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22/Apr/2021

13 strategies to get you through

Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition sucks. It may only suck occasionally, or it may suck a lot of the time. But there’s no denying that living with pain, fatigue and uncertainty isn’t a fun day at the beach.

In our 2020 national survey, we asked people how their condition affected all aspects of their life. One thing that stood out dramatically was that of the more than 3,400 who took part, 52% said their condition affected their ability to enjoy life in general.

That’s enjoying life in general – not enjoying big life events or travel – but life in general. And that’s disturbing and very, very sad.

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes for improving quality of life, or the enjoyment you get out of your day-to-day reality. Living with a musculoskeletal condition means that life isn’t always predictable. You can be going through a period of stability then suddenly – bam – you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck. Or your emotions or mental health suddenly take a downward turn. Living with a chronic condition, or multiple conditions, is a tricky, complicated balancing act.

But there are some things you can do, if you feel you need something to help you get on top of the ‘blahs’ and hopefully start to feel more happy, optimistic and fulfilled. They’re the tried and true ones I use when life starts to feel a bit grey.

  1. Get on top of your condition and pain management (as much as possible)
    If your condition is affecting your ability to enjoy life in general, is it because it’s not well managed or you’re in constant pain? If so, it’s time to talk with your healthcare team about how you can get on top of this. Complete pain relief may not be an option for all people, but getting your pain to a level that you can cope with, and so it’s not severely impacting your ability to enjoy life is doable. It may take some time and effort, but it can be done. Talk with your doctor and healthcare team to develop a plan to get your condition and symptoms under control. And read our A-Z guide to managing pain for more info.
  2. Get some sleep
    One of the biggest factors that affects our mood and mental health is lack of sleep. It’s much more difficult to cope with every day stresses, family life, work/study, as well as managing your health, if you’re exhausted. After dealing with poor quality sleep for some months, I recently took time off work to try and get myself into a better sleep routine. I exercised, went to bed at a reasonable time, ensured I got up at the same time every day, and limited caffeine, alcohol and screen time for several hours before I went to bed. My sleep quality – while still not perfect – is much better. Taking time away from your responsibilities may not be an option for everyone, but there are other strategies you can try to improve your sleep quality. Find out more.
  3. Make time for you
    Ever had those days/weeks when you feel like your life is consumed by everyone else’s problems and issues, and yours keep getting pushed further and further back? If that’s the case – it’s time to take some time back for you. However much time you can carve out of your day, just do it. You deserve and need it. Take the time to rest/meditate/read/go for a walk/just breathe. You’ll feel much better for it and be more equipped to help others afterwards.
    “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown
  4. Connect with your peeps
    It’s an easy trap to fall into. When you feel crappy, and everything seems too hard, staying at home in your safe and cosy cocoon feels like all you can bear to do. You don’t want to share your miserable mood, or let others see how you’re really feeling. But this can become a vicious cycle, and before you know it, you lose touch with family and friends, or miss out on fun times, and important events. If you don’t feel up to going out, call your people. Chat, catch up with each other over the phone or video. Share how you’re feeling (it’s up to you how much detail you go into), and just enjoy the connection. When you’re able to, even if it’s an effort, try to get out and see your peeps. They care about you, and you’ll feel happier for making the effort.
    “It’s not what we have in our life, but who we have in our life that counts.” – J.M. Laurence 
  5. Schedule time to relax
    It may seem crazy, but in this busy world we live in, if you don’t schedule time for relaxation, it often doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about the near comatose slouching on the couch at the end of the day, type of relaxing. But the things that actually refresh body, mind and spirit, and ease your stress and muscle tension. This includes meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, massage, a warm shower or bath, going for a walk or listening to music. So think about the things that relax and refresh you, and make time to do those things each week.
  6. Focus on self-care
    Take time to evaluate your self-care plan. Is it covering all aspects of your life, health and wellbeing? Not only your physical health, but mental and emotional health as well? Or do you need to create a self-care plan? For help to get you started, read our recent 7 pillars of self-care article. It has lots of info to help you understand self-care, as well as resources to help you create a self-care plan.
  7. Enjoy the small things
    One of the silver linings of the COVID lockdowns for me was that we were forced to live smaller, and as a result really take note and appreciate the little things in our lives. When we could only walk in our local area, I noticed amazing gardens and parks that I hadn’t known existed. It gave me the chance to enjoy the quiet as we worked on a jigsaw or crossword puzzle together. I read, I learned some yoga, I rode my bike. I talked with my young niece and nephew over the phone, and listened as they excitedly told me about their daily adventures. I enjoyed the breeze on my face when I went for a walk, the glow of the full moon, the smell in the air after a rainstorm. Taking a moment to enjoy, and be thankful for these little things, lifted my mood and made me smile. It’s simple, but so powerful. And perfectly segues into my next tip…
  8. Be grateful
    Sometimes we get so bogged down in what’s going on in our life – our problems and issues, family dramas, and the million things that need to be done at home and work – that we can’t see all the good things in our lives. The Resilience Project has a range of activities and resources exploring how we can feel grateful by “paying attention to the things that we have right now, and not worrying about what we don’t have”. Visit their website to find out more about being grateful in your everyday life.
  9. Write a wish list of the places you want to go
    I love to explore. Whether it’s overseas, interstate or my local area. And I subscribe to countless newsletters and alerts that provide info about interesting walks, galleries and exhibitions, cafes and restaurants, and upcoming markets and festivals. I add these to a burgeoning list on my phone, complete with links. This gives me a never-ending list of adventures. And nothing pulls me out of the doldrums like an adventure! Depending on what I’m doing, I do need to take into account my condition, how I feel that day etc. But a little planning, sharing the driving with others, and just being leisurely and not rushing, means that I get to enjoy some amazing things. Just seeing a list of opportunities is exciting, so I’d recommend giving it a go.
    “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” ― Dr. Seuss
  10. Be mindful
    How many times have you eaten dinner, but can’t really remember what it tasted like because you were watching TV? Or gone for a walk but can’t remember much of what you saw, felt or experienced? If this sounds familiar, try some mindfulness. You may have heard of mindfulness meditation, but you can also be mindful when you do other activities, like eating or walking. It simply means that you focus your attention 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. Or when you’re walking, how does the ground feel under your feet, the sun on your face, the wind in your hair? Do you hear birds in the trees, are there dogs running in the park? Be aware and enjoy it all.
  11. Try something new
    From time to time we can get stuck in the rut of everyday life/work/study/home activities. And while having a daily routine is an important strategy for living with a chronic condition, sometimes we just need a little something extra, something new and exciting to get us out of the doldrums. What have you always wanted to do? What’s on your bucket list? Learning a language? Visiting a special place? Writing a book? There are lots of low and no cost online courses that can teach a range of skills from juggling, cooking, origami, geology, playing the guitar, speaking Klingon. And while we can’t travel to a lot of places – especially overseas at the moment – you can still travel virtually and whet your appetite for when the borders reopen. The point is, adding something new and interesting to your everyday life makes you feel more fulfilled and optimistic. Just head to your favourite search engine, and start searching!
    “Don’t be afraid to try new things. They aren’t all going to work, but when you find the one that does, you’re going to be so proud of yourself for trying.” – Anonymous
  12. Exercise
    I can’t get through an article without talking about exercise 😊. It’s just so important, and can improve not only your physical health, but your mental and emotional wellbeing. I find it’s the perfect thing to do whenever I’m feeling at my lowest. It can be hard to get up and go, but even if it’s a short walk outside, or 10 minutes of stretching exercises, or some yoga – just making the effort and getting the blood moving, immediately lifts my mood, and distracts from my symptoms. That’s because when you exercise your body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into your bloodstream. They’re sometimes called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they boost your mood and make you feel good. They also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system. So grab your walking shoes, or exercise mat, and let the endorphins flow!
  13. Seek help
    If you feel like your condition is significantly affecting your ability to enjoy life, and these basic strategies aren’t enough to change that, talk with your doctor. Be honest and open, and explain how you’re feeling. You may need to talk with a counsellor or psychologist so that you can explore some strategies, tailored specifically to you, to help you get through this rough patch.
    “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help during this stressful time, there’s help available. Contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention. https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/contact-us

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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22/Apr/2021

I know, I know…we talk about self-care A LOT. But understanding and practising self-care is such an important tool for living your best life and getting the best health outcomes when you have a chronic condition. That’s why we talk about it so much.

Based on the findings of our 2020 national consumer survey, we know people with musculoskeletal conditions are practising self-care by exercising, eating healthfully, appropriately using medications, working with their healthcare team, using mind-body techniques and seeking peer support.

But they also told us they needed support to do this.

So what is self-care?

Self-care is vital and covers all aspects of our health and wellbeing. Things like exercise, visiting your specialist, taking your medication, mindfulness, learning about your condition/s, talking with a friend and even relaxing in a bubble bath; are all part of self-care

To understand the breadth of self-care, and how you can incorporate it into your life in a meaningful way, the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) has developed a framework for self-care around seven ‘pillars’ or ‘domains’.

Let’s explore each of these.

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 condition you have – gives you the ability to make informed decisions and play an active role in the management of your healthcare.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care defines health literacy as the way 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”.

Together, health literacy and knowledge give us the tools we need to be empowered when it comes to our healthcare. By understanding our body and our health, we can discuss our options with our health professionals, we can critically evaluate information from a range of sources, make adjustments to our 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 lots of 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 don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s how we all learn.

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 the knowledge you have about your condition and health in general, and applying it to your specific circumstances. For example, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you know exercise can help with that, 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, as well as issues with your self-esteem, 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, bone 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
Taking responsibility for our actions and doing all we can to reduce or avoid actions and behaviours that increase our risk of injury or death, is good for our health.

This includes things such as driving carefully and wearing a seatbelt, drinking alcohol in moderation, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, getting your vaccinations, protecting yourself from the sun, quitting smoking and practising safe sex.

It also includes seeing your doctor and healthcare team regularly so that you can stay on top of any changes to your musculoskeletal condition/s.

Pillar 6. Good hygiene
Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition/s are more susceptible to bugs, germs and other nasties in the environment than other people. Their immune system is weakened due to their health condition and/or the medications they’re required to take. Practising good hygiene is a simple thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting sick or developing infections.

Good hygiene includes things such as regular and thorough hand washing, coughing/sneezing into your elbow, appropriate and safe preparation and storage of food, cleaning your teeth regularly, staying home when sick, and having a clean home/work environment.

They all help us maintain good health and avoid spreading disease.

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

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

These tools include medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), complementary therapies, monitoring equipment (e.g. blood pressure and blood glucose machines), aids and equipment (e.g. TENS machine, heat or cold pack, walking stick), wellness services (e.g. exercise classes, weight loss groups), and health services (e.g. smoking cessation programmes, physiotherapy, massage therapy).

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

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So that’s it – the seven pillars of self-care. They provide a convenient, easy-to-understand description of self-care practises we can use to manage our health and musculoskeletal conditions.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” – Unknown

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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01/Apr/2021

Living with one chronic condition can be tough; however many people live with more than one chronic condition – and that can be really challenging.

In our report: Making the invisible visible, we revealed that:

  • 57% of the people who responded to our survey had 2 or more musculoskeletal conditions, and
  • 80% had other health conditions such as high blood pressure, mental health conditions, gastrointestinal conditions, respiratory conditions and diabetes.

So what does it mean to live with more than one chronic health condition?

It means that most of the time you have many balls in the air, and you quickly become an expert at juggling.

Your time, energy, and focus are on so many different things – how you’re feeling that day, your healthcare appointments, medications, exercise programs, diet, managing your mental health and emotions, dealing with work/study, managing family and social commitments, getting enough sleep, practising self-care. The list goes on and on.

This can be challenging – and exhausting. But there are some simple things you can do to prevent dropping any balls so you can get on with living your best life.

Juggling 101

Know your conditions. It’s important to be as knowledgeable as you can about all of your conditions. What causes them to flare? What things keep them in check or under control? What things can you do to manage them to the best of your ability? To find out more:

    • Talk with your doctor if there’s something you don’t understand about your conditions or health in general.
    • Call the MSK Help Line – 1800 263 265 or email helpine@msk.org.au – and speak with our nurses about your musculoskeletal condition/s.
    • Search the Australian Government Healthdirect website for information and links to websites for information on other health conditions.

Understand how your conditions may impact each other. Often the symptoms of, or treatments for, one condition can aggravate another. For example, if you’re not sleeping well because of back pain, your anxiety may become worse, as you feel tired and less able to cope with day-to-day stresses. Or the medication you take for one condition may affect your ability to focus or concentrate, which may add to the brain fog you already experience due to fibromyalgia.

By understanding how one condition may affect another, you can act quickly and get on top of any problems as soon as possible. Talk with your doctor as soon as you notice any worsening of symptoms or any new health issues.

Know the ins and out of each of your treatment plans, and follow them. That means knowing your medications (including the active ingredients and potential side effects), your exercise program, pain management strategies, dietary requirements, and the self-care practices that ensure your conditions are well-managed. Some of these things will overlap – exercise is important for musculoskeletal health, and for heart health, diabetes, mental health conditions, etc. But others may require more planning – for example, your medications may need to be taken at different times to avoid interactions. That’s why you should know as much about your own health as you can, and take an active role in managing it.

Work with your healthcare team. They’re your support team and provide information, support, treatment, and encouragement to help you keep functioning. And there are some easy things you can do to get the most out of your time with them:

  • Be prepared for your appointments. Take a list of any questions you have, and put them in order of most important to least, just in case you run out of time.
  • Take your condition/symptom tracker to discuss any issues you have around things like sleep, exercise, diet, medications, etc. If you don’t have a tracker, write down the things you’ve been doing, any changes you’ve noticed, before you go to your appointment.
  • Ask for a longer appointment if you need more time to discuss any issues or concerns.
  • Talk with your doctor about getting a Chronic Disease Management Plan and/or a Mental Health Care Plan (if you haven’t already done so).

Embrace alerts and routine. When you’re trying to manage multiple health conditions, and your other commitments, it’s easy to drop the ball if you’re not super-focused. Add a drop of brain fog and a pinch of fatigue, and things can go sideways very quickly. That’s when alarms/alerts, and routines come in.

  • Set an alarm or alert on your phone, watch or clock to remind you when it’s time to take your medications, go to appointments, take an exercise/stretch/meditation break.
  • Develop a routine around some of your daily activities. For example the timing of your exercise program – e.g. always before breakfast, or always after you’ve showered and loosened up. Or sleep – always going to bed at 10pm and getting up at 6.30am every day. Or looking after your mental health – e.g. practising guided imagery/mindfulness/visualisation 1 hour before going to bed.

By having a routine it becomes second nature and you’re less likely to forget to do these things or have other activities intrude on this time.

Ask for help when you need it. From your family, friends, healthcare team, or support organisations like Musculoskeletal Australia. None of us is invincible, and we all need help from time to time.

Take care of your mental health. Whether you have a mental health condition or not, we need to be aware of how we’re feeling. Trying to juggle multiple health conditions is stressful, and we can have days when we’re depressed, angry, anxious, sad or overwhelmed. Fortunately, there’s a lot of information and resources to help you manage. To start, check out Head to Health, Beyond Blue, and Smiling Mind. And if you think you need professional support, talk with your doctor about accessing a Mental Health Care Plan.

Seek help if you’re dealing with financial stress. Living with a chronic condition can be expensive. Medications, healthcare appointments, time off work (or not being able to work), exercise classes, complementary therapies, and aids and equipment, are costly on top of everyday expenses. When you multiply that by the number of conditions someone has, it can quickly strain the budget. If you’re worried about your finances, read our blog ‘Money, money’ money’ for tips and strategies to help.

Acknowledge how well you’re doing. Research has shown that people with multiple chronic conditions are resilient and are experts at practising self-care and becoming advocates for their own health. So give yourself a pat on the back. You’re working really hard. You should feel proud of how much you’re accomplishing – even on the days when getting out of bed was an effort. You’re doing it. Be proud.

Juggling is hard – but you’ve got this

Keeping all your balls in the air and providing them with time, energy and focus can be difficult. Sometimes it feels like the balls’ weight has changed and suddenly your evenly matched tennis balls have become a tennis ball, two bowling balls, three flaming batons, and a very angry cat.

Because in our everyday lives, the importance of our daily tasks – work commitments, family duties, social engagements – change all the time. And how you’re feeling, the symptoms you’re experiencing, how much pain you’re in, or how tired you are – that constantly changes too.

But unlike actual performance juggling, you can decide to put some things down. You can set them aside and focus on the activities or tasks that require the most focus and energy.

You’ll get back to the others when life returns to ‘normal’. But until then, you, the master juggler, will do the best you can with the circumstances and resources you have. You’ve got this.

You need not feel guilty about not being able to keep your life perfectly balanced. Juggling everything is too difficult. All you really need to do is catch it before it hits the floor. Carol Bartz

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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18/Mar/2021

Dealing with pain, isolation and loneliness

When you’re unwell or in pain – both physical and emotional – it’s natural to want to shut out the world and retreat to the cosy safety of your ‘cocoon’.

For me it’s either my bed or the couch, soft, warm clothes, the doona if it’s cold and something mindless on the TV. I shut everything out and stay in my cocoon until I’m feeling ready to face the world again.

This is my safe place, where I can minimise the risk that anything will exacerbate my pain or make me feel worse – because if I can’t control the pain, at least I can control my environment.

I’m not alone in this behaviour. It’s a common thing to do, especially when you live with a chronic condition and pain.

In our recent report: Making the invisible visible: Australians share the impact of musculoskeletal conditions on their lives people revealed that:

  • they tended to keep to themselves and not contact friends and family when they’re feeling unwell – 64%
  • their ability to socialise with friends and family was impacted by their condition – 66%
  • their condition impacted their ability to participate in family events and activities – 35%
  • they couldn’t make firm commitments to socialise – 45%
  • they often needed to cancel plans due to their condition – 39%.

These findings highlight that living with the unpredictability of a musculoskeletal condition can significantly affect the social fabric of people’s lives.

Did you know: social isolation can have negative effects on our health? Research has shown that people who become isolated and experience loneliness are at increased risk of developing depression, having poor sleep, decreased immune function, poor cardiovascular health and impaired executive function.

So while retreating to your cocoon can be a soothing and healing thing to do for short periods of time, it can potentially be harmful if you do it for too long and become cut off and isolated.

Why do we become isolated?

Pain and fatigue – these are the two big ones. When you can barely drag yourself out of bed, and the just thought of showering sounds exhausting, getting dressed and catching up with people can seem like an insurmountable challenge.

Mental and emotional health – when you’re not feeling like your usual self and feel sad, depressed, anxious or down, it can affect your ability or willingness to make the effort to be social.

Losing touch or connection with friends and family – we lose touch with people for a variety of reasons. But sadly sometimes we lose touch with people because we have to cancel or postpone plans when we’re not feeling well. And because of the unpredictable nature of musculoskeletal conditions this can often happen at the last minute. If someone doesn’t know what it’s like to live with a chronic condition they may find this frustrating and difficult to understand. As one person stated in our survey: “the worst part is they are invisible conditions so people can’t understand unless they’ve had it.”

COVID-19 hasn’t helped – physical distancing, lockdowns, closed borders and feeling vulnerable at the thought of being exposed to a new virus, especially if you already have a weakened immune system, has made many of us feel more isolated.

Emerging from the cocoon

But we’re social creatures and we need the interaction with others, even when we’re in pain. So we need to ensure that we emerge from our safe, secure cocoons before isolation becomes a problem. Here are some tips to help.

Know yourself – we all live with different musculoskeletal conditions and health conditions. And they affect us physically, mentally and emotionally in differing ways. That means you’re the best person to judge how much time alone is good for you, and how much is detrimental. So know your limits.

Be honest with your important peeps – most people don’t know what it’s like to live with pain, or brain fog or energy-sapping fatigue. So be open and honest with your family and close friends. Let them know why you sometimes need to cancel plans, or why you sometimes need time alone to recharge. Don’t downplay how you’re feeling or make excuses. Just be honest.

Do things on your terms – if you’re feeling fragile and your cocoon (aka couch) is beckoning, think about how you can still interact with your people, but on your terms.

  • Invite them to your house – for a coffee and chat, or get some yummy food delivered and have a meal together. And don’t worry if your home is untidy. Your people are there to see you, not your space. Just enjoy the time together.
  • Call or have a video chat – you can do that from the comfort of your home. And COVID has taught us that as long as your top half is respectable, no one can see that you’re wearing flannelette pajama pants covered in rubber ducks.
  • Go to a venue or on an outing that suits your symptoms, pain levels and how you’re feeling. Go to the local café, watch the latest blockbuster at the cinema, go for a slow meander in the park and find a park bench to sit and chat. Whatever works best for you.

Acknowledge the important people in your life – set alerts on your phone or mark the dates in your diary. Contact them on the important days in their life – birthdays, anniversaries, starting a new job, Tuesdays. By setting up alerts, or having regular days and times to call, you’re less likely to miss the important life events we all hold dear, or fall out of touch. And it means that even if you have a foggy brain at times, you won’t miss those dates.

The power of pets – having a furry, feathered or scaled companion or two can help you feel less isolated, especially if you live on your own. Their presence gives you a reason to get out of bed every day as they’re depending on you for food, water, exercise and cuddles. And they’re just so cute and comforting. They also give you something in common with the other 61% of Australians who own a dog, cat, fish, bird, snake, hamster, lizard…that’s a lot of people you could potentially talk with – in person or online – about a shared love of animals.

Connect with others – we get a lot of our human connections and friendships through work, sporting clubs, book clubs, volunteering, parents groups etc. So try and keep these connections going, even if you’re not feeling 100%. Along with the connections of those nearest and dearest to us, they add a diverse, richness that makes life so interesting. And if you’re not involved in any groups or clubs, consider joining one. Now’s the perfect time as a lot of them are meeting online because of COVID. It gives you a chance to dip your toe in the water and see what the group is like, from the comfort of your home.

Look after yourself – Ok, you’ve made it out the door and you’ve been having a lovely time with friends. But you can feel your back starting to hurt. A lot. Uh-oh…what to do? Don’t ignore it. Whip out any of your trusty pain management techniques that you know work for you…such as stretching, walking, taking your medications, using a heat pack, distraction, moving. Whatever works for you (obviously this will depend on where you are and what facilities you have access to). The point is, by taking action you’ll hopefully nip the worst of the pain in the bud. It also means that you were able to enjoy time with friends – despite your pain.

Cherish your alone time – this may sound weird after pushing you out the door, but it’s important that we all take some time out when we need it. It gives you the time you need to relax, rest, recharge and reset.

“Humans are social beings, and we are happier, and better, when connected to others.” – Paul Bloom

However sometimes our condition can make socialising difficult and even painful. But if you’re prepared and you know yourself and your limits, you’ll be in a good position to enjoy the rich, wonderful connections that make life so satisfying.

“The struggle to leave the cocoon is what strengthens the butterfly’s wings so she can fly. I am about to become something beautiful.” Tricia Stirling.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like 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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18/Mar/2021

When this pandemic began a year ago we were all hopeful that it’d be over quickly. We were in a surreal and unprecedented situation, but we did the best we could and hoped for the best.

Twelve months down the track we’re all a little battle-scarred and weary.

We’ve had virus outbreaks, lockdowns, home-schooling, border closures, panic buying, changes to how/when/if we work and we’ve had financial stress. We’ve missed big and small life events, scaled our worlds down and we’re now getting ready to roll up our sleeves for the vaccine.

Pardon my language, but it’s been a pretty shit year. It’s been exhausting and stressful, and we’re tired. It’s no wonder many of us are feeling the impact on our mental health.

When you add painful, musculoskeletal condition/s into the mix, the effect is intensified.

In our recent report: Making the invisible visible: Australians share the impact of musculoskeletal conditions on their lives people revealed that having a musculoskeletal condition affected all aspects of their lives.

In regards to mental health, one person wrote: “it’s a constant battle with my body and mind. It’s hard to stay positive when pain has been a constant in your life for twenty years. I…have had to relinquish shift work and reduce to three working days a week as a result of health issues, mental health and ongoing pain”.

And another: “COVID-19 has severely affected a very active life and contributed to my downturn in mobility and therefore weight gain…My lonely times and feeling a lack of adequate social interaction [combined] with physical pain had a depressive effect. Am picking up now with support, activity and hope”.

People also shared that their condition affected their ability to:

  • be emotionally and mentally well – 50%
  • enjoy life in general – 52%.

With such large numbers reporting negative effects on mental health – because of their condition, and the crazy times we’re currently living through – we thought it was timely to revisit some of the many things we can do to look after our mental health.

So what can we do?

Lots! We can look after our mental health in so many ways. And the sooner we start to take care of our mental health the better it’ll be.

Note: These are general tips only. If you’re being treated for a mental health condition, continue to take any medication as prescribed, and keep in contact with your mental health specialist so that you continue to receive the support you need.

Establish a routine. Do you have a regular routine or are you just winging it from day to day? We’re creatures of habit and thrive on our schedules. They give us some control over our lives – especially when the world feels topsy-turvy. But it can be hard to develop and stick to a new routine. You really need to work at it, or you’ll find yourself staring at your phone and socials for hours, or going to bed later and later, not sleeping well, snacking more often, and basically forming some bad habits.

So whether it’s just for you, or your household, create a routine. Or update your existing routine; what worked at the beginning of the pandemic may not work anymore. Things have changed so much, and will continue to change, so we need to adapt.

Create a weekday routine that takes into account work, school and other commitments, and a weekend routine that involves your chores, as well as the fun stuff like social, leisure, sporting and family activities.

Don’t compare yourself with others. We all know people who appear to have it all worked out and seem to glide through life effortlessly. So if you’re comparing yourself to that ‘perfection’ – as you sit in your grungy jeans and t-shirt, with dirty laundry taking over the house, kids/partner/housemate driving you crazy and your dog weeing on the floor…STOP! Stop right now.

First – no one’s perfect. We all have our challenges, but some people are just better at concealing them. Second – comparing ourselves with others isn’t helpful. Most of us only share online the things that make us look good. We choose our best photos, we use filters and we manipulate our pics so we look amazing. Comparing yourself with others and their ‘perfect’ pics just makes us feel ‘meh’, so don’t do it. And third – don’t compare yourself with others in a way that invalidates what you’re feeling. Don’t feel guilty for being upset, sad or anxious. Our feelings are valid, they’re real and we need to acknowledge them.

Stay in touch. When you’re feeling down, anxious or depressed, it’s really easy to become isolated. You just want to stay in your safe cocoon. Interacting and opening up to others can be difficult when you’re struggling – but it’s really worth it. Call someone. You can choose whether to open up about your worries and fears, or you can choose to talk about things that make you smile. Shared memories, your kids/pets/hobbies, or something that’s happened in your day that made you feel good. Or venture out of the house and catch up for a coffee or a walk in the park. Just be sure to keep the communication channels open. And check out our blog on staying connected.

Get back to BACE-ics. BACE is a way to divide your daily activities into areas that encourage self-care. BACE stands for Body care (e.g. exercise, showering), Achievement (e.g. chores, reading), Connecting with others (e.g. family, pets), and Enjoyment (e.g. dancing, movies). As this ABC Everyday article explains a “routine that has activities across all BACE categories is good for us because it releases good chemicals in our brain which are key to staying mentally healthy. That’s because: exercise releases endorphins, achievement releases dopamine, connecting with people releases oxytocin and physical activity releases serotonin.” So get back to BACE-ics and focus on self-care.

Schedule time to face your worries and fears. We can’t always escape our worries about things like our health, work, finances, the future or COVID. We’re bombarded with news, social media and that annoying voice in our head at night when we just can’t sleep. So acknowledge that you’re worried and schedule a time to process this. (Just don’t do it too close to bed time or you’ll be tossing and turning all night.) Now look at these thoughts and feelings closely – really shine a light on what’s bothering you. Try to come up with possible solutions for dealing with them. Or you may need to accept that some things are outside of your control. But once you’ve taken the time to acknowledge them – put them away. Constantly focusing on our worries is bad for our mental health.

Talk with a professional. Half of the people who completed our survey said that their condition affected their mental and emotional health, and yet only 11% said that they had used the services of a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health coach or a counsellor. But help is available if you need it. The Australian Government is providing up to 20 Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions each calendar year. So if you’d like to talk with a professional about your mental health and how you’re feeling, talk with your doctor about how you can take advantage of the Better access to mental health care initiative.  And find out more about the different types of professionals that can help you.

You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. Just try for your best – and give yourself a break. Your best before all of this started is different to your best now. So do what you can in the circumstances you find yourself in and be kind.

Nurture your relationship. Whether you live with your partner/significant other, or they live elsewhere, it’s important to nurture your relationship with them. Everyday stresses have been compounded by the pandemic and its effect on our lives. This in turn can affect how we interact with the most important people in our lives. So schedule a regular date night or alone time with them. If you live apart use video chat, phone calls and good old-fashioned love letters (swoon). Just put in the time and effort your relationship deserves. Get dressed up. Don’t talk about any of the usual day-to-day worries. Talk about your favourite books/music/movies, your hopes and dreams, your fantasy holiday destination, reminisce about when you met, tell them things they don’t know about your childhood and growing up. Put some music on and dance in your lounge room. Have a moonlit picnic in the backyard. Or hold hands for a stroll around the local park. Whatever you do, make sure to take the time to cherish this relationship.

Watch the self-talk. We can be really horrible to ourselves, especially when we’re feeling down. “I’m fat”, “I’m hopeless”, “I’m a terrible dad/mum/partner”, “I’m a failure” – sound familiar? The critical things we say to ourselves really undermine our mood and our mental health. They can be so destructive. Some simple things you can do to negate these thoughts are:

  • Ask yourself if you’d talk to someone else the way you talk to yourself. The answer is likely no, so don’t talk to yourself this way. This is often easier said than done, and like any new habit it will require practise, but keep at it.
  • Ask yourself why you think you’re any of these things. And don’t be overly critical of yourself. Again ask yourself if you’d judge others with these labels, or so harshly.
  • Address these thoughts. If you think you’re overweight, and that makes you unhappy, what can you do to work on this? If you think you’re hopeless, why? It’s such a vague concept. What makes you think it? Is there something underlying it, or you’ve just had a bad day when a bunch of things haven’t worked out as you’d hoped.
  • Now give yourself a break. We’re all living, working and existing in a really trying and stressful time, so we need to be kind to ourselves and others.

Stay active. One of the best things you can do to boost your mood is regular exercise. When you exercise your body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into your bloodstream. They’re often called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they boost your mood and make you feel good. They also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system. Exercise has so many other wonderful benefits. That’s why we go on and on about it.

Be careful with alcohol and other drugs. Research by The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) has found that since the pandemic began more Australians are drinking, and people are drinking more. While you might think alcohol makes you feel better, and more able to cope with your anxiety and stress, alcohol is actually a depressant and will affect your mood, ability to sleep and can make existing mental health issues worse. Find out more in this article from Beyond Blue. The ADF also has an online tool to help you change your habits if you’re finding yourself drinking too much.

We often focus so much on our physical health, that caring for our mental health tends to be pushed to the side. There are just too many other commitments competing for our time and energy. But we need to take care of our mental health so that we feel strong and resilient enough to get through these constantly changing and crazy times. This article has just skimmed the surface of the many things you can do to look after your mental health.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sad, stressed, afraid or angry, decide to do something about it. You can feel better, you can take control. One step at a time.

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help during this stressful time, there’s help available. Contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like 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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17/Dec/2020

With Christmas and the festive season just around the corner, and a tough year almost behind us, it’s the perfect time for a wellness challenge!

And before you roll your eyes, this challenge is fun, it’s easy and we‘ve tied it in with song The 12 days of Christmas… so it all begins on Christmas day.

So strap yourselves in, it’s a weird and wacky song! But we hope you’ll have some fun with the 12 days of wellness challenge.

Happy holidays, stay safe, and keep well!

25 December

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree…

While a partridge in a pear tree doesn’t sound like cause for celebration, the fact that we’ve made it to Christmas Day certainly is! So let’s celebrate!! Dance around your lounge room, sing carols, toast your family and friends because we made it! We’re with our loved ones – hopefully in person, but if not, virtually is good too. Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy this day.

26 December

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me, two turtles doves… 

Get outside and walk off some of the Christmas yumminess. See if you can spot some turtle doves (might be a tad tricky as they appear to be European).

Any-hoo, see if you can at least spot a pigeon while enjoying your walk. Enjoy the sunshine and vitamin D and breathe in the fresh air – how good does it feel without a mask?

27 December

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me, three French hens…

What’s with all the birds? Weird, but we can use the French vibe for our third day.

Catch up with friends and do something fun together. Channel your inner Parisian, grab some baguettes, cheese, wine and eclairs (yum), and have a picnic in the park. Or visit a café and enjoy a cafe au lait while you watch the people stroll by. Finish with a promenade along a river or visit a gallery for the perfect end to your day.

28 December

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, four calling birds…

More birds! But they’re on the right track as far as calling goes.

Today call or face time someone you haven’t spoken with for a while. Catch up on their lives and let them know how you’re doing. If this year has taught us nothing else, it’s that our connections are vital. We need them for our physical, mental and emotional health. So pick up the phone and call someone.

29 December

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, five gold rings… 

Now we’re talking! Only joking, I prefer silver.

Today the challenge is to take photos of three things that make you happy. The sky’s the limit – so it may be some gold rings, or your family, your dog, some flowers, a sunset, a meal, or the clouds in the sky. Whatever makes you happy – point and click. And save them so you can look at them whenever you’re feeling a bit down and need a boost.

30 December

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, six geese a-laying…

Come on, seriously? This true love was mad for birds!

Today, let’s hit the trails. Grab your bike, borrow one from a friend, or hire one…and let’s go for a ride. Riding is a low impact and fun exercise that’s suitable for most people. Read our blog for some tips to make your ride a fun, enjoyable outing without the pain.

As usual keep your eye out for birds – especially of the geese variety who may or may not be laying.

31 December

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, seven swans a-swimming… 

More birds – sigh. But the swimming part is a great idea! Nothing says summer like hitting the beach, pool, river or watering hole for a swim to cool down. And it’s a wonderful exercise for anyone with a musculoskeletal condition. Your body is supported by the water and the resistance provided by moving through water builds muscle strength and endurance.

And since it’s New Year’s Eve, while you’re floating around in the water, take some time to reflect on 2020 and three things you’re grateful for. It’s been a tough year, but there have been some highlights. What were yours?

1 January

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eight maids a-milking… 

Hello 2021! It’s a new year, and we often start a new year with some resolutions. Instead of doing the usual – lose weight, get more exercise, quit smoking (although we can still do these) – let’s use the new year to a set a goal to do that ‘one thing’ we’ve always wanted to do. And make a plan to achieve your goal.

So if you’ve always wanted to milk a cow, get those milk maids involved and find a cow.

But seriously, most of us have something that we’ve always wanted to try or accomplish. Write a novel, play an instrument, become conversant in another language, take up pottery, learn to cook…whatever it is, write it down, then work out the steps you need to achieve your goal. Check out our info on goal setting for tips and advice. And good luck!

2 January

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, nine ladies dancing… 

Today it’s all about unplugging and a digital detox. Put your phone aside for an hour, 2 hours, the whole day! Dance with nine ladies, or just by yourself, go for a walk, talk with your neighbor, do some yoga/tai chi/stretching, curl up on your couch with a book, de-stress with some guided imagery. Whatever you do, avoid using any tech or gadgets for the time you’ve put aside for your detox…and enjoy!

3 January

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, ten lords a-leaping…

This true love had some wacky gift ideas, but hats off for the creativity!

The tenth day challenge is to do some mindfulness meditation. With Christmas and New Year done and dusted, many of us will be feeling tired from all of our commitments and celebrations. This may have aggravated our pain and fatigue, and made us feel a little overwhelmed. So let’s do something that will help us focus and be mindful. Find yourself a comfy spot, read our info on mindfulness meditation and do the simple body scan we’ve provided.

Or if mindfulness isn’t your thing, what about some visualisation? It also uses the power of your mind to reduce pain and stress, but it’s free flowing and allows you to use your imagination. Remember the details of a past event, visualise a future event, or think of something completely out there…like 10 lords a-leaping.

4 January

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eleven pipers piping…

Today seems like a good day to go all out and make a meal that fills you with joy. Whether it’s something your mum or dad used to make for you when you were little, that brings back happy childhood memories, or a meal that you love but never make because it’s too complicated/decadent/full of calories…cook it! And take time to savour it. Really enjoy each mouthful. And then blow your own trumpet about how good it is (that’s the closest I could get to pipers!).

5 January

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, twelve drummers drumming… 

Drumroll please- let’s go out with a bang!

Today is the day to do whatever you want. So it’s not a hard challenge at all.

Put your favourite music on and sing, dance, do your best air guitar/air drums or just sit back and listen. Pamper yourself with a spa treatment – in a salon or at home. Read a book or magazine, put your feet up and relax. Go for a hike with friends. Pull out the Lego and let your imagination go wild. Build a fort in your lounge. Stay in your PJs all day. Explore a gallery/museum/library – in person or virtually. Go hot air-ballooning. Buy a drum kit and go crazy – like Animal from the Muppets playing with Dave Grohl, or the True Love’s twelve drummers.

Take this day to do something that makes you happy and fill you with joy. Life’s short – let’s make every moment count.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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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17/Dec/2020

…when it comes to complementary, alternative and ‘natural’ treatments

Many Australians use complementary or alternative treatments to manage their health condition (e.g. arthritis, anxiety) or to improve their overall health and wellbeing. But what are these treatments and what do you need to consider before trying them?

Complementary and alternative treatments include a wide range of therapies, medicines, products or practices that aren’t currently considered to be a conventional or mainstream medical treatment. They include acupuncture, meditation, massage, herbal treatments, yoga, aromatherapy and naturopathy.

The word complementary usually refers to treatments that are used alongside conventional medicine, whereas alternative usually means the treatment is used instead of conventional medicine.

To make things easier (and less wordy), we’ll use the term complementary treatment when referring to all types of complementary or alternative treatments in this article.

Why do we use complementary treatments?

People are attracted to these treatments because they often have a more holistic approach and treat the entire person, rather than just their condition or symptoms. They also appear to be more natural and safer than conventional medicine.

But it’s important to understand that as with any treatment, complementary treatments may cause harm and make you unwell if they’re not taken correctly, if they interact with one of your other medications, or if the practitioner you see isn’t properly trained or qualified. That’s why you should discuss your use, or intended use, or any complementary treatments with your doctor.

Do they work for musculoskeletal conditions?

While many people feel that using complementary treatments has been beneficial for their health and wellbeing, there isn’t as much evidence to support its use for musculoskeletal conditions as there is for conventional medicines.

For many complementary treatments there just aren’t enough well-designed randomised controlled trials to show whether or not these therapies are effective. And if they are effective, for which conditions or symptoms.

However some types of complementary treatments show promise and may be helpful for managing your condition. More and more research is now focusing on these treatments. But at the moment the evidence is still lacking so it’s best to take your time, do your research and make sure the treatment is right for you.

Tips for starting a new complementary treatment

Let your doctor know what you’re doing. Keep them informed about any things you’re taking or considering taking (e.g. supplements, homeopathic treatments, herbal medicines) as well as any other therapies you’re trying or considering trying (e.g. acupuncture, yoga).

Continue taking your medications as prescribed. Don’t stop taking any medications without first discussing it with your doctor. Some medications need to be gradually reduced, rather than simply stopped, to avoid side effects.

Think about what you want to get out of the treatment. Are you hoping to control symptoms like pain or fatigue? Sleep better? Reduce or stop taking certain medications? Manage your anxiety? When you have a clear goal from the beginning of your treatment, you can monitor your progress and see if there are any improvements. After starting a new treatment, write down any changes you notice for a month – remember to include any medication changes, changes in your exercise program, the amount of sleep you’re getting and anything else that could affect your symptoms. At the end of the month, you’ll have a clearer picture of whether or not the treatment is working. If it’s not, it may be time to look for an alternative.

Do your research and ask lots of questions. Some treatments may help you manage your condition or symptoms, while others will have no effect. Visit websites such as MedlinePlus and The Cochrane Library to learn more about the treatment. And talk with your doctor and the therapist. Find out if:

  • there’s any current evidence that the treatment is effective and safe for people with your condition?
  • the treatment’s been shown to be effective in repeated scientific studies with large numbers of people?
  • the research used a control group? A control group is a group of people who don’t have a particular treatment compared with a group of similar people who do. This helps to show that any results are due to the treatment and not some other factor.
  • potential risks, side effects and interactions with other treatments are clearly identified?
  • you can continue to use your current effective treatments, as well as the complementary treatment?
  • the treatment’s something you can afford and can access easily?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you should be wary of the treatment. Discuss it with your doctor or specialist before you go any further.

Check the qualifications of the person providing the treatment.

  • Do they receive regular training and updates?
  • Have they treated other people with your condition or health issues?
  • Are they a member of their peak body?
  • Are they accredited?

Buy Australian. Australian complementary medicines are subject to strict safety and quality regulations. This may not be the case in other countries. In Australia the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) ensures the safety of medicines and other therapeutic treatments.

Call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). As well as information on your prescription and over-the-counter medicines, they can also help you find out more about herbal medicine, vitamins and minerals.

After doing your research, if you have any doubts about the treatment, don’t use it.

Talk with your doctor or contact our MSK Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 helpline@msk.org.au for information about other treatment options.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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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03/Dec/2020

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Anne Lamott

There’s no denying that going digital has helped most of us this year. As our worlds became smaller due to iso and lockdowns, technology enabled us to work and learn from home, meet with colleagues via Zoom, binge EVERYTHING on our streaming service, video chat with the friends and family we couldn’t see in person, travel virtually to the Louvre, listen to podcasts while we walked endlessly around our neighbourhoods and shop online (So. Much. Shopping).

But I think many of us are feeling the effects of too much of a good thing. It may be time for a digital detox. And as we come to the end of a very stressful and trying year, now’s the perfect time.

Why detox?

Our devices and being connected to the wider world are part of everyday life. But the constant pings, dings, beeps and notifications can get in the way of our being present in the moment. When we’ve got our heads down over the phone, scrolling through emails and social media, we miss out on so much. The world around us, conversations with loved ones, delicious meals – all the things that make our lives so rich and colourful.

This constant connectivity can be stressful. The 24/7 news cycle is frequently filled with sensationalised and grim stories. Our feeds are full of posts from people whose lives appear to be perfect – making us hyper-critical of our own lives. And we often feel pressured to respond quickly to work emails, texts and other contacts.

This constant barrage leaves little room for quiet reflection and time out. It can also affect the quality and quantity of our sleep.

So taking time to disconnect from the digital world can be a good idea every now and again. But how do you go about it?

Your digital detox plan

There are lots of books – and somewhat ironically – websites, apps and podcasts – to help you detox. But you might want to start by keeping it simple, realistic and achievable for you.

Think about how often you use your devices – all of them. Our phones are the one that we tend to blame the most – they’re with us all the time and we can do so much with them. But TVs, computers, gaming consoles, tablets, watches – we spend a lot of time on them too. How do you use these devices? Are you using them for work, connecting with family/friends, playing games, or just passing time? Only you can tell if you’re using them in a way that’s stressful or unhealthy.

So ask yourself:

  • Do I feel anxious when I don’t have my phone with me?
  • Do I miss parts of conversations because I’m checking my phone? Do I have to ask people to repeat themselves?
  • Are the things I’m scrolling through and reading enriching my life or bringing me joy?
  • Do I feel compelled to check my apps, socials or emails before I get out of bed? Or before I turn the light off at night?
  • Do I find myself looking at an empty plate and wondering where my dinner went?
  • Do I feel like I’ll miss out on things if I don’t keep checking in?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, maybe a detox is just what you need.

Be realistic. Some people are able to put their phones and devices away for a month, with little impact on their work and home life. While others need to be connected to some degree most days.

So think about what’s realistic for you:

  • If you need to be connected for work, set boundaries on when you’ll respond to work emails and chats – preferably during your usual working hours. Then turn off or ignore any notifications until your next working day.
  • If you love being connected via your socials, that’s great. But again, think about setting limits. Avoid constantly checking your phone, or picking it up every time you hear a notification. Set yourself times when you’ll look, and then put your phone aside.
  • Consider picking one day a week that you’ll go completely device free. Plan to do this with other members of your household or friends and use that day to have an adventure together – go to the zoo, hike in the hills, go on a scavenger hunt, hit the beach, play a round of golf or mini golf. Do something that doesn’t involve technology.
  • Limit your time on a specific app, site, game that really drains your time. For me that’s Pinterest. Wow, what a rabbit hole! You can lose hours there! So I make the conscious decision to only access it for a set amount of time – enough to make me feel connected, and not deprived of something I enjoy. And it still leaves time for other activities.

Create work/life balance. With many people still working from home, having good work/life balance, and clear boundaries is more important than ever. So unless you’re working on something pressing or urgent, only look at your work stuff during work hours. You owe it to yourself and your family to have some downtime. You’ll be much happier for it.

Lose the distractions. And speaking of work, do you also find yourself distracted by apps when you should be working? (Asking for a friend). It’s amazing how much time you can waste when one of your apps decides to show you yet another cute cat/dog/llama video. And how much more productive you can be when you disconnect from these apps during work hours. So if you’re finding it all too distracting, turn off the notifications for any non-essentials.

Don’t look at your phone when you’re doing other things. So many people, myself included, walk the streets with their attention focused on their phone. While this is a great way to get hurt – walking into poles, tripping up curbs, falling into ponds – it also means you’re not seeing what’s going on around you. After the year we’ve had, noticing all of the incredible things around us – even in our own backyard – can bring a lot of calm and happiness. So put your phone in your pocket or bag and take a look around you. If you’re walking with other people, talk with them, and really listen to what they’re saying. It’s amazing how much you hear when you’re not distracted.

Make meal times sacred. Even if you’re eating on your own, put your phone or device aside, and turn the TV off. We tend to eat so mindlessly when we’re distracted by other things. And when you’re not paying attention, how can you enjoy your meal? Or those around you? So make these times digital-free, enjoy the food you’ve prepared, reflect on your day, and enjoy this small oasis of time.

Tips to help you detox

Detoxing from our devices can be really tough. They’ve become such an important part of our lives. So we’ve come up with some tips to help you:

  • Leave your phone in one central place at home, rather than carrying it with you from room to room. This’ll prevent it distracting you and constantly interrupting your day/evening.
  • Make your bedroom a tech-free zone. Charge your phone in another room. If you use your phone as an alarm, turn up the volume (the rest of the household will love that) or buy a small alarm clock.
  • Turn off push notifications. They’re the automated messages and pop-ups that alert you when an app wants your attention – usually for nothing particularly important. So turn them off. Or just turn off the alerts from apps you don’t care about. If you don’t know how to turn them off, go online and search ‘turn off push notifications’ and your phone type, and you’ll find video and tutorials galore to help you.
  • Turn on airplane mode. Basically this will turn off access to your mobile network, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so you can’t send or receive calls, texts or emails, access the internet or socials. It stops all the distractions coming in.
  • Leave your phone in your pocket or bag when in meetings or when you’re having a meal out.
  • Get your family and friends involved. Tell them what you’re doing and why. At the very least they’ll know why you may not get back to their messages immediately.
  • Don’t take your phone to the loo…eeeew. Apart from the whole gross, unhygienic aspect – do you really want people to hear what you’re doing? And this, the most basic thing we do every day, surely deserves some alone time?
  • Use one device at a time. Do you have the TV on while you’re playing a game on your tablet, or flicking through socials on your phone? Choose one device and turn the other off. You can only focus on one at a time anyway.

However you choose to take a break from our digital world it’s a valuable thing to do. Particularly after the year 2020 has been, and the heavy reliance on all things tech.

So use the winding down of this crazy year to pause, disconnect from your devices, and reconnect with the things that are most important to you.

“Life is what happens between Wi-Fi signals”. Unknown

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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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03/Dec/2020

Tips for travelling well

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag.

With most of the state and territory borders reopened in Australia, many of us are itching to travel. And while we can’t leave the country – there’s still a ban on overseas travel – we can visit regional areas and head interstate. Yay! And just in time for the festive season and summer.

But for some of us, although we find the idea of travelling exciting, the practicalities of it can cause a lot of anxiety and stress. Especially if you’ve got a chronic, musculoskeletal condition. And unfortunately these feelings are only likely to be heightened because of the whole COVID thing.

So here are some tips and tricks to help you manage your condition so you can get the most out of your trip and have the best time.

Planning is vital

Take the time to plan your trip carefully. Being proactive before you go anywhere gives you the opportunity to plan around your condition, rather than have your condition disrupt your trip. So make sure you:

  • give yourself plenty of time to pack
  • get some rest before you leave so you have plenty of energy
  • make your itinerary realistic – and don’t try to cram too much into it (this is a hard one, because if you’re like me you want to see and experience everything!)
  • plan some downtime into your trip so you can rest, put your feet up and recharge your batteries.

Packing

This can be one of the hardest parts of travelling – what to take, what to leave at home – so if in doubt, leave it out! Lifting heavy bags out of cars, on and off trains and buses and through airports increases your risk of injury and fatigue. When you travel you also end up carting your luggage around far more than you realise. So:

  • pack light – take only what you need
  • use lightweight luggage if you have it (or can borrow it)
  • don’t forget to pack the things that help make life more comfortable e.g. your lumbar pillow, orthotics, splints
  • keep your meds in separate pieces of luggage to ensure you don’t lose it all if your luggage is lost or stolen.

Medical prep

Give yourself plenty of time to get medically prepared for your trip and:

  • ensure regular doctor visits, blood tests etc are done before you leave.
  • talk with your doctor about vaccinations – do you need any? Are you up-to-date with routine vaccinations like tetanus?
  • make sure you have enough of all of your medications to cover you while you’re away. Depending on where you’re going, you may not be able to access them at the local pharmacy.
  • store your biological meds properly – your rheumatologist or the pharmaceutical company can advise you on this.

Managing your pain while you’re away

Unfortunately pain follows us where we go, so be prepared. Have your pain medications, heat/cold pack, your lotions and rubs, special pillow – whatever you use to help you deal with pain.

Check out our resource Managing your pain: An A-Z guide. It’ll give you lots of practical information about ways you can manage your pain – many of which you can do wherever you are – at home, on a plane, in another part of the country.

Travel insurance

Even if you’re travelling in Australia and not overseas, travel insurance could be a good idea. It can cover things like lost or stolen luggage, car hire excess claims and cancelled flights. Make sure you know exactly what you’re covered for. And shop around and find insurance that’s best suits your needs. This article by Choice has some useful info to help you decide whether travel insurance is for you: Do you need domestic travel insurance? Will travel insurance cover you when things go wrong on an Aussie holiday?

And be aware that travel insurance is unlikely to cover you for anything relating to COVID now that it’s a ’known event’. Read this article by Choice to find out more: Does travel insurance cover the COVID-19 pandemic? What you’re covered for in the event of an epidemic or pandemic like coronavirus. 

And speaking of COVID

Make sure you follow the guidelines for wherever you’re visiting. Are masks required? Are there restrictions on how many people can gather? Do you need to quarantine? Do you need a border pass? Visit the health website of the state or territory you’re travelling within to get the latest info.

And continue to:

  • wash your hands regularly
  • physically distance yourself from others
  • stay home if you’re unwell and get tested
  • cough and/or sneeze into your elbow
  • wear a mask if you can’t distance yourself (or if it’s required)
  • use hand sanitiser when you don’t have access to soap and water.

Just because numbers of active cases are low in most parts of the country, we can’t afford to be complacent. And doing these things keeps you safe and puts you in control, which can help you manage your feelings of anxiety or stress about COVID.

Coming home

  • Rest up. After your trip, give yourself a day or so to unpack and rest before leaping back into your daily schedule.
  • If you’re feeling stiff or sore consider getting a massage, or seeing your therapist of choice – physio/osteo/chiro/myo.
  • Talk the ears off your family, friends, doctor and work colleagues about your trip and the sights, smells and experiences you enjoyed. Before you know it you’ll be dreaming about, and planning, your next adventure.

Other options for travel

You may not be up to travelling far afield – physically and/or mentally it may not be right for you at the moment. This is completely understandable. It’s been a crazy year and we’re all dealing with it in the best way we can. But there are other options:

  • Take a day trip or two. It’s amazing how much you can see in a day. And we’re so lucky in Australia with all of the beautiful places we can visit. Just Google day trips and your location and you’ll find some great ideas for your next adventure.
  • Plan for the future. Just because you’re not ready to travel now, doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future. So dream about where you’d like to go. Do some research and start making plans. And when you’re ready to travel, you’ll be all set!
  • Vacation at home. Put your phone, computer and chores away and toss your normal routine out the window. Do fun things, creative things, relaxing things. Cook special meals. Relax in the garden with a book. Throw a dance party with everyone who lives in your house – or by yourself. Dress in fancy clothes. Build a fort in the middle of the lounge. Grab a colouring book and pencils and spend some quality time colouring. Do things that make you happy and make you feel like you’ve had a break. You deserve it.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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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19/Nov/2020

Although it’s not a medical condition as such, most of us know what it’s like to have a foggy brain, to feel like your head is full of cotton wool affecting your ability to focus or concentrate.

It’s incredibly frustrating when you can’t find the specific word you’re searching for, or remember the time of a medical appointment, or why you walked into the kitchen so purposefully.

Brain fog. It affects a lot of people with musculoskeletal conditions, and is now getting a lot of media because many people who’ve had COVID are also experiencing it months after they had the virus.

But what is brain fog? And what can you do about it?

Brain fog is a term used to describe a bunch of symptoms – such as difficulty concentrating or focusing, forgetfulness and not being able to think clearly. It’s not a medical term, but it’s a very simple, effective term that we all use.

It can be caused by a number of things including:

  • medical conditions – e.g. musculoskeletal conditions, anaemia, depression, diabetes
  • medications – some meds used for managing musculoskeletal conditions, but also other conditions such as high cholesterol, can cause brain fog
  • poor quality sleep
  • poor diet lacking in essential vitamins and minerals
  • not enough exercise
  • stress.

How is brain fog treated?

If you’re experiencing brain fog on a regular basis, and it’s affecting your ability to do daily tasks, or to work, it’s important that you talk with your doctor.

Your doctor will look at treating any underlying causes. For example, if it turns out you’re anaemic you may be prescribed iron tablets. They may also review all of your current meds to see if brain fog could be a potential side effect. If they find that your medication is the issue, you may be prescribed alternatives medications. But having the discussion with your doctor as soon as brain fog becomes an issue is key to getting it under control as much as possible.

Other things you can do to decrease the effects of brain fog include:

Get enough good quality sleep. I know, I know, this is often really hard to do. It seems that when we’re at our most tired, it’s almost impossible to sleep well, with pain being a massive contributor to poor quality sleep. But working on getting a good night’s sleep is vital – not only to help combat brain fog but because it also has positive effects on our pain, fatigue, mood, weight and so much more.

Exercise and be physically active. Again, this has far reaching benefits beyond brain fog, but just getting up and moving your body, going for a walk, doing some tai chi or yoga, can help clear your mind. And exercising regularly will help improve your sleep quality, which will in turn reduce the risk of brain fog.

Look at your diet. Is it healthy and well-balanced? Are you drinking enough water and staying hydrated? If it’s lacking important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function at its best, this may be contributing to your inability to concentrate or think clearly. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian if you need help assessing your diet and making healthy changes.

Manage your stress. It’s a significant cause of brain fog and the inability to focus and concentrate. Try things like mindfulness, exercise, deep breathing to help you relax and de-stress.

Track your brain fog. Being self-aware of your symptoms, including brain fog, means that you can be proactive in managing it. So if, for example, you notice that your brain fog is always worse Tuesday mornings, you can go back and look for causes. Maybe your favourite TV show is on late Monday night and you always stay up to watch it, getting less sleep as a result. Or perhaps you find that your brain fog is worse after you’ve put in long, stressful hours at work. By finding a pattern, you can then look for potential solutions – like streaming your TV show during the day, or managing your work stress better.

And if you can’t find a pattern, but know that, for example it’s worse mid-afternoon, you can plan around that. You can do tasks that require concentration and focus earlier in the day for when you’re at your sharpest.

Be kind to yourself. We can be really harsh on ourselves when we make a mistake or forget a name or can’t focus enough to finish a task properly. But this negativity can have significant impacts on our mental health, so be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can.

Brain fog hacks

Let’s face it – you can do all the right things to treat brain fog, but it can still strike. So here are some hacks and tips to help you get on with life.

Routine, routine, routine. Having a regular routine helps even the foggiest of minds get on with the day. Get up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time (this also helps with sleep quality). Have your meals at the same-ish time. Schedule time for exercise and relaxation. During your work days, stick to a schedule, even if you’re working from home. All of these things will help you get through your day more easily, with less “huh, what was I doing now?”

Make alarms and alerts your best friend. Whether it’s on your phone, computer, watch, or other device, set alarms to remind you to move, stop for lunch, take a break, meditate, go to bed. They’ll help you stay on track with your daily routine. They’ll also help you remember appointments, birthdays and other significant dates.

Use a pill dispenser. I can’t tell you how many times I used to wonder if I’d taken my meds in the morning. And rather than risk double-dosing, I wouldn’t take them. Which is not ideal because obviously there were days that I didn’t end up taking them. So get rid of this stress and just use a pill dispenser. They’re a lifesaver.

Take regular breaks. When you’re finding it hard to concentrate, give your brain a break. Forcing yourself to try to concentrate can be counter-productive. Instead, when you find you’re just not able to focus or finish a task, go for a quick walk, get some air, get a glass of water. Get away from what you’re doing and take a brief break. This will hopefully clear your head enough to continue.

Get away from distractions. If, like me, you’re working from home, consider where you’re set up. My desk was in front of a window but I found myself endlessly staring outside at nothing. So I moved my desk to face a wall. It’s not as picturesque, but when concentration is an issue, getting away from distractions really does help.

Get some fresh air. This is really helpful if you’ve been cooped up at home or in an office for hours. A dose of fresh air and sunshine can help blow some of the cobwebs out of the brain.

Do something else. Sometimes you just have to admit you can’t focus or concentrate enough on the task at hand, so put it away (if you can) and do something that requires less brain power. You can come back to the original task when you’re thinking more clearly, saving yourself lots of frustration and angst.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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