Accept it

Exactly that.

You do not have to accept the pain. You have to endure it, yes, because it will always be present. But you don’t have to give into it and let it “win.” Rather, you can find ways to manage it so you can put it in proper perspective.

For physical pain, you can learn meditative techniques to manage the pain. You can speak with a healthcare professional about a healthy way to chemically treat the pain or referral to physical therapy. The pain may be telling you to slow down because you’ve done too much, so take some time to rest. You can look at it as a challenge to test your abilities to endure and flip it into something positive.

For the emotional and mental pain, find a competent therapist or qualified accountability partner to help you work through it. Figure out why you are in this pain, what triggers it, and how you can healthfully manage it. Use healthy distraction techniques to keep you moving in a forward direction and minimize getting “stuck” in one place.

Learn to work with, through, and around the pain so it no longer holds you back. It is just one more hurdle to overcome in life, with or without a chronic illness.

Learning Through Painful Experiences

Pain gets a bad rap for being negative. To be fair, it can be negative most of the time. But remember the planned pain, like with exercise? That pain can bring on positive growth. It teaches use we are strong by making us stronger.

Try to view the unplanned pain from illness or injury in a similar manner. It is teaching us something about ourselves: what we can do with it, how we can handle it, and possibly how our lives are better because of it. There are plenty of people out there that lose part of themselves, enduring pain from trauma, to come back stronger than before.

Pain teaches us a lot about ourselves, we just have to be willing to listen to what it has to say.


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Featured photo credit: Imani Clovis on Unsplash


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How to Love Myself

I would love to wave a magic wand over everyone and say, “Poof! You now love yourself and embrace all that you are.” But I know that’s not how it works. It’s not something that happens instantaneously or over even a short period. My personal journey to self-love began two years ago when I learned that my brain lesions were gone and I had a new lease on my health. I had the opportunity to make important life changes, and part of that was figuring out how to love myself.

This blog is my chronicle towards self-love and self-acceptance, even if I haven’t overtly admitted to it.

It isn’t an easy journey, and I am still in the beginning stages of self-acceptance. It’s been easier to focus on my exercising, food, and self-compassion than admitting to what I love about myself. I will spend the rest of my life contending with myself over whether or not I am worthy of my own love.

I think it’s like any other relationship we have: loving someone takes work. We have to constantly reaffirm that love, engage with it, and nurture it. Our love is no different.

Love, Don’t Just Like

We can all find things we like about ourselves, but can we find something we love? If you did the exercise from Monday, listing of five things you love about yourself, how many of them are really just “likes?” Be honest.

Sometimes it’s easier to approach ourselves from a slight distance like implies less depth of feeling over love, and that is a fine place to start. But we do want to work towards turning some of those “likes” into “loves.”

Any new relationship is based on “likes” that develop into something more, so this is very similar to that. Look over some of the qualities you like about yourself, are any of them worthy of your attention? You may appreciate how you handle your exacerbations, but you may not celebrate that perseverance to the degree it deserves.

Take a moment and see if a particular quality is worthy of an internal appreciation upgrade. Embrace those qualities and start to look at them with love. Embrace what makes you unique and amazing. You are worthy of your love.

The Science of Loving Yourself

Science backs up the importance of loving yourself. When we focus on our negative qualities, it impacts our relationships, health, and ability to overcome adversity. When we engage in self-appreciation, we give ourselves a chance to cope with stress and any mood/anxiety disorders we might have.

While this won’t cure our depression, it may help you lessen symptoms or get you to a space where you can ask for help.

I found that when I take a stand to care more about myself, that I am able to back away from negative relationships. My drive to be healthy is greater, and I find that I self-assess my abilities as a mother to be higher.

When we engage in self-appreciation, we are more open to making healthy medical decisions. This isn’t necessarily about eating right or exercising, we are more open to fighting for what we need to manage our chronic illness.

Speaking of chronic illness…

Chronic Illness and Loving Yourself

When you have a chronic illness, you’re stuck with it. Until they find a cure for our particular illness, we are biding our time managing the best we can with what we have.

Chronic illness is an obstacle in our wellness journeys. I’ve said this before on the blog: it’s so hard to want to get well when our bodies betray us. It’s hard to love ourselves if we view our bodies flawed beyond repair. Asking someone with a chronic illness to take the steps towards self-love seems unreasonable, but it’s not.

I will be honest, if someone who didn’t have a chronic illness tried to tell me that, I would probably give them the biggest eye roll possible. Even today. Why? Because it’s usually said to make themselves feel better, not me.

Because we cannot change whether or not we have a chronic illness, there is a level of self-acceptance that must happen. When we fight against the illness, via ignoring it or caving completely to it, we signal to ourselves that we are not worth caring for and we signal to the illness that it wins. Patients with negative attitudes, tend to fare worse than patients who are positive with their healthcare approach.

It’s easy to get lost in our illnesses. It’s part of the grieving process, which is perfectly healthy on its own. But it’s a process, which means there needs to be forward movement in our journey, not stalling for an unhealthy length of time. We sometimes forget that we aren’t alone in this world, even though it often feels like it.

We have to fight to love ourselves and keep on fighting despite our health setbacks, lest the illness wins. Chronic illness takes so much away from us, leaves us feeling helpless and worthless, but why let it? Why allow it to take more from us? We have to give it permission to leave us feeling unloved, and we can revoke that permission at any time.

How to Love Myself

So how do we begin loving ourselves? Very slowly, as mentioned in Monday’s post. We’ve been slowly building up to this point throughout the year:

Find ways to start incorporating self-appreciation in your daily life. Get a workable morning routine that allows you to feel good about yourself. Include affirmations if that works. Find some way to exercise to boost the feel-good hormones.

Tell yourself that you are worth fighting for.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


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Focusing on the Positive

I struggle with the idea of focusing on my positive qualities. It became so ingrained that I am a bad person, that the idea of having positive qualities can be physically painful at times. When asked by others to name something I appreciated about myself, I often balked at the exercise, trying to find the most superficial, least offensive thing I could name: my laugh?

In an awkward couple of seconds between the question and my response, I often have a tightness in my chest coupled with intense shame for seriously considering the idea that there is something good about me. I struggle to take a compliment, and I am known to self-sabotage an opportunity if I know I will succeed.

When I recognized the unhealthy relationship I had with my positive qualities, I realized I needed to not only examine it further, but I wanted to learn to celebrate the stuff I loved about myself. If I were to heal my painful internal narrative, I would need to start countering it with some facts about myself: I am a decent person, and it isn’t arrogance to say that.

For the rest of this month, I will be discussing the importance of highlighting our positive qualities, illness included, as a way to develop a healthier relationship with ourselves.

Learning to Fall in Love

You may already love yourself, and that’s a wonderful thing. No one is more deserving of your love than yourself. This month will hopefully serve as a refresher course of why you fell in love with yourself in the first place.

But if you are like me, you need to find a way to fall in love with yourself. You may be searching to do this right now, which is why you landed here, or you haven’t realized that it’s a necessary step in the self-improvement journey.

While this next step should be fun, it may be painful for you as it is for me.

That pain is part of the process of developing any new relationship. When you try to fall in love with yourself, you are fostering a relationship just as you would with a potential lover or friend. There will be awkward moments where you’ll wonder if you messed up; where you are uncertain if the other person will even like you back; or where you’ll discover something new that mildly annoys you. The comfort is that the other person in this relationship is you and they literally are not going anywhere.

So this is an opportunity to freely explore yourself, one where you can remove judgment because in the process of getting to know yourself better, there is no right or wrong way.

To get you started, take a few minutes to figure out what you are comfortable admitting you like about yourself.

Listing off our Positive Qualities

If you follow the weekly newsletter, you may have done this exercise already: list off five things you deem positive about yourself. For now, keep the list to what you are comfortable admitting to yourself.

This list can be as superficial as loving how you sneeze, or as deep as your ability to be a quality baker/cook. Make a list quickly, without overthinking it, as this will allow you to unconsciously list what is important. Sometimes when we don’t overthink something, we allow ourselves a glimpse into our deepest truths.

I find when I do these sorts of exercises, and I overthink it, I will backtrack and put down the “right” answer, thus skewing the intended outcome. When we are learning to fall in love with ourselves, we have to do the number one thing all relationship experts agree on in a two-person relationship: being honest.

Since I am also on this journey of learning to fall in love and developing a healthier relationship with myself, here are five things I came up with in my exercise:

  1. My personal drive and motivation to accomplish goals
  2. My laugh and how it can be infectious for others
  3. My cooking/baking abilities and adaptability in the kitchen
  4. My sense of humor
  5. The love that I have for others

The Struggle to Love

You may find, like me, that making these lists are the start of that uncomfortable feeling we get. Admittedly, these lists are a tad silly, but they serve a purpose. To physically manifest our positive qualities. Sometimes we have these ideas about ourselves that float around our head, but when we take the time to write the idea out on paper, we make the idea “real.”

I feel foolish admitting to these five things, even now, because of the embarrassment I feel about myself. If I allow this embarrassment to control my thoughts and actions, I won’t allow myself to feel something for myself. I will remain afraid to take steps to fall in love.

Like approaching a crush, we might talk ourselves out of an opportunity to put ourselves out there because we fear rejection. Our negative self-talk will try to reject us, but we must persevere. We want to love ourselves despite what our negative narrative tells us.

These steps, like any relationship, will come slowly. Overcome the initial embarrassment in favor of reaching out for connection. Take it slowly and see where your unconscious takes you as you grow more comfortable with the idea of loving yourself.

Celebrate Ourselves

As we hurtle through July, take some time to celebrate yourself any opportunity you get. Achieve a small goal? Celebrate by allowing yourself some kind words of encouragement. Overcame an obstacle? Allow yourself a pat on the back. Find ways to treat yourself in a healthy manner.

Be open to any and all opportunities that come your way to celebrate you.


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Mindfulness as a Coping Tool

You are probably asking yourself, how do I handle my self-doubt in a healthy and meaningful way? There must be an easy way to address self-doubt once and for all. Unfortunately, no. Remember, self-doubt can be healthy, provided it’s not preventing you from something you are capable of doing. While there is no way to removed self-doubt entirely, there are ways to cope with it, so it is less bothersome. Mindfulness works as a coping tool when it comes to our self-doubt. It can quiet our fears enough that we can take a step into the unknown.

I love mindfulness because I find it to be one of the more successful therapy techniques I’ve used on myself, especially with my MS. It helps me drop all the baggage I have in the past and about the future to focus on the moment I am “in.”

How Mindfulness Impacts our Lives

Mindfulness is about finding ways to be present at the very moment we inhabit. Rather than focusing on a nebulous future or an unchangeable past, we focus only on the now.

For a person such as myself, mindfulness is difficult to practice. My mind pulls in multiple directions at any given time. I am the sort of person who cannot just sit and watch a TV show or movie (at home) and not be on my phone working on something else. I live for multi-tasking. If I am sitting “idle,” I could be doing something productive with that time even if it’s catching up on the news or latest social media trend.

When I sit down to practice mindfulness, I confront all the thoughts I’ve pushed aside throughout the day. Something I said three days ago, why haven’t I started that task that’s due tomorrow? Focusing solely on the moment feels impossible sometimes. But it does not need to be a long, drawn-out meditative task that we are led to believe (unless you want it to be).

That’s where I would always get hung up on the practice. I had to sit for five to ten minutes, focusing on the moment. An exercise such as that is useful, but untenable if you need a quick mindfulness check while sitting in traffic.

Think of mindfulness as putting temporary blinders on. When your doubts get so overwhelming, take a few seconds to breathe, and push out all thoughts of your past concerns and future worries out of your mind. Remove the distractions preventing you from taking the steps you know you want to make and realize only the current moment matters.

If you are starting something new, or feeling overwhelmed by your chronic illness, being mindful will help you gain the clarity that comes from being singularly focused. It allows you the chance to take life one step at a time so you can catch your breath and say, “I can do this.”

Mindfulness as a Coping Tool

Mindfulness is an ideal tool to combat self-doubt because you have to live in the moment. Most of our doubt stems from previous experiences informing current concerns, or future worries preventing us from taking a significant leap.

Sitting within the moment, rejects past baggage or future concerns. As soon as we bring up a previous failure, we are no longer in the current moment. Or when we focus on a potential roadblock in the future, we are out of the moment.

Mindfulness creates a blank slate for us to work and build on. We have no room for insecurities or restrictions at the moment. Logistics come after the mindfulness exercise is over. If you want to walk a 5k and MS makes walking challenging, mindfulness allows us the chance to say, “I can do it, despite my difficulties.” Then we work backward from that goal to figure out how we can achieve it.

The more I live within the moment, the less I can focus on what I can’t do. I am not a grasshopper in these moments; I still keep my eye on future concerns and work hard on my time-management. But when I am focused on the task of achieving something important to me and only concentrate on it, I don’t have time to think about my doubts.

When self-doubt comes creeping in, I tell the doubt that I don’t have the mental energy to entertain it. Often, that’s enough to stop it altogether.

Self-Doubt, Chronic Illness, and Mindfulness

The exercise of mindfulness is all well and good; you may be thinking to yourself. But what about my illness? Most of my doubt stems from my illness. My illness prevents me from that skydiving adventure I wanted to take since childhood. Or, I would love to start my own business, but I don’t have the energy to begin the planning process, let alone run a business.

There may be limitations your illness places on you, but have you taken the opportunity to find alternatives or workarounds? Or has your self-doubt gone only as far as stopping you from considering anything?

For myself, I allowed my MS and self-doubt stop me from even considering an alternative life path. I assumed I would wait for the inevitable, my MS getting so bad that I would be a burden on my family. I would never teach; I would never start a family; I wouldn’t make it past forty before my body broke down.

The moment I pushed my self-doubt aside when Ash and I decided to start a family, was the moment I started allowing myself to make alternative plans from the ones I had since childhood. My teaching evolved into this blog, and I am interested to hear what my GP has to say about my overall health. I know my neurologist is hugely impressed with my progress.

Your journey will not look like mine, but it may take you in a similar direction to the one you envisioned for yourself. You may decide to work towards that skydiving dream regardless of your illness. In the process of preparing for it, you may find a useful alternative that gives you the same freedom you were looking for in the first dream.

Or you may not officially start a brick-and-mortar business, but able to sustain freelance work in the field of your choice.

You need to take a moment, focus on where you are right now in life and illness, and decide what you are capable of doing right now , rather than what you may not be capable of doing down the road. The answer and result may surprise you. Hopefully, it will be like my answer: better than I expected.


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Featured photo credit: Canva