mindfulness-as-a-coping-tool

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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Coping with Negative Thoughts

Last month on the blog, I opened up about my negative internal narrative and its impact on my life since childhood. If you are managing a chronic illness, chances are you’ve been plagued with moments of self-doubt and negative thinking. Understand this: having negative thoughts is normal, so there is no shame to be associated with them. But they can be overwhelming and therefore necessary to find a way to cope with them.

Like Gary John Bishop says in Unf*ck Yourself, negative thinking doesn’t necessarily prevent you from taking action. Plenty of successful people are also self-destructive. But those of us negative thoughts impact, it can obstruct any personal progress to the point where we give up.

I slumped into periods of deep depression exacerbated by my negative thoughts. I am not always in control of these thoughts, but I had moments where I could see where I could alter my thinking and actively chose not to do it.

The dark thoughts fueled my resistance to change because I repeated the following excuse: I can’t work on making changes right now because I don’t feel good. When I feel better, I’ll make the necessary internal changes. Needless to say, it doesn’t work that way. If I wanted to feel better, I had to choose to feel better. The choice could include wellness changes or go to a therapist.

Please note: what follows is my experience and what worked for me. I am sharing my experience in case it provides help or comfort for you. Please do not expect the same results. You may find this does not work, it kinda works, or surpasses my results. Everyone is unique and in a different starting place.

Additional note: if you are dealing with depression, not everyone can halt negative thoughts. This post is not for those moments. If you are experiencing dark thoughts out of your control, please seek help. You are loved and wanted.

Soothing the Negativity

I found that when I personify my negative thoughts, I can cope with them. Often these thoughts sound and behave like a needy toddler, so I imagine that’s what they are. Toddlers are persistent, repetitive, demanding, loud, and sometimes won’t take “no” for an answer.

As are these thoughts.

When literally dealing with an out-of-control toddler, I find the most success when I speak in a calm and soothing voice. Reacting sharply, or in an emotionally charged tone, can exacerbate an already tense situation. When I take a moment to stop, figure out what is bothering Jai, and speak to him calmly, the episode ends a lot faster.

My “toddler” thoughts respond similarly. When I react to negative thoughts about myself, what I am doing, or memories in a harsh way; these thoughts fester and continue on for hours or days at a time.

But when I respond to these thoughts by taking a moment to figure out what is bothering me, speaking to myself calmly and lovingly, my own episode ends faster. It may still pop up throughout the day, but I continue to talk in kind words.

It’s funny. I am incapable of speaking kindly to myself when I don’t personify my thoughts as a toddler. I get in this mode of, “I am an adult, so why can’t my thoughts behave like an adult?” I look at the thoughts as though a toddler is living in my head, and suddenly, I am sensitive to my needs.

Having negative thoughts isn’t shameful. It’s healthy, so please do not feel like you have to drive them out of your head as soon as they pop in. Take a moment to validate them. Validation does not mean you agree with these thoughts, you are merely acknowledging their existence and what they are trying to say, no matter how badly they are saying it

You are giving your thoughts what they need: a moment to be heard.

Coping with Negative Thoughts

Try to figure out the “age” of your negative thoughts. While I am treating my thoughts like a toddler, the age of my thoughts is probably closer to twelve or thirteen. That’s when I can point to personal stunting of my emotional growth.

Pre-teens/teenagers often behave like toddlers, so it isn’t unreasonable to use a similar approach. I think it has everything to do with me raising a toddler, so I am already in a particular mindset.

Your thoughts may behave like a toddler, an older child, a teenager, or a young adult, depending on your age. Try to self-assess the behavior and tone of your thoughts to get an idea of the age, and then figure out how you would speak to someone within that age range.

Speaking to your negative voice like it’s a young child may not be as effective as talking to it like it’s an older teenager. It will take some time to get it right, but you’ll figure out what works best for you.

When you speak, try to do and keep the following in mind:

  • Validate the feelings. Validate the thoughts you are thinking about. Reflect them back: “I hear that you are upset about what you said earlier today.”
  • Speak as you wish an adult spoke to you at that particular age. You may not have a positive example in your life, so this will take some work. But imagine how you wished adults treated you at that stage. Rather than screaming and spanking you; you might have wanted, they sat down and talked you through the source of your outburst.
  • Provide an outlet for the feelings in a healthy way. Sometimes we still have to physical our thoughts to get them out of our head. Consider taking up an exercise or hobby that will allow you to channel that extra emotional energy bothering you.
  • Look for a way to manage similar thoughts in the future. Consider ways to address the thoughts you might have in the future, so you are prepared. You won’t be able to account for all possibilities, but you might know what might trigger a thought in the future.
  • Commit to loving this hurt inner voice, despite what it says. This is one of the more difficult steps. Committing to love this voice that works so hard to hurt you. It is asking for your love, but going about it in a very ineffective way. Listen to it as a desire to be loved, and you may find it helps soothe it more and more in the future

As stated above, taking these steps may not be as useful for you, but it might give you an idea of how to break your negative thought cycle and help cope with those negative internal thoughts.


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I-hate-self-improvement

I Hate Self-Improvement

We’re finally addressing what I’ve thought many times and I’m sure you’ve too: I hate self-improvement.

We can pack everything up. Everyone head home. The blog’s done. Everything’s been said that needs to be told and we can move on with our lives. It’s been really nice taking this near two-year journey with you.

Okay, we all know I am joking. I still have lots to write about, and I am not ready to finish. But let’s take a moment to acknowledge this truth: self-improvement stinks because it moves us into a space of feeling uncomfortable. As discussed in Monday’s post, Bishop writes about our tendency to be risk-averse when confronted with going outside our comfort zones.

Self-improvement only comes when we get outside our comfort zone and acknowledge that what we are doing is not working. When we stick to our ruts, we do not grow. When we stop growing, we are more susceptible to dissatisfaction.

Chronic illness does a lot to keep us in our place. We feel a lot of pain wrapped up in the diagnosis. Every day is a fight to manage our health, our time, and our lives. Asking ourselves to take that extra step to make simple improvements can feel unreasonable.

Settling into a mindset of hating self-improvement is easy. And that’s okay, you can hate it. You can hate it in the same way you hate exercising, but know you should take a few minutes a day; hate eating a particular way, but know it helps you feel better; and hate taking your disease-modifying drugs, but they keep you stable or alive. No one is saying that saying to make self-improvement changes with a smile on your face.

I refuse to believe people who make self-improvement/self-help their life don’t have moments where they hate what they are doing.

You may hate exercise, eating a certain way, or taking your medication, but you know you need to in order to feel and get better. The same with self-improvement. You can hate it, but it is good for you all the same. Remember this: making simple improvements can help you better manage your illness which is what I am encouraging you to do.

The Problem with Self-Improvement

Self-improvement takes us all down the same path. The scenery may look different, but the concept is always the same: figure out what we want to change, work to change it, deal with the challenges, then recognize there’s a roadblock we need to address before moving forward.

When confronted with that “roadblock” it can stop us in our tracks because it’s distracting, makes us feel bad, and seems insurmountable. It may even be something we’ve spent a lot of time avoiding. We don’t like it and want it to go away. But confronting this roadblock head-on will help get it to go away, or at the very least, get it to have less of a hold of us.

We must confront it to find success.

Let’s say you are trying to quit smoking. In the process of trying to stop you discover there is a pleasure you get because it reminds you of your grandmother who smoked. Smoking, on some deep level, is a connection to her. When you give up smoking, there’s a sense of that connection is lost. That might halt your desire to quit: you don’t want to lose your grandmother.

But the reality is this: you need to quit to improve your health, and smoking across the board exacerbates chronic illness symptoms. The same is for self-improvement: we need to make changes because what we are currently doing might exacerbate our symptoms.

I Hate Self-Improvement

2019’s been good so far, but I haven’t enjoyed all the aspects of self-improvement. I enjoy how my mood’s improved, the improvements I’ve seen, how I feel, but I wouldn’t say I’ve enjoyed the self-improvement. But it’s been tough to get to this place.

I dislike self-improvement. It’s an exercise like my running and it’s not easy. I was saying to Ash the other day how I want a mental and emotional break. But if I stop doing my mental/emotional exercises, if I “take a break,” I will revert back to my old way of doing things. A “break” would be tantamount to a backslide and I don’t want to do that.

For the record, self-care and a break would be two different things in this situation. What I need at this moment are self-care and self-compassion. A break would be halting self-improvement because it’s gotten tough.

If I want to be a less judgmental person, I have to push through those moments where I want a break, I want to give up. If I want to eat healthier, I have to resist carb-overload temptations. I have to fight my natural tendency to want to give up when the going gets tough.

Working through the Dislikes

When we spend time self-reflecting, we see things that we want to change. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you know that last month I asked readers to come up with five things they love/like about themselves and five things they dislike/want to change.

Take a few minutes to list out five things you dislike (do not use the word hate) about yourself. It can be anything and should be the first five things you think about. If you overthink about it, you dismiss your unconscious voice, and that’s who you are trying to listen to in this exercise.

Once you’ve developed this list, keep it somewhere safe so you can pull it out throughout the month. We will hopefully find a way to address your dislikes in a healthy way. But this month will be about working through your dislikes.

Beauty in Imperfection

As stated at the beginning of March, there is a beauty that grows from the mud. We want to look at those dislikes, perceived imperfections, and parts of us we want to change and honor them. Sure, we will work to change them, but it’s these imperfections that make us beautiful and unique. Even our chronic illness.

A preview for what’s to come: if you are a subscriber to the weekly newsletter we’ll be addressing our inner toddlers. Because though we may not want to admit it, that toddler is still inside all of us.

May is going to be a difficult month. I will be addressing a lot of the dislikes I have for myself, my perceived “flaws,” and any doubts I have about myself. But like everything, I will get through it. We will all get through it and see the beauty in our imperfections.


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Recovery after an MS Exacerbation

So you’ve had a relapse/exacerbation/flare up. Hopefully, you’ve already had the conversation with your healthcare professional about managing the flare-up. You may take high doses of steroids to reduce the inflammation, but you’re coming down from the drugs and looking at recovery. What does recovery after an MS exacerbation look like?

Like all things MS related, your recovery is going to look different from mine which is going to look different from someone else’s. Having some ideas of what you can expect and what you can do on your own might help plan your next exacerbation recovery.

I am not a healthcare professional so all that follows should not be taken as medical advice.

Relapse-Remitting & Recovery

With Relapse-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) there’s a chance of recovery after each exacerbation. That means, there’s also a chance you won’t go back to the way you were prior to the flare-up. After my second major flare-up when I was abroad, I never got my full feeling back in my right index finger and thumb.

When you don’t go completely back to the way you were before, it’s extremely frustrating. But there are some ways to manage your recovery as a means of self-care, i.e. taking back control of your body. These are forms of complementary care: suggestions to work in tandem with your medical treatment.

Because I have RRMS, I can only speak to what recovery looks like after each exacerbation. If you have Primary-Progressive or Secondary-Progressive, recovery is going to look completely different. What follows are based on my experience dealing with RRMS.

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Setting Reasonable Long-Term Goals

One of the hardest parts of having a chronic illness is the uncertainty that comes with it. How long will my attacks last? How long do I have before I get permanently worse? What’s the point in setting reasonable long-term goals if I don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow?

It’s very easy to go to a negative place with a chronic illness. Even today, after feeling settled about my diagnosis and where I am in life, I have moments where I get negative about my situation. There are days where it feels like the MS is overrunning my life.

That’s why taking the steps for self-improvement can be hard because it feels hopeless to even start. But I want to say that no matter where you are at in your illness, there’s always an opportunity to set goals for personal growth.

Long-Term Goals as Complementary Treatment

The very act of setting a long-term goal while dealing with a chronic illness is a declaration that you are fighting the disease. It’s acknowledging that the disease will not be completely control your life – but you will be getting the control back.

Recent studies focused on the importance of setting goals, specifically with patients diagnosed with a chronic illness. Working with healthcare providers to establish long-term care goals related and unrelated to chronic disease management found that patients benefited from patient-centered care.

Additionally, setting goals outside of disease management, such as making lifestyle and wellness changes for overall health, found that patients positively benefited when no longer focused on disease management metrics.

When we focus on creating beneficial long-term goals either with disease management in mind or not, there are positive outcomes that manifest from the simple process of making the goals. It’s saying “I am going to be here a while and I am not accepting defeat in my disease.”

Hope, while there seems to be very little of it nowadays, does play a role in disease management. It’s not about being unaware of the reality of the situation or not being realistic about the diagnosis. Rather, I would argue it’s a statement that you make to yourself and with others that you are not allowing the illness to have the upper hand despite the ways it manifests.

By maintaining hope and setting long-term goals, you are taking on a more active role with your care and helping to stack the odds in your favor by doing what you need to do to get the best possible care given the circumstances.

Setting Reasonable Long-Term Goals

If you are taking the 2019 Wellness Challenge with MS Mommy Blog, you probably have a long-term goal you’re working on this year. Why am I bringing this up now, at the end of January? Mainly because if you are like me, and I am admittedly average, it’s around this time that I struggle to maintain my resolutions and goals.

I am also bringing it up because it’s to recognize and honor the importance of long-term goal making. I think it’s normal for people to discount the importance of goals, especially when coping with a chronic illness of sorts.

If you haven’t established a long-term goal for 2019, it’s never too late to start. The key is to set a reasonable goal that you know you can undertake.

Even if the goal is to have a five-minute conversation with your healthcare provider about the direction of your care and you know it will take all year to work up the courage to do so, this is a reasonable long-term goal to set for yourself.

This is why I settled on the S.M.A.R.T. method to work through this year. It keeps your goals grounded and applicable to whatever you are looking to do for the year. Make sure you sign-up for the newsletter to get the latest information on how to help set up reasonable long-term goals for the rest of the year.

This Coming Month

February will be focusing on the importance of self-compassion and chronic illness, especially when it relates to self-improvement and wellness. It’s easy for us to get caught up in feeling frustration with our limitations and chronic illness. But if we practice self-compassion and go easy on ourselves whenever possible, we’ll find that maintaining our goals will be easier.

Stay tuned for February.


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Featured photo credit:  Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash