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Self-care is a trending concept at the moment with many different definitions and uses.

You often see social media posts promoting self-care with pictures of day spas, yoga retreats and people exercising on the beach at sunset. All wonderful things, but when you live with a chronic condition, pain and sometimes-crippling exhaustion, life’s not always that glamorous!

So what is self-care?

The World Health Organisation defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker”.(1)

That’s a pretty dry definition, so for the everyday person with a musculoskeletal condition, we describe self-care as the things you consciously and deliberately do to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

It includes everything from exercising regularly and staying active, eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, caring for your mental healthmanaging pain and fatigue, seeing your healthcare team regularly, learning about your musculoskeletal condition, and staying connected with family and friends. It also involves good hygiene, avoiding risky behaviours and actions, and using medicines and treatments appropriately.

The International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) has developed seven pillars of self-care. They aim to help people understand the breadth and importance of self-care, and provide information about the steps you can take to care for yourself better.

Let’s explore them.

Pillar 1. Knowledge and health literacy

Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power – so understanding your body, how it works, how it’s affected by your musculoskeletal condition/s, as well as any other health conditions you have – gives you the ability to make informed decisions about your healthcare.

Health literacy refers to how we “understand information about health and health care, and how we apply that information to our lives, use it to make decisions and act on it”.(2)

Together, health literacy and knowledge give you the tools you need to actively manage your healthcare. By understanding your body and health, you can discuss your options with your health professionals, critically evaluate information from various sources, adjust your lifestyle and behaviours, understand risk factors, and the appropriate use of treatments and tests.

In fact, research shows that people who have high levels of knowledge and health literacy have much better health outcomes.

If you want to know more about your health and musculoskeletal condition/s, or you need help to improve your health literacy, there are many people who can help you.

Talk with your doctor and other members of your healthcare team. Contact the MSK Help Line and speak with our nurses. Visit authoritative websites (like ours).

And never be afraid to ask questions.

Pillar 2. Mental wellbeing, self-awareness and agency

Incorporating things you enjoy and that make you feel good into your daily/weekly routine – such as mindfulness, exercise, alone time, relaxation, massage, and staying connected with family and friends – is a simple thing you can do to look after your mental wellbeing and increase your resilience.

Self-awareness involves taking your health knowledge and applying it to your specific circumstances. For example, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you know exercise can help, you can ensure you’re getting enough exercise each day. Or if you’re carrying more weight than you’d like, and this is causing increased knee pain and self-esteem issues, talk with your doctor about safe ways you can lose weight. Or if you have rheumatoid arthritis and a family history of osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about how you can look after your bone health.

Agency is the ability and intention to act on your knowledge and self-awareness.

Pillar 3. Physical activity

OK, so this one’s fairly self-explanatory since we talk about the importance of exercise and being physically active all the time 😊.

Regular exercise helps us manage our musculoskeletal condition/s, pain, sleep, mood, weight, and joint health – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! It keeps us moving, improves our posture and balance, helps us stay connected and helps prevent (or manage) other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Pillar 4. Healthy eating

This one’s also easy to understand, as along with exercise, healthy eating plays a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing.

Being overweight or obese increases the load on joints, causing increased pain and joint damage, especially on weight-bearing joints like hips, knees, ankles and feet. The amount of overall fat you carry can contribute to low but persistent levels of inflammation across your entire body, including the joints affected by your musculoskeletal condition, increasing the inflammation in these already painful, inflamed joints.

Being overweight or obese can also increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, poor sleep and depression.

Being underweight also causes health issues. It can affect your immune system (meaning you’re more at risk of getting sick or an infection), and you may feel more tired than usual. Feeling tired and run down will affect your ability to be active and do the things you want to do.

If you need help to eat more healthfully or manage your weight, talk with your doctor or dietitian.

Pillar 5. Risk avoidance or mitigation

Simply put, this pillar is about taking responsibility for your actions and behaviours. In particular, those that increase your risk of injury, ill-health or death.

To avoid these risks, you can drink alcohol in moderation, drive carefully, wear a seatbelt, get vaccinated, protect yourself from the sun, quit smoking, wear a helmet when riding a bike, and practise safe sex.

Seeing your doctor and healthcare team regularly is also important to stay on top of any changes to your health.

Pillar 6. Good hygiene

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with self-care for people with musculoskeletal conditions living in Australia. After all, most Australians have access to clean water and clean living/working spaces.

However, the last few years have shown how vital good hygiene is for protecting all of us from bugs and germs. It’s even more important if your condition or meds have weakened your immune system.

Practising good hygiene is a simple thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting sick or developing infections. So continue to regularly wash your hands, cough/sneeze into your elbow, stay home when sick, and keep your home/work environment clean. And although they’re not yet mandated in most places, wearing a mask is recommended and a really good idea when you’re indoors and can’t physically distance yourself from others.

All of these things will help maintain good health and avoid catching (or spreading) any nasties.

Pillar 7. Rational and responsible use of products, services, diagnostics and medicines

Another fun one! 😁 Although the title doesn’t roll off the tongue, this is an important pillar.

ISF calls these self-care products and services the ‘tools’ of self‐care, as they support health awareness and healthy practices.

They include medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter), aids and equipment (e.g. TENS machine, heat or cold pack, walking stick), health services (e.g. physiotherapy, massage therapy), wellness services (e.g. exercise classes, weight loss groups), and complementary therapies.

ISF also says that the use of these tools should be ‘rational and responsible’. That means only using safe and effective products and services.

Contact our free national Helpline

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, or accessing services. They’re available Monday to Thursday between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@muscha.org) or via Messenger.

More to explore

References

(1) Self-care interventions for health, World Health Organization.
(2) Health literacy, Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care


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16/Nov/2023

Or how to manage fatigue

We all get tired. We overdo things and feel physically exhausted. It happens to us all. Usually after a night or two of good quality sleep the tiredness goes away and we’re back to our old selves.

But fatigue is different.

It’s an almost overwhelming physical and/or mental tiredness. And it usually takes more than a night’s sleep to resolve. It generally requires multiple strategies, working together, to help you get it under control.

Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition struggle with fatigue. It may be caused by a chronic lack of sleep, your medications, depression, your actual condition (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia) or just the very fact that you live with persistent pain.

Fatigue can make everyday activities difficult, and can get in the way of you doing the things you enjoy. The good news is there are many things you can do to manage fatigue and get on with life.

Exercise and being active. While this may sound like the last thing you should do when you’re feeling fatigued, exercise can actually boost your energy levels, help you sleep better, improve your mood, and it can help you manage your pain. If you’re starting an exercise program, start slowly, listen to your body and seek advice from qualified professionals. Gradually increase the amount and intensity of activity over time.

Take time out for you. Relaxation – both physical and mental – can help you manage your fatigue. I’m not just talking about finishing work and plonking down in front of the TV – though that may be one way you relax and wind down. I’m specifically referring to the deliberate letting go of the tension in your muscles and mind. There are so many ways to relax including deep breathing, visualisation, gardening, progressive muscle relaxation, listening to music, guided imagery, reading a book, taking a warm bubble bath, meditating, going for a walk. Choose whatever works for you. Now set aside a specific time every day to relax – and choose a time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted or distracted. Put it in your calendar – as you would any other important event – and practise, practise, practise. Surprisingly it takes time to become really good at relaxing, but it’s totally worth the effort. By using relaxation techniques, you can reduce stress and anxiety (which can make you feel fatigued), and feel more energised.

Eat a well-balanced diet. A healthy diet gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to work properly, helps you maintain a healthy weight, protects you against other health conditions and is vital for a healthy immune system. Make sure you drink enough water, and try and limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume.

And take a note out of the Scout’s handbook and ‘be prepared’. Consider making some healthy meals that you can freeze for the days when you’re not feeling so hot. You’ll then have some healthy options you can quickly plate up to ensure you’re eating well without having to use a lot of energy.

Get a good night’s sleep. Good quality sleep makes such a difference when you live with pain and fatigue. It can sometimes be difficult to achieve, but there are many things you can do to sleep well, that will decrease your fatigue and make you feel human again. Check out our blog on painsomnia for more info and tips.

Pace yourself. It’s an easy trap to fall into. On the days you feel great you do as much as possible – you push on and on and overdo it. Other days you avoid doing stuff because fatigue has sapped away all of your energy. By pacing yourself you can do the things you want to do by finding the right balance between rest and activity. Some tips for pacing yourself: plan your day, prioritise your activities (not everything is super important or has to be done immediately), break your jobs into smaller tasks, alternate physical jobs with less active ones, and ask for help if you need it.

Write lists and create habits. When you’re fatigued, remembering what you need at the shops, where you left your keys, if you’ve taken your meds or what your name is, can be a challenge. And when you’re constantly forgetting stuff, it can make you stress and worry about all the things you can’t remember. Meh – it’s a terrible cycle. So write it down. Write down the things you need at the supermarket as soon as you think of it –a notepad on the fridge is a really easy way to do this. Create habits around your everyday tasks – for example always put your keys in a bowl by the door or straight into your bag, put your meds in a pill organiser.

Be kind to yourself. Managing fatigue and developing new ways to pace yourself is a challenge. Like any new behaviour it takes time, effort and lots of practice. So be kind to yourself and be patient. You’ll get there. It may take some time, and there may be some stumbles along the way, but you will become an expert at listening to your body, pacing yourself and managing fatigue.

Talk with your doctor. Sometimes fatigue may be caused by medications you’re taking to manage your musculoskeletal condition. If you think your medications are the issue, talk with your doctor about alternatives that may be available.

Fatigue may also be caused by another health condition – including anaemia (not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body), diabetes, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia and being overweight. If you’re not having any success getting your fatigue under control, your doctor may suggest looking into other potential causes.

So that’s fatigue…it can be difficult to live with, but there are lots of ways you can learn to manage it.

Tell us how you manage. We’d love to hear your top tips for dealing with fatigue.

FIRST WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED BY LISA BYWATERS IN OCTOBER  2020

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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06/Sep/2023

Let’s take advantage of the warmer days and and look at how we can sweep away the winter cobwebs and make ourselves sparkle this spring!

  • Unplug. We’re always connected these days, immersed in the news, social media, video chats, work/school, and phone calls. We’re never far away from a phone, tablet or computer – and we need to step away. Schedule time to put it all aside: perhaps after dinner, or for an hour during your day, or for your entire Sunday. Whatever works for you and your commitments. Just make sure you take some time away from the digital world, step outside and breathe in the fresh, sweet-smelling spring air.
  • Say no. We’re wired to want to please others, so we often find it difficult to say no. But that can make us become overwhelmed and stressed with the number of commitments we have. That’s why we need to look after ourselves and start saying no. The next time someone asks you to do something, give yourself a moment. Don’t answer immediately with an automatic ‘yes’. Ask yourself if this is something you want to do. Are you able to do it – physically and mentally? Do you have the time to do it? Will it bring you happiness? If you answered no to these questions, then you should say no to the request. You may disappoint some people, and they may be a little unhappy with you. But you need to be true to who you are and stand firm. And don’t feel the need to give detailed reasons for saying no. Saying no is really hard, but it will become easier.
  • Change your routine. Do you feel like you’re stuck in a rut? I know it feels like Groundhog Day at times! So look at your routine. What can you change? Take your work/school commitments out of the equation for now. Do you spend your evenings on the couch? Or weekends doing the same old things? Stop and really think about what you would actually ‘like’ to do with your free time. Go for a bike ride? Take up painting? Visit a new place each week? Find things that you enjoy, and fill you with anticipation and happiness, and do them. Now think about your work routine. There may not be things you can change about work – but why not put on your favourite outfit/earrings/shoes/lipstick – even if you’re working from home. Or use some new stationary or bit of tech. It’s amazing how these small changes give us a mental boost.
  • Focus on the basics – eat well, move, sleep – repeat. This time of the year we have access to amazing fresh produce that’s just crying out to be made into delicious salads and stir fries. The days are getting longer and warmer so we can get outside more for our exercise. We can shed the heavy blankets and adjust our sleep habits. There’s never been a better time than now to focus on these basics and make improvements if needed. And finally, make sure you’re staying hydrated by drinking enough water each day.
  • Surround yourself with positive, upbeat people. Positivity and happiness is contagious. These people will inspire you, make you feel good about yourself and the world in general. Too much contact with negative people (in person and via social media) does the opposite and makes the world a gloomy place. So seek out the happy, positive people and enjoy their company. And if you can, ditch the negative people.
  • Take some time out to relax. Try strategies like mindfulness, visualisation and guided imagery. Or read a book, listen to music, walk the dog, create something, play a computer game, have a bubble bath or massage. Whatever relaxes you. And make sure you do these things on a regular basis. They’re not an indulgence – they’re a necessity and vital to our overall happiness and wellbeing.
  • Let’s get serious – sugar, fats, alcohol and drugs. Many of us seek comfort in sugary and/or fatty foods more than we’d like. Or we’ve been using alcohol and/or drugs to make us feel better. Over time this becomes an unhealthy habit. So it’s time to get serious. Ask yourself if your intake of these things has changed or increased? If it has – what do you need to do to fix this? Can you decrease their use by yourself? Or do you need help from your family, doctor or other health professional? The sooner you acknowledge there’s a problem, the sooner you can deal with it.
  • Nurture your relationships. It’s easy to take the people around us for granted, but these people support and care for us day in and day out. They deserve focused time and attention from us. So sit down and talk with your kids about their day. Make time for a date night with your partner and cook a special meal to share together. Call or visit your parents and see how they’re really doing. Reminisce with your siblings about childhood antics and holidays. Our relationships are the glue that holds everything together for us – so put in the effort. You’ll all feel so much better for it.
  • Quit being so mean to yourself. You’re valued and loved. But sometimes we forget that. And the negative thoughts take over. “I’m fat”, “I’m hopeless”, “I’m lazy”, “I’m a burden”. If you wouldn’t say these things to another person, then why are you saying them to yourself? Ask yourself why you even think these things? And how can you reframe these thoughts? If, for example, you tell yourself you’re fat – are you actually overweight or are you comparing yourself to the unrealistic media image of how a person should look? And if you do know you need to lose weight, and want to make that happen, put those steps in motion. Talk with your doctor for some guidance and help. And congratulate yourself for taking action. And as you make these changes be kind to yourself along the journey. There will be stumbles, but that’s expected. You can pick yourself up and move on. Kindly.
  • Throw away the ‘should’s. This is similar to the negative self-talk…we need to stop should-ing ourselves to death. This often happens after we’ve been on social media and seen someone’s ‘amazing’ life. You start thinking “I should be better at X”, “I should be doing X”, “I should be earning X”, “I should look like X”. Remember that most people only put their best images on social media, so everyone’s life looks wonderful. But you’re just seeing the superficial, filtered person, not the whole, and they probably have just as many insecurities as the rest of us. Instead of thinking “I should…”, be grateful for who you are and what you have.
  • Be thankful and grateful. You exist! And yes, the world is a strange and sometimes frightening place at the moment, but you’re here to see it. People love and care for you. Focus on the people in your life and the things you’re grateful to have in your life. Celebrating these things – both big and small – reminds us why we’re here. To bring joy and happiness to those around us, and to make the world a better place.

(Originally written and published by Lisa Bywaters 2020).

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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20/Apr/2023

NB: This article refers to unpaid or informal carers – people who provide care to those who need it within an existing relationship, such as a family member, a friend or a neighbour (1) – and not professional carers.

DYK, there are almost 2.7 MILLION carers in Australia?(2) That’s about 1 in 10 Australians 😮.

Carers are incredibly diverse. They come from all backgrounds, lifestyles, genders and ages.

You’re a carer if you care for a family member or friend with a physical or mental health condition, disability, or is frail due to old age.(3) You may share the caring role with others or do it alone. And the time spent caring for someone could be from a few hours a week to caring for them 24/7. You may be a carer for a short period while someone is recovering from an illness, injury or surgery or for a more extended or indefinite period.

Being a carer can be very fulfilling and bring you closer to the person you’re caring for. But at times, it can also be demanding and stressful. Here are some practical tips to help you look after yourself and the person you care for.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T – Find out what it means to me

It can be difficult for any of us to accept that we need help. That our body or health has let us down, and we can’t manage on our own as we once could. This loss of independence can make us feel vulnerable, afraid, or angry.

When you become a carer for someone, it’s essential that you ask about their needs and how they want to be treated. This gives them control over their life and choices. It also maintains their dignity.

Respect goes both ways. Just as you must respect the person you care for and their choices, preferences and boundaries, they need to respect yours.

Discuss boundaries. Doing this from the outset with clear, open communication is essential. What are the needs of the person you’re caring for? What do they want your help with? And what don’t they want help with? What are you comfortable or able to do? Over time, you may need to revisit this as circumstances and needs change.

Understand personal choices. It’s sometimes hard for carers to understand why the person they care for may not follow suggestions made to them by health professionals, such as taking medicines as prescribed, exercising, or quitting smoking. Try to encourage – but not push or nag – the person you care for. But if you’re concerned their behaviour is adversely affecting their health, discuss it with them. Is there something that’s putting them off? Do they need more information so they can make an informed choice? Are they worried, scared, or unsure about the pros and cons of a treatment? Having a respectful conversation about these feelings is important. And you may need input from the relevant health professional to move forward.

Have fun together. Don’t let your relationship be consumed by the caring role. Have a cup of tea, discuss things you enjoy, go for a walk, visit parks/galleries/cafes, or share a hobby. Doing things together that don’t relate to health issues will give you both balance and quality of life. ☕

Care for yourself

You can’t pour from an empty cup – so take care of yourself first. Caring is rewarding but also tiring, stressful, and often lonely. You need to take care of your own physical and mental health so that (a) you don’t fall in a heap and (b) you can continue to be a carer. If you’re running on empty, you can’t give your best as a carer, daughter, husband, sister, friend, mum etc. Ensure you get enough quality sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, relax and take breaks, meet up with friends, and accept your feelings. I know, that’s a lot. 😴 Especially if you’re also working and have a family and other commitments. But you need to make your health a priority.

Look after your mental health. As a carer, you may experience a range of emotions that can be difficult to deal with. Be aware of and acknowledge these feelings. If you need help, discuss your situation with your GP, a psychologist, or the Carer Gateway phone counselling or online carer forum.

Get support. It’s hard for most people to ask for help, but you don’t have to do things alone. Whether it’s having someone to talk to about your stress or anxiety, help around the house, or respite care, options are available. Talk with your GP, contact Carer Gateway, or talk with a friend or family member. You might also consider joining a peer support group or seeing a mental health professional.

Attending health appointments

When caring for someone, you may need to attend some or all of their health appointments. Before attending any, you should discuss your role at these appointments with the person you’re caring for. For example, are they happy for you to discuss their health and ask questions, or would they prefer you provide silent support?

It’s a good idea to write a list of questions you’d both like to ask before you go. And, if there’s a lot, consider booking a longer appointment so you have the time to get through them.
Attending appointments also ensures you know of any changes to their health condition/s and treatments.

Managing medicines

Find out about the medicines the person you’re caring for is taking – the type, dose, and any possible side effects.

It’s easy to forget to take medicines regularly, especially if there’s more than one and they’re taken at different times of the day. Talk to your pharmacist about using a pill dispenser if this is a problem. They contain individually sealed compartments to help make taking medicine easier. You can buy a pill dispenser and do it yourself, or your pharmacist can do it for you.

You can also arrange with the pharmacist to do a Home Medicines Review. This review ensures the medicines are safe, effective, and taken correctly.

Making things easier

Access services. Many services are available to help make things easier for you and the person you’re caring for. The Commonwealth Home Support Program provides a variety of services, including delivered meals, respite care, domestic assistance, community transport and much more. Contact My Aged Care or your local council for more information.

Carer Gateway also provides info about accessing services to make life easier in and around the home.

Pace yourself. Caring can take a toll on you physically and mentally. So pace yourself, and don’t try to do everything at once. For example, stagger the cleaning over several days instead of cleaning the whole house at once. Or cook meals in larger batches to freeze the leftovers for those days when you don’t feel up to cooking, or you’ve run out of time. By pacing yourself, you’ll have more energy and feel less frazzled – which is good for you and the person you care for.

Investigate aids, gadgets and home modifications. There’s a huge range of aids and equipment available to help you manage. They can help reduce stress on muscles and joints, save energy, prevent fatigue, and make life easier – with everything from personal safety, bathing, writing, dressing, bedding, mobility, seating, and lifting.

Simple things like long-handled shoehorns can allow the person you care for to put on their own shoes. Items such as grab rails in the bathroom can make bathing easier and safer. To find out more, speak with an occupational therapist.

Sharing the care

Caring, while fulfilling, can sometimes be challenging work. It’s essential that there are others who can share the work to make it easier for the primary carer. This help could be in the form of cleaning, shopping, or being available for you to talk to. 🧡

As a carer, you need to know your limits and boundaries. For example, if you can’t lift the person you care for, seek alternative devices or assistance to make things easier. Occupational therapists can assess the home and suggest modifications, aids and equipment.

Carer payments

You may be eligible to receive government benefits to help you provide care. There are different payments depending on your circumstances and those of the person you care for. Visit the Services Australia website for more info.

Planning ahead

It‘s essential to think about Powers of Attorney and Guardianship if the person you care for can no longer make their decisions known. Planning ahead ensures that their wishes are met and they can make necessary plans.

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issuestelehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

References

(1) Australian Government. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Informal carers. 2021.
(2) Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2018. Disability, ageing and carers, Australia: Summary of findings.
(3) Australian Government. Department of Social Services. Supporting carers.


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21/Jul/2022

COVID numbers are up and masks are back. The stupid virus and its many variants just keep on giving 😥.

We’ve dealt with isolations, lockdowns, and massive life changes in the past few years. We’ve made sourdough bread, completed countless jigsaws, consumed gallons of quarantinis (or was that just me? 😉🍸) and given online yoga a go.

But now what? Yoga has become a source of calm and relaxation, but we’re sick of sourdough, can’t bear to see another jigsaw, and for the sake of our livers, we’ve moved on to non-alcoholic mocktails (again, maybe just me? 🍹).

It’s time to cast aside the things that make us unhappy or trigger feelings of lockdown anxiety. It’s time to embrace the things we love, that make us fulfilled and satisfied. The things that feed our curiosity and creativity. And the things that support self-care.

Here are some simple things you can add to your routine to boost your happiness. Hopefully, one or two of them will strike a chord with you 😊.

Give thanks

Sometimes we can be consumed with what we don’t have or what others have… money, good health, the latest gadget, a great job, travel opportunities… Unfortunately, all this does is create feelings of envy or dissatisfaction – and that’s no way to live.

When I find these feelings creeping in, I stop myself. I think of three things I love about my life and make me grateful for the life I’m living. And there’s so much to choose from! My partner, the absolute love of my life 😍. Having a nice place to live in the green outer suburbs. A fabulous collection of shoes that I’m rediscovering after years of lockdown slippers and runners 😁 Psychotic balls of fluff (aka two cats) that rule my home and make me laugh. The fact that I live in a country where I can attend a non-violent protest for women’s rights. The chilli plant I bought as a small seedling that now produces deliciously hot chillies 🌶🌶 A library within walking distance. Without even breaking a sweat, that’s seven things I could list in a few short minutes!

We have lots to be thankful for in our lives – we just need to take a moment to think about and value them.

Learn new things

Nerd alert! For me, there’s nothing like watching a documentary, learning a new skill, attending a webinar/seminar/class, reading an article or talking with someone with unique experiences and knowledge. It always inspires me to discover more and delve deeper into a subject.

Learning new things challenges us and fires our curiosity and imagination. And that’s not only good for our mental health and satisfaction with life in general, but it’s also excellent for our brain health. I’m currently messing around with learning to play the guitar. I’m not sure if you could call the sound I create music, but it’s a lot of fun! If there’s something you’ve been wanting to learn, don’t put it off any longer. Book that class, take that online course, speak with people in the know – you won’t be disappointed!

Enjoy the company of friends and family

Seeing our important people face-to-face is all the sweeter when we remember the restrictions we endured in 2020 and 2021. It’s hard to imagine that there were periods when we could only connect via phone or video. So cherish the time you have together.

Do things for others

I find being useful and helping others a rewarding experience.

It doesn’t matter if it’s something small, e.g. letting a car into traffic in front of me, or something big, e.g. helping an aunt move into a retirement village, then out of a retirement village, and later relocate 500 kilometres away in the space of 18 months (true story 😝). To me, if it helps make someone’s life a little easier, it’s worth it.

There are many ways you can help out or do things for others, including volunteer work, mowing your neighbour’s nature strip, being kind to your barista, cooking a meal for a sick friend. Whatever you do, you’re sure to feel warm and fuzzy inside, and make your corner of the world that much brighter.

Laugh

Having a good laugh, chuckle or giggle is the best 😂😆🤣. Everything seems so much better, you feel happier, and you can’t wait to do it again.

Laughter releases the ‘feel-good’ hormones – endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. They boost your mood and make you feel more positive. And endorphins are your body’s natural pain reliever and can reduce your feelings of pain. Yay!

So next time you feel a little down, or you’re in pain, watch funny cat/dog/panda videos (I’ve heard there are a couple on the internet 😉), talk with a friend about a silly experience you had together, watch a comedy, listen to an entertaining podcast. Do whatever makes you laugh and enjoy those happy vibes.

Get out into nature

Whether it’s the local park, a walk on the beach or bushwalking through the hills, just getting out into nature makes me feel happy 🍁🍂. We’re surrounded by so much beauty.

When you head outdoors, keep your phone in your pocket and look around. Listen to the birds in the trees, notice how the trees sway in the wind, enjoy the dogs playing in the park, and appreciate the scenery around you. Take the time to pay attention and be mindful, and you’ll immediately feel a boost in your mood.

Discover new places

This often goes hand in hand with the previous one. And it’s something that kept me sane during lockdowns. I’d look at maps of my local area and the radius in which I was allowed to travel. I’d then look for all the green spaces – and it’s amazing how many parks, reserves, playgrounds, and abandoned golf courses I could find. When I visited them, I’d discover new, interesting things – a pretty creek alongside the path, a group of goats brought in to deal with the weeds, a flock of cockies gathered in a tree throwing seedpods at the people walking below 😆. Discovering new places brings out the intrepid explorer in me and I feel like I’m seeing so much more of the world.

Stay active

Activities that exercise your body and mind in challenging, new ways are great for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. And choosing activities that you enjoy will ensure you do them regularly.

For example, I’ve recently rejoined the gym because my strength and stamina have declined due to my sedentary COVID life. So I’m combining my usual walking and hiking with strength training, yoga and Pilates to increase my fitness, take some weight off my joints and help me sleep better. It’s early days, but I’ve already noticed a difference.

Like millions of others, I’ve also been enjoying the daily mental challenge of Wordle. It stimulates the brain and provides social competitiveness as we compare our wins and losses 😃. And I’m trying to learn to do cryptic crossword puzzles, though that’s proving more difficult!

The important thing is that I’m engaging both body and mind in demanding activities. They’re pushing me out of my comfortable status quo and making me grow.

Hug your people

Physical distancing and being unable to get close to others for fear of germs is a lonely experience. And it can leave us feeling sad at the lack of closeness. So the people I can touch, I touch a lot! Not in a creepy, unwelcome way 😄 but in a caring, loving way.

Being able to touch or hug others reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and makes us feel good. And here’s a tip from me to you: don’t save your hugs for when you’re feeling down. Hug each other when you feel happy, excited, or just because it’s Thursday.

Clean and declutter

Ooh, I did a lot of this during the first few lockdowns. And I know many of you did the same. Op shops were bursting at the seams with our discarded books, clothes, jigsaws and appliances. There’s nothing like decluttering and cleaning your home and work spaces to make you feel satisfied and in control. And your new tidy rooms will hopefully have the added benefits of preventing falls as trip hazards are moved or given away. Just be careful while doing your big clean not to overdo it physically. Take your time and pace yourself.

Try new recipes and new ingredients

Full disclosure, I’m a terrible cook. But I’ve been trying a new recipe and/or ingredient at least once a week. It gets me out of my ‘Tuesday night stir-fry’ rut. It helps to have tasty recipes from our talented volunteers, Lauren and Kitty. I’m also blessed that my partner is a great cook and has introduced me to spices and condiments I’ve never used before. There have been many, many disasters in the kitchen (and a trip to the hospital for a deep cut from slicing capsicums 😫), but there have also been successes. And that’s incredibly satisfying.

Acknowledge it’s been hard

So far, the things I’ve listed have been light and happy. But we should acknowledge that there have been dark, traumatic times without fun, joy or happiness. There have been tears, arguments, and moments of intense anxiety and stress. And before this pandemic is done, we’ll likely experience more of these moments. So it’s important to remember that we’re not going through this alone. We have people who love and care for us. We also have access to professional support if we need it to get through. We just need to ask.

The COVID-19 pandemic will pass. It’ll take some more time, but we can adapt. We’ve been doing it for years, and even though we’re weary, we can continue to do it. And finding the things that make you feel happy, strong, and in control of your world will help you get through.

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

Contact Lifeline Australia

13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention.

More to explore


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21/Jul/2022

Looking for ways to put more ‘care’ into your self-care game? We’ve got 21 tips to help you!

1. There’s no perfect or right way to practise self-care

The first tip, and I can’t stress this enough, is there’s no perfect or right way to practise self-care. Sure, we can talk about the International Self-Care Foundation’s seven pillars, and we can push exercise, healthy eating and hand washing until the cows come home 🐄 🐄 🐄. But, if those things don’t resonate with you, or you have other pressing issues vying for your attention (e.g. dealing with a case of painsomnia), you’re not going to care about our messaging on those topics. Or, at least not at the moment.

2. Choose your own adventure

This leads us to tip number two. Self-care is like a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. It’s unique to you, your life, your specific set of circumstances and your choices.

3. Create your toolbox

Knowing the basic elements or tools of self-care (see the seven pillars) means you can choose what you need to help you manage at specific times. It’s like having a trusty toolbox filled to the brim with info about exercise, smoking cessation, healthy recipes, pain management strategies, guided imagery scripts and massage oil. You can pick and choose what you want or need. The key is knowing what’s available and how they can help you.

So far, we’ve been talking broadly about self-care. Now let’s look at some more specific tips our consumers and staff recommend.

4. Drink water

It lubricates and cushions your joints, aids digestion, prevents constipation, keeps your temperature normal and helps maintain your blood pressure. The amount of water you need varies from person to person and from day to day. There’s no ‘one size fits all’, but “as a general rule, men need about 10 cups of fluids every day and women need about 8 cups (add another cup a day if you are pregnant or breastfeeding)”. (1)

5. Plan your menu

You can take a lot of the stress out of your day if you sit and plan your week’s meals and snacks. Check what ingredients you have in your pantry, fridge and freezer, work out what you need to buy, and write it all down. Then all you hopefully need is one trip to the shops, and you’re sorted! No more – ‘what’s for dinner’ angst. 😐 Eatforhealth.gov.au has some info on meal planning and sample plans for men, women and children.

6. Get excited about exercise

Mix up your exercise routine with something fun and enjoyable to get you out of your exercise rut. Try Zumba, cardio, low-impact exercises, tennis, dancing, skipping, cycling, or trampolining. Head to your local fitness centre or gym, try an online class or download an app like Get Active Victoria. There’s something for everyone!

7. Just breathe

Our breathing can become shallow when we feel stressed, anxious, upset or in pain. This, in turn, can elevate blood pressure and increase the heart rate. It can also cause more tension. When you notice this happening, take some time to decompress. Relax your body. Focus on your breathing. Slowly take a deep breath in. Fill your lungs to a capacity that’s comfortable for you. Then slowly release this breath. Don’t release it in a sudden exhale, but control it, so it’s slow and smooth. Continue this deep breathing, and you’ll feel your muscles relax, and your mind calm.

8. Write it down

Write about the things that make you happy and grateful. Write about the things that went well in your day.

And write about the bad things. Not so you’ll continue to obsess about them, but so you can process your feelings and actions. This reflection allows you to devise strategies to prevent the bad thing from happening again, or ways to handle it differently in the future.

9. Fill your home with plants

Bring the outdoors in and enjoy the health benefits. Having plants in your indoor spaces can help relieve stress, improve mood, lower blood pressure and improve air quality. Just be sure to check that they’re not toxic for you, your family or your furry housemates. 🌼

10. Have a regular date night

Whether with your significant other or a bestie, having a regular date night scheduled gives you something to look forward to. It also means there’s less chance that other commitments get in the way of you spending dedicated time with that person, which is essential for nurturing your relationship. 🧡💚💛

11. Say no

We all want to please others, so saying no can be challenging. But you need to weigh up everything you have going on and decide whether you can take on something else. If you can’t, then say no. And don’t feel you have to apologise for doing so.

12. Discover new places

Embrace your inner adventurer and explore new places. Far or near – it doesn’t matter. The point is to get out in the world and experience new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Immerse yourself in new experiences.

13. Listen to music

Music is a powerful force we often don’t think about – or at least not too deeply. It’s always there, often in the background. But music can improve your mood, help you focus, get motivated and even ease your pain. Find out more about the power of music.

14. Pat your pets

Spending time with your pets is a wonderful tonic. It can decrease blood pressure, reduce feelings of loneliness, reduce stress, improve your mood and increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities. And they’re so much fun! 🐶😺

15. Get tidy and organised

Nothing can make you frazzled faster than not being able to find that ‘thing’ you’re looking for. So taking time to put things away in their place after you’ve used them, or reorganising your cupboard/pantry/child’s room, so that things are orderly and easy to find can bring a lot of calm to your life. The level of order you want to achieve is up to you. Although there are MANY social posts about the perfectly organised home, don’t fall down that rabbit hole. All you need to achieve is a space that makes you feel good and suits your lifestyle.

16. Eat mindfully

How often have you eaten dinner but can’t remember what it tasted like because you were watching TV? Or wondered how on earth you ate a whole packet of potato chips while scrolling through Insta? If this sounds familiar, try some mindfulness. You may have tried mindfulness meditation, but you can also be mindful when you do other activities, like eating. It simply means that you focus on the moment and the activity without being distracted. So when you’re eating, really take time to focus on the textures, smells and flavours and how the food makes you feel.

17. Get your meds sorted

Medicines are an important part of our self-care, but it’s easy to miss doses, get them mixed up with others meds or take them at the wrong time. So have a chat with your pharmacist. Ask questions about your medicines and supplements, so you’re fully informed about each one.

Many pharmacies have apps you can download that alert you when you need a new script, or you can download the MedicineWise app from NPS. If you take lots of medicines, or you find it hard to keep track of whether you’ve taken them or not, consider using a pill dispenser. You can buy one and fill it yourself, or your pharmacist can do this for you.

18. Listen to your body

Living with a chronic condition means that you need to be self-aware of how you’re feeling. If you’re exhausted, rest. If your back’s stiff, move. If you’re feeling sluggish, get some fresh air. If you’re feeling full, stop eating. Whatever your body is telling you, listen and take action.

19. Treat yourself

Many self-care posts we see on socials are very much of the ‘treat yo’ self’ variety. Going to a day spa, enjoying decadent foods, doing some online shopping, getting a pedicure, binging a favourite TV series, or travelling to exotic places. And why not? Why not indulge in pleasurable things that make you happy every now and again? As long as you’re not overindulging, overspending or overeating. Find the right balance and treat yourself. 😍

20. Stand up

We spend so much of our time sitting. In the car, on the couch, at the office, in waiting rooms. But we know that too much sitting can be bad for our health. It increases the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. It also makes us feel tired, and our muscles and joints become stiff and sore from inactivity. So stand up and move regularly. Set alerts on your phone to remind you. Or download the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute Rise & Recharge app, which helps reduce sitting time and encourages regular movement.

21. Play

We loved to play when we were kids. Chasing each other, making up games, not overthinking things and just having fun. But as adults, we become too busy for play. Or we feel silly or self-conscious about how we might appear when we play. But playing is fun! It helps us forget about our work and commitments. It lets us be in the moment and let our inhibitions go. Play relieves stress and allows us to be creative and imaginative. So rediscover playing – with your kids, pets, partner, and friends. Let your inner child loose, play and have fun! Rediscover chasey (the dogs love that one), play hide and seek, build a blanket fort in your lounge, throw a Frisbee, play charades, the floor is lava, or a video game tournament. There are no rules – just have fun!

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

Reference

(1) Drinking water and your health, Healthdirect


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10/Feb/2022

It’s hard to believe that we’ll soon be into our 3rd year of this pandemic 😷. We’ve made sourdough bread, gotten ‘used’ to masks, embraced jigsaws and telehealth, changed the way we work, go to school and socialise. We’ve missed out on many important events – big and small – as our world changed so dramatically.

It’s been really hard, and it’s taken a toll on our physical, mental and emotional health.

One aspect of ourselves that has suffered is our resilience. Resilience is our ability to cope and adapt to changes and challenges that the world throws at us. As this pandemic continues, we’re constantly tired, anxious, and stressed, with no end in sight. And this is really testing our resilience. Add to this a chronic, painful musculoskeletal condition, and everything seems amplified 😫.

For example, this morning, I was driving to the chemist to buy more masks. Someone cut me off in traffic. In the past, I would’ve muttered to myself and continued on my way. But today, I flashed my lights, tooted my horn and yelled. I yelled! Madness 😣. And at that moment, I realised that the only person negatively impacted by the situation was me. The other driver was long gone, but I could feel my heart pumping and the adrenaline coursing through my veins. It’s clear that my resilience is at an all-time low at the moment. I’ve known this for some time but haven’t done anything about it. But it’s now time.

So if you’re like me and know that your resilience isn’t what it used to be, and that you’re not handling stress and challenges as well as you once did, what can you do about it? How can you rebuild your resilience in a world that’s still so topsy-turvy, and you have no idea what’s around the corner?

Accept that you’ll have to face change, stress and challenges. Our lives are messy. And nothing is ever smooth sailing. However, by accepting that change is always happening – both good and bad – you can mentally prepare yourself for it. You can learn from how you’ve reacted in the past and how situations have affected you. You can use this information to prepare for future events and challenges. But the first step is to accept that things will happen. Change is constant. You can choose to deal with it in a positive, proactive way, or you can choose to let it negatively affect you. Acceptance isn’t always easy and will take time and reflection, but it is possible. And if you need help, it’s available. Read our article on support for mental and emotional wellbeing for more info about the types of professionals who can help you.

Make time for your people and your relationships. It’s tempting when you’re feeling low, in pain or like you just can’t take any more drama, to disconnect from others. However, when you’re on your own, it’s easy for your mind to get stuck on a merry-go-round of negative thoughts. They go round and round as you think about different ways you could have handled past events or as you worry about the unknown future. Staying in touch with the people who care for you can distract you from this rumination and help you focus on what’s actually happening in the world around you. They can also be a supportive ear and listen as you explain what’s affecting you and how you’re dealing (or not) with these things. They can also be a valuable source of advice if you choose to ask for it.

Write it down. Putting pen to paper and writing down the things that are causing you stress, or to feel anxious or powerless, is a useful strategy to help you see the nuances of the problem. Take the time to think about all sides of the issue and how it affects you. You can then process it more clearly, allowing you to do some critical thinking and problem-solving. Read this article, ‘5 ways journaling can build your resilience’ for more info about journaling.

Keep up your self-care. Again, it’s easy to let things slide when we’re not feeling on top of things. You may stop exercising, go to bed later or sleep in more often, eat comfort foods that give you a quick rush but don’t give you the nutrition you need, or rely on alcohol and other drugs to pick you up. But these behaviours will negatively affect your physical and mental health if you don’t get on top of them. So it’s important that you make a conscious commitment to continue your self-care, especially because your resilience is low. Because self-care practices such as sticking to a daily routine, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting good quality sleep and getting out into nature, will make you feel healthier and more able to cope with life’s challenges. They’ll also help you deal with pain and other symptoms of your musculoskeletal condition.

Focus on what you can control, no matter how small. You can’t control what’s happening with the pandemic, apart from following the health advice you receive from the government and your healthcare team. This lack of control can sometimes make you feel powerless. But you can control things closer to you, like how often you access social media or how much ‘doomscrolling’ you’re doing. You can choose to give your mental health a break from negative news and socials. You’re giving yourself power – over your actions and the effect they have on you – which will help build your resilience.

Think about how you can positively deal with challenges you’re currently dealing with. For example, if you’re working from home and feel isolated from your colleagues and the world in general, how can you manage this? Or, if you’re feeling financial stress because you’re not getting as much work as you once did, what options are available to help you? By problem-solving and coming up with a range of potential solutions, you can start to feel more in control. And if it all seems to overwhelming, you can always break big challenges down into smaller actions. If we look at the financial stress example, the first step might be to read our information on financial support. The next step might be to list who you need to contact to get help – e.g. your bank, utility companies etc. The third step might be to contact them, and so on. The point is, by breaking it down, and moving through a series of steps, you’re dealing with whatever issue or obstacle is causing you stress. You’re taking control of the situation.

Think of the things that make you happy or grateful. Every day, before getting out of bed or before you go to sleep, think of three things that make you feel happy or grateful. It can be anything you like – the sound of your child laughing, the sight of dogs playing in the park, the scent of freshly mown lawn, the warmth of your partner’s hand as you go for an evening stroll etc. Taking time to think of these things will make you feel more optimistic because there’s so much good around us. We just have to take the time to be aware of it.

Learn from the past. What things have helped you through a hard time in the past? Can you use that strategy/behaviour/resource now? It’s important to remember that you’ve gotten through tough times before, and you will again. It can just be a little hard to see that when you’re still going through it. But as they say, this too shall pass.

Get help. Sometimes you can try really hard, but you just can’t seem to get on top of things by yourself. That’s ok. We’re living through very difficult times, and we all need help from time to time. Talk to trusted family or friends about how you’re feeling. They can help you work through many of the above strategies if you’re struggling. Or it may be time to speak with a mental health professional to get some support that’s specifically tailored to you and your own specific circumstances.

We’ve all been rocked by these extraordinary times, and many of us are finding it difficult to find our footing again. We feel out of control and powerless by so much of what’s going on around us. However, by building our resilience, we’re more able to cope with these challenges and feelings and bounce back more quickly. It takes time and commitment to build your resilience, but it can be done. One step at a time.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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26/Aug/2021

This is the second in our series exploring the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

Mental and emotional support professionals

Being diagnosed with a musculoskeletal condition can be overwhelming. You may feel a range of emotions such as fear, anxiety, stress, loss, worry and anger.

And living with a condition that causes ongoing pain and fatigue, and has the potential to change the way your body moves and functions can cause you to feel an array of emotions too.

If you feel these ups and downs, you’re not alone. Many people living with musculoskeletal conditions find that their emotional and mental health is affected from time to time. In fact, anxiety and depression are more common in people with musculoskeletal conditions than in the general population.

It’s important to recognise signs of these conditions and seek help as early as possible. Together with your healthcare team, you can develop a treatment plan that fits your needs physically, emotionally and mentally.

Your support team

Depending on your needs and whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, or you’re seeking support to help manage your emotions, you may see one (or more) of the following professionals:

Your general practitioner (GP) – is usually the first person you see when you have a health issue. As well as helping you manage your musculoskeletal condition, they coordinate your care and help you access other health professionals and services. If you require specific support for your mental health, they’ll work with you to create a mental health treatment plan. This plan entitles you to Medicare rebates for certain mental health professionals and care via the Better Access initiative.

A psychologist – can help you work through your feelings, particularly if you’re feeling anxious, stressed or depressed. They can also help you set goals and work through any problems that may be preventing you from achieving your goals.

A psychiatrist – is a medical doctor who’s undergone further study to specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They tend to treat severe and complex illnesses. They’re able to prescribe medication, such as anti-depressants, if appropriate.

A mental health nurse – is a registered nurse who’s undertaken additional training to care for people with mental health issues. They work in the community and hospital settings to support people in managing their mental health and treatment.

A mental health occupational therapist (OT) – OTs help people learn better ways to do everyday occupations (or activities). Those working in mental health help people lessen the impact their condition has on their quality of life and their ability to do their everyday activities.

An accredited mental health social worker – specialises in assessing, treating, and preventing mental health conditions. They help people manage their condition and its impact on their family, friends, work, and education.

A counsellor – is someone you can talk through your problems with. They can help you find clarity and solutions. A trained counsellor has usually spent three or more years studying counselling; however, there’s no requirement in Australia that counsellors have any qualifications or experience.

Wow, that’s a lot of support! How do you choose who to see?

Several factors will influence your decision:

Your mental health issues/condition. It can be challenging to know what to do or where to go when you’re struggling with mental health issues. This is where your GP comes in. They’re trained to help people with their mental health issues. By talking with you about your situation, they’ll be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist to get the care you need. They can also assess whether you’re eligible for a mental health treatment plan.

Your history. Have you seen a mental health professional before? Do you have a good relationship with them? Have you experienced good outcomes from your sessions with them? If so, you may decide to go back to them. If not, discuss your options with your GP.

Cost. If you’re able to access subsidised treatment via the Better Access initiative, you’ll be able to see a mental health professional at a reduced cost. However, health professionals set their own fees, so be sure to ask about out-of-pocket costs when you’re booking your appointment. If these costs are an issue for you, even with Medicare rebates, talk with your GP.

Access. If you live in a rural or remote area, you may not be able to see a mental health professional in person. In this case, you may be able to access them via telehealth. Telehealth enables you to consult with your health professional over the phone or through a videoconferencing app (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp) on your smartphone, tablet or computer. You can choose phone or video consultations, depending on the technology you have available, and how comfortable you are using it.

Treatments

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when treating mental and emotional health issues. Treatment will be tailored to your unique situation and the goals you have. But treatment will commonly include:

Lifestyle factors – regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting enough good quality sleep, managing your stress and limiting your use of alcohol and drugs are practical things you can do to improve your physical, emotional and mental health.

Psychological therapies – also called psychotherapy or talk therapies – explore the feelings, thoughts and behaviours that are distressing you, and work towards changing them. It can be used by people with mental health conditions and people who want to understand themselves better.* There are many different forms of psychological therapies, including:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – this helps people learn to identify and change negative or unhelpful thoughts that have a harmful effect on behaviour and emotions, and replace them with more objective, realistic thoughts. People learn practical coping strategies such as goal setting and problem-solving that they can use in the current situation and in the future.
  • mindfulness-based cognitive therapy — combines cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness strategies.
  • acceptance and commitment therapy – focuses on acceptance to deal with negative thoughts, feelings, symptoms, or circumstances. It also encourages a commitment to positive, healthy attitudes.

Medication. For some conditions, such as moderate to severe depression, you may be prescribed anti-depressant medication. This will work alongside treatments such as lifestyle changes and psychological therapies. Find out more about anti-depressant medications.

Other support is available

  • Your family and/or close friends can be a great source of support and understanding.
  • Peer support groups, or people in similar situations, can also be a valuable resource. Talking with someone who really understands what you’re going through and has lived experience and practical info is priceless. Groups meet in person and online. For specific mental health groups, check out this list by the Black Dog Institute. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/support-groups/
  • Mental health organisations provide a considerable amount of information and support to help you manage your mental and emotional health. See the list below for details of these groups.
  • Online therapy. There’s also a lot of information online that you can access whenever and wherever you want. Healthdirect has some information to help you find out more about eTherapy, including links to useful sites.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

Mental health organisations and resources

Reference

* Psychotherapy, healthdirect, September 2019.


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05/Aug/2021

Humans have evolved to be an incredibly social species. That’s why our connections are so important to us – with family, friends, work colleagues, teammates, walking buddies, fellow book clubbers and staff at the local coffee shop. They all play a role in shaping who we are and how we get on in the world.

So when we can’t see these people in person due to lockdowns, restrictions, quarantine and the general chaos of COVID, it’s really hard on us.

The last 16 months have been so wearing – both physically and emotionally. We’re living with heightened feelings of anxiety and stress – what will the case numbers be today, when will I be able to visit loved ones, how long will we be homeschooling, when will life go back to ‘normal’??

Unfortunately, there aren’t any simple answers for any of these questions – especially the last one.

But there’s a simple thing you can do to combat the loneliness, lethargy, emotional fatigue and general feeling of ‘meh’ that COVID is causing us to feel. And that’s staying in touch with your peeps and extended community.

How to stay connected when you have to stay apart

First, we should never forget that restrictions and social distancing measures are all about physical distance. We need to remain separate from others so that the virus can’t spread. But that doesn’t mean we have to be socially separated or isolated.

Even before the pandemic, we used technology to remain connected. COVID has just put that on the fast track, and we’ve become familiar with video chats, long phone calls, and messaging.

So what else can you do to ensure you remain connected with the people and places important to you?

Check in. And no, there’s no QR code involved in this one ?! Take time daily to check in with yourself. How are you doing? If you’re feeling anxious or lonely, or overwhelmed, reach out to others for support. If you’re feeling fatigued or in pain, what can you do to deal with this? Taking a few moments to check in with yourself each day helps you deal with any issues before they become significant problems.

Take time to connect with those in your own home – your partner, kids, parents, siblings, housemates, pets, plants??. How’s everyone doing? Share your experiences and feelings about the day. And if you want to go beyond the small talk, try these ‘36 questions for increasing closeness’ from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley (USA).

Phone a friend. Make a regular time to call/video chat with those important to you. And make that day/time sacred – nothing (other than an emergency) should get in the way of this contact.

Get everyone involved. Call your nearest and dearest for a group chat and…watch movies, listen to music, make dinner, enjoy happy hour, fold the washing, discuss a book, play online games. You can still do things together even if you can’t be together.

Get out and walk. Exercise is essential for our physical and mental health, so get out and breathe in the fresh air. Take the family for a stroll, or meet up with a friend in the park. If you can’t walk with your usual crew, link your fitness apps and compare how many steps you’ve done for a little friendly competition ?. Go on a scavenger hunt. Or send pics to your network of the things you see on your walk. Walking isn’t just a good form of exercise – it can become an adventure, or a mindfulness exercise, or a chance to see other people in the flesh (and safely distanced).

Connect with your neighbours. Have a chat over the fence as you do your gardening or peg out the laundry. Or sit in your separate yards/driveways/balconies and just natter the afternoon away. Take note of any neighbours who live on their own and reach out to them. See if they need any assistance, groceries, someone to take the bins out, or most important of all, simple human interaction. It’s what we all need to get through this.

Immerse yourself. There are lots of online support/hobby/social/exercise groups that you can access from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can learn new things and meet new people without stepping out your door. And the beauty of online groups is they don’t even have to be in the same city, country or continent! Befriend Inc has created a handy guide to help you find and attend social groups online.

Send a care package. To someone you care about, or someone you know is having a difficult time. Send books, jigsaws, flowers, yummy food, a handwritten note. Anything that lets them know you’re thinking of them. It’ll be a lovely surprise and a boost for them, and for yourself. “As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way” – Mary Anne Radmacher.

Give thanks. Even though we’re tired, frustrated, anxious and sick of the stupid virus, there are still things to be thankful for. Taking time to reflect on these things helps us feel more positive and more fulfilled. Find out how you can become more grateful in your everyday life.

Volunteer your time and skills – from home. Volunteer work can be rewarding for yourself and your community. And there’s a lot of volunteer work that can be done online or remotely. So think about the types of things you’re passionate about, your skills, the amount of time you can give, and look around your local community to find the best match. Or visit GoVolunteer and search the database for volunteering opportunities.

Learn something new. There are so many organisations providing online learning courses, and many of them are free or low-cost. Just search online using your favourite search engine, and explore what’s available. Also, check out Laneway Learning, MOOCs (massive open online courses), TAFEs, colleges and community houses. You’ll come out of this pandemic with so much knowledge you’ll wow everyone at your next trivia night ?. And you’ll meet a bunch of like-minded people. Win-win!

Worship. Attending churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship with our family and friends isn’t an option for many people at the moment. The good news is that a lot of them are now online. Contact your place of worship or search online to see what events are being streamed and when. Gather with your extended family and friends virtually after worship to celebrate together.

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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24/Jun/2021

Why practising gratitude is good for you

At the start of 2020, I found a jar, a notepad and pen and started a gratitude jar. I’d read about them somewhere and decided to give it a go. Every day I’d write about something – big or small – that I was grateful for. Some days I wrote more than one thing. Then as 2020 rolled along, I wrote less and less. My last entry was just before we came out of hard lockdown in late October. The jar was pushed to the back of the cupboard and I forgot about it.

Until today. I’ve just re-read my notes, and they made me smile. They included things like:

  • Yay! Played with Helen’s tiny new kittens! Kittens!!!🐈🐈🐈
  • Had a wonderful lazy, sunny, Sunday arvo reading by the river with Duncan.
  • The bus driver waited for me!
  • The hairdresser is open again. Thank the lords – I look like Cousin It!

There were lots of others, and as I read them, I was caught up in the moments. And I wondered why I’d let this practice go?

Stupid pandemic, that’s why. The impact it had on my physical and mental health, the lockdowns, the on-again off-again masks, concern for loved ones, too many quarintinis – it all took over my life. Well, to be honest, I let it. I focused on the negatives, so the positives were harder to find.

I know I’m not alone in this. Many of us often focus on the negative, especially when we’re in pain, frightened, worried about the future, or just because it’s Thursday (I never could get the hang of Thursdays).

But if we open ourselves up to the positives in life and become more grateful, we’ll feel happier, more fulfilled, and we may even improve our physical health.

9 ways to become more grateful

There are lots of ways you can become more grateful. We’ve selected a few to help you get started. Then it’s a case of – practise, practise, practise. Because as with any new skill or routine, practise makes perfect.

1. Write it down

Gratitude journaling is one of the most common ways you can practise being grateful. It helps you actively focus on the positive things in your life. All you need to do is choose a method that works for you. For example, write about what you’re grateful for on a piece of paper and pop it in a jar each day, write in your diary, post about it on your socials, or use an app. The physical act of writing it down makes you think about what it is you’re grateful for, reflect on how it made you feel and experience that feeling again.

2. Pay attention and be thankful for the people around you

The pandemic has opened our eyes to how meaningful our connections are. It’s been a wake-up call to savour the moments we have with the people that make up our world, especially those closest to us. So take time to really listen to them. Stop flicking through your phone, turn away from the TV, look up from the pile of laundry you’re folding and listen to your partner/kids/parents/friends. And be thankful that they’re in your life.

3. Be mindful of the things around you

We often rush about with our heads down, not taking note of our surroundings. But there’s so much beauty and wonder for us to enjoy and be grateful for. So next time you head outdoors, keep your phone in your pocket and look around you. Listen to the birds in the trees, notice how the trees sway in the wind, enjoy the dogs playing in the park, be in awe of the mountains or the sea. Take the time to pay attention, and you’ll feel the boost to your mood and a skip in your step in no time.

4. When you wake up or before you go to sleep…

Think of something or someone that you’re grateful for. Or focus on something that happened during the day that made you smile or lifted your spirits.

5. Thank someone…

In person, with a letter, call or DM them. Let them know about something they did that made you happy or really helped you out. Or just to thank them for being in your life. You’ll both feel happier for it 😊. It’s nice to know you’re appreciated and loved.

6. Surround yourself with gratitude cues

You’re probably doing this instinctively anyway. These are the photos, affirmations, quotes and jokes that make you happy, inspire you, remind you of beautiful people and times, and fill you with joy. No surface should be safe from gratitude cues – fridges, bookcases, walls, mirrors, windows, desktops, phones – they’re all fair game. So fill them up! And change them around – remove old ones, add new ones. That way you’ll have a constant array of things that make you grateful, and they won’t start blending into the background.

7. Meditate

It’s a great way to relax and gain some balance in a topsy-turvy world. But it’s also some ‘you time’, when you can take a few moments to shut out the world, breathe deeply and evenly, and focus your mind on positive thoughts.

8. On the job

We all have times when we feel a bit blah and uninspired about work. If that sounds familiar, try this: at the start of each workday, think of one thing about your job that you’re grateful for. It might be the quiz you do at lunchtime with your workmates, or the opportunity to learn new skills and stretch yourself, or the friendships you’ve developed with interesting people. Big or small – think of one thing each day that makes you feel grateful about your job.

9. Wander down memory lane

Check out your memories on socials, crack open your old photo albums or just allow your mind to drift back to past, happy times. There’s a lot of joy in our lives that we forget about when we only think of our current state or upcoming events. Or when we only focus on our anxieties or negative things. We’ve lived through some amazing times and met lots of lovely people. That’s something we can all be grateful for, and our memories and photos can help us relive them. And if you see the faces of those no longer with us, you may feel sad, but you can also feel grateful that you met that wonderful person and had them in your life. And that’s a blessing.

Before you get started

It’s important that you don’t get on the gratitude bandwagon to the detriment of your other feelings. Being grateful doesn’t mean that you can’t experience worry, sadness, anxiety or anger. You can be grateful and still experience a range of other emotions. These feelings are valid too, and we need to feel them. As with most things, it’s all about getting the balance right.

Try not to compare yourselves with others. It’s never a healthy thing to do. We all have our set of unique challenges and opportunities, so comparisons just don’t work.

You can be grateful for what you have, even if there are others in the world who you perceive to ‘have it worse’ than you do. If you feel that way, think about what you can do to enrich the lives of others. Do volunteer work, donate to charity, become a mentor; you can give back to the community in so many ways.

Or if you perceive that others ‘have it easier’ than you do, feel grateful for what you do have and the people and things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Focusing on the negative won’t bring you happiness, and won’t magically bestow on you the perceived riches that someone else has, so dump the comparisons and focus on your life.

And finally

We asked some of our consumers and staff what they’re grateful for. Here are some of the responses we received.

I’m grateful:

  • that I live near some beautiful running and walking tracks
  • that I can enjoy the outdoors, the scenery and the sunsets
  • for having the basics – a roof over my head, good food and warm bed on a cold night
  • for strawberry Freddo frogs…and pizza night 🍕
  • that my workplace supports me to work flexibly and put my condition first
  • for my sister sending me lots of pictures and videos of my niece and nephew who live overseas
  • for my partner, without whom I don’t know where I’d be
  • for my son, who is hard work but makes me laugh every day
  • that I can still do the job I love despite restrictions due to arthritis and age
  • that my desk overlooks a tree that’s covered in rainbow lorikeets most afternoons
  • that I have two fluffy indoor cats who deign to let me pat them from time to time.

What are you grateful for?

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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