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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.

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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.

More to explore

 


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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.

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19/Nov/2020

I’ve just taken a week off from work. I was struggling mentally and physically, so I decided it was important to take time to pause, reflect and reconnect.

But it was really tough to do.

I think part of my problem was I felt like I needed permission to feel how I was feeling and to take a break. It felt self-indulgent to feel sad when there are people in a ‘worse’ situation than I am; who are working so hard just to make ends meet; who are facing relationship breakdowns. How dare I feel this way? I have a loving partner, a home, a job, and wonderful family and friends. I can now move around freely outside of my 25kms and enjoy the spring weather.

I have all of these things, so I felt selfish for feeling sad and for worrying those around me.

But while catching up with friends and family last week, I found I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

So for anyone out there who needs to hear this, it’s ok.

It’s ok to take a break or to rest. You’re not a machine. You need time to recover – physically and mentally – from the things that are affecting you. That way when you do return to what you were doing, you’ll feel refreshed and more able to deal with everything.

It’s ok to say no. We all want to please others, so saying no can be a challenge. But you need to weigh up all the things 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.

It’s ok to listen to your body. In fact it’s a necessity. Living with a chronic condition means that you need to be self-aware of how you’re feeling. If you’re tired, rest. If your back hurts, move. If you’re feeling sluggish, get some fresh air. Whatever your body is telling you, listen and take action.

It’s ok to be kind to yourself. Our inner critic can be really loud at times. If yours is giving you grief, ask yourself – would you say those things to someone you love? The answer is probably no. So quiet that inner voice by making a list of three things you like about yourself and stick it on the fridge or bathroom mirror. Remind yourself of these things regularly.

It’s ok not to be perfect. No one is, no matter how they appear on social media.

It’s ok to let go of the things that drain you. For me, that was the news. I was watching it constantly and getting more and more depressed by the state of the world, and how people treat each other. So now I read the news highlights, get more detail on the things that matter to me, and discard the rest. Think about the things that drain you (and this may include people) and if you can, let it go. Or at least limit your exposure to it.

It’s ok to put yourself first. Sometimes we need to make ourselves our top priority – whether that’s physically, mentally and/or emotionally. You’ll be more able to help others when you’ve taken time to look after yourself.

It’s ok to talk about mental health. In fact it’s really important that we do. The more we talk about mental health and how we’re feeling, the less stigma will surround it. Which will lead to more people opening up about their mental health and getting help when they need it.

It’s ok to not watch the news. Take time to unplug from the 24/7 news cycle and focus on the world around you – your family, friends and environment.

It’s ok to forgive yourself. This comes back to our inner critic. We often beat ourselves up for the smallest of mistakes. If you made a mistake – and ask yourself if you really did make a mistake or are you being super-critical of yourself – look at what you did, learn from it and then move on. Don’t keep thinking about it – it’ll only drive you crazy and make you unhappy.

It’s ok to have a messy house. Or to have a pile of laundry that needs folding. Or for the grass to need mowing. Or for pet hair to cover ever surface of your home 😹. Sometimes things get a little untidy as we prioritise our health and wellbeing over a perfectly made bed, sparkling bathroom or fluffed-up cushions. And that’s ok.

It’s ok to not be ok and feel sad/angry/vulnerable. Your feelings are valid and they matter. However if you feel like these feelings are taking over, talk with someone. A trusted friend or family member, or a healthcare professional. While it’s ok to feel like this from time to time, you don’t want to feel like this all the time. And you don’t have to. There’s help available.

It’s ok to cry. We all have difficult days and crying can be an outlet when we feel sad, stressed, overwhelmed, scared, angry or in pain. So grab a box of tissues and let it out.

It’s ok to do more of the things that make you feel good. Love a massage? A walk on the beach? Sitting in your garden with a cup of tea and a book? Whatever it is that makes you feel good is not an indulgence, but a necessity to help you recharge your battery and make you a happier person.

It’s ok to put your phone down or away. We look at them too often anyway, so put it away for an hour, a day, a week. Be present and be mindful of the people and the world around you.

It’s ok to admit you’re struggling. And it’s ok to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re not a capable person. It just means that in this time and place, or for this task you need some help. And that’s fine. We all need help every now and then.

It’s ok to take your time. We don’t always have to be in a hurry. Make space to breathe and be still, meditate and be mindful.

It’s ok to not have all the answers. You’re not Google or Encyclopedia Brittanica 😉. Saying ‘I don’t know’ is a valid and human thing to say.

It’s ok to put down your ‘to do’ list and be spontaneous. Lists can help us feel in control and organised, but sometimes it’s freeing to toss the list aside and just do something unexpected, just because you can 😊.

So it’s really ok to sing, to dance, to walk barefoot in the park, to hug the stuffing out of your partner/kids/pets. We’re living through a global pandemic, which is affecting us in so many ways, so it’s important and very much ok to find the joy and welcome it with open arms.

And remember, it’s ok to be you 💛💙💚.

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.

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.

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05/Nov/2020

Do you wake up feeling stiff in the morning and find it hard to get moving?😣

You’re not alone. It happens to so many people with a musculoskeletal condition, especially when waking and after periods of inactivity like travelling long distances in a car/plane, binge watching a TV show for hours or sitting at your desk all day.

The stiffness you feel may be caused by inflammation in the joint, lack of movement preventing the ‘oil’ in your joints (also known as synovial fluid) from lubricating the joints, ageing or damage to the cushiony cartilage inside the joint or tight muscles and tendons.

With inflammatory conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout) this stiffness may last for over an hour. With conditions such as osteoarthritis it tends to go away more quickly.

Depending on how long it lasts and which joints are most affected, joint stiffness can get in the way of you being able to do the things you want and need to do.

So what can you do to manage morning stiffness and get on with your day?

  • Have a plan. If morning stiffness is something you have to deal with on a regular basis, it pays to be prepared. That means planning your morning the night before. Sort out whatever you and your family will need for the coming day – lunches, clothes, homework, permission slips etc. All of the things you race around madly in the morning trying to do 😣. Try and get into the routine of having this done before you go to bed. Whether you wake up in pain or stiff or feeling fine – being prepared means you won’t feel stressed or pressured in the morning and you can pace yourself. And don’t forget to get the family involved in these chores.
  • Take time to stretch out. When you wake up feeling stiff, gently stretch your body. Depending on how you’re feeling, you can do this in bed or get up and stretch. Methodically work through all of your stiff joints and take them through their range of movement until you start to feel a bit looser and your joints and muscles warm up.
  • Use heat to help you get moving. When you warm up stiff muscles and joints, it encourages blood flow to the area, which helps your body relax and loosen up. You can do this by taking a warm shower or bath, turning on your electric blanket while you do your stretches in bed, use heat rubs, put your hands in a warm basin of water or use heat packs. There are so many options for heat therapy – just be careful you don’t make the heat too hot, or apply to an inflamed joint.
  • Do some gentle exercise. Once you’re up and moving, it can be really helpful to do some gentle exercise like yoga, tai chi, go for a swim or a walk around the block. As well as continuing the process of relaxing your body, it will help you relax mentally and prepare for the day ahead.
  • Get a massage. A massage from either yourself, your partner or a professional can also be a great way to loosen up. Read our blog about the benefits of massage to find out more.
  • Apply topicals. Another way to apply warmth to stiff and painful joints is to use heat rubs, gels, sprays and creams that are applied directly to your skin (topically). There are a lot of them available, in many different forms and using different ingredients. When you apply them you’re actually benefiting from two things – the product itself and the mini-massage you enjoy when applying the product. Topical products work in a variety of ways and use different ingredients. Note: Be careful when using topicals that you read the instructions carefully, wash your hands thoroughly and avoid contact with your eyes and other sensitive areas.
  • Use your gadgets. For many people, joint stiffness can last for some time. The self-care techniques we’ve looked at so far will help, but may not completely get rid of all of your joint stiffness. That’s where aids and other gadgets come in. Things that take the stress off your joints can be extremely helpful, and reduce the risk of damaging joints or increasing your pain levels. Think of things like jar openers, zip pulls, thick grip pens, walking aids, a swivel seat to help you get in and out of the car etc. There are a lot of options available, so it’s best to talk with an OT for information and advice that specifically tailored to you.
  • Medications may help. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help some people manage their morning stiffness. They’re available over-the-counter or with a prescription. Or taking your medications before you go to bed may reduce the risk of joint stiffness in the morning. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking any new medications or change your medication schedule.

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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10/Sep/2020

Last issue we talked about spring cleaning our physical environment. There’s nothing like a thorough purge of your home or office, and the sense of satisfaction when everything is clean and organised just the way you like it 😊.

But it’s also a really good time to start thinking about how you can spring clean yourself – your body, mind and spirit.

2020 has been a really tough year and it’s not over yet.

We’ve been isolated, locked down, separated from loved ones, working from home (or lost work 😢) and home schooling. Through it all we’ve done the best we can to cope with a really difficult situation. But that takes a toll on us – physically and mentally – especially if you’re living with a chronic condition, pain and fatigue.

So let’s take advantage of the warmer days and the extra downtime many of us are dealing with and look at how we can sweep away the cobwebs and make ourselves sparkle this spring!

  • Unplug. We’re always connected these days, immersed in the news, social media, video chats, work/school, 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. And in the midst of a pandemic – this is the kind of contagion we need 😉. 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 have been seeking 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 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧👨‍👨‍👦‍👦👩‍👧👪.

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.

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07/May/2020

Anxiety and COVID-19

Have you noticed how everything seems heightened at the moment? Our stress, fear, boredom, tech issues (meh) and random acts of kindness. Everything we feel or experience seems so much bigger.

We’re having to find ways to manage this “big-ness” as we journey through COVID-19 and isolation. But that’s cool…

I told myself I was ok. Dealing with the same old stuff everyone is dealing with – except home schooling (phew) – I’m in serious awe of the parents out there doing the home schooling deal – wow!

Anyway I told myself and everyone else how fine I was. Busy, busy, busy. Lots to do. I’m working, I have a wonderful supportive partner, I have a roof over my head, I have food and toilet paper. I’m fine.

And then I wasn’t.

Like a lot of people I struggle from time to time with anxiety. And it’s been getting a little tricky lately keeping it under control. I was having sleep issues, stressing about things outside of my control, being snappy to those around me. But I told myself I was fine.

Until the day I took a break from work and went for a short walk. My heart started racing and I had to wrap my arms around myself because I felt like I was about to fly into a million pieces. I hurried home and got back to work. And I ignored it.

From this fragile state it only took a slight incident to send me over the edge and I fell apart. That’s when I realised I wasn’t fine, like I’d been telling myself. I wasn’t ok. I was a mess.

So it was time I actually started practising what I preach. I needed to take care of me.

It’s crazy – I understand the importance of self-care but I was just “too busy”, “too dedicated”, “too indispensable” to stop. That’s what my anxiety was telling me….”busy, busy, busy, can’t stop, must keep going, work all the hours”. So my regular exercise, healthy diet, relaxation, staying hydrated, making time for family and friends, managing my chronic condition and health in general – all of it – had gone out the window weeks ago.

But my body had decided we’d had enough.

I took a day off work (!) and went for a long walk in the park near my home. I called my adorable five year old niece and chatted about the things that were happening in her life and told her about the antics of my two crazy cats just to hear her laugh. I rode my bike in the sun. I had a bubble bath and read my long neglected book. I called a friend. And I took time with my partner to relax, cuddle and have a quiet evening with no screens allowed.

I’m feeling much better for having taken this time. I’m not 100%, but I’m working to manage my time, my stress and anxiety better than I had been.

I decided to write this blog about anxiety because I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who’s “fine”.

We’re living through extraordinary times that have come out of nowhere. We weren’t able to prepare ourselves for it, because we’ve not had to deal with anything like it before.

We exist in a new “normal” that’s anything but normal. So it’s easy for anxiety, stress, frustration, fear, loneliness and all kinds of emotions to sneak up on us, and absolutely blindside us.

We need to give ourselves a break and remember we’re doing the best we can.

But we also need to be honest when we ask ourselves if we’re ok. Don’t just toss out the automatic “I’m fine”. Many of us are so used to doing that when someone asks us about our musculoskeletal condition. It’s like a reflex – “I’m fine”.

So ask yourself “am I really ok?”. Not just on the surface, but deep down where we hide the stuff we don’t want anyone else to see.

And if you’re not, what can you do to look after yourself? Is it putting in place or updating a self-care plan? Is it asking for help – from family, friends or your doctor? Is it talking with your boss so you can take some time off to rest, relax and rediscover what’s important? Is it joining an online peer support group or catching up with friends? Is it setting goals or creating a new routine that makes time for self-care? Whatever it is, it’s important that you’re honest with yourself and others and if you’re not ok, say it. Don’t ignore it.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain 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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Photo by Grace Madeline on Unsplash


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22/Apr/2020

Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed and frustrated by 2020? You’re not alone! It’s been a bumpy ride so far. Filled with uncertainty, new pressures, lots of unknowns and a lack of control, many of us are feeling anxious, upset and vulnerable. When you have a musculoskeletal condition and live with regular pain and fatigue, the urge to retreat to your warm, cosy bed and pull the covers over your head can be very tempting.

But you’re strong – you’re a mighty warrior living with a chronic condition/s 🙂. You can take control of the situation and do something proactive by examining your self-care plan. Ask yourself – “is my pre-COVID self-care plan realistic now? Or does it need updating in light of the changes to my world?”

What is self-care

Self-care involves the things you deliberately do to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. It’s the things you plan for (e.g. water exercise classes, visiting your specialist) and you make time for (e.g. mindfulness, taking your dog for a walk, talking with a friend).

You often see articles about self-care with pictures of day spas, yoga retreats and people exercising on the beach at sunset. All wonderful things to do to take care of your health – but when you live with a chronic condition, and you live with pain and sometimes crippling exhaustion, life’s not that glamorous.

So to create a self-care plan for yourself that’s realistic and achievable during isolation, throw those ideas out the window and let’s get real. Start by recognising and appreciating the things that you can do right now.

Some mornings it’s all you can do to get out of bed, let alone shower. So the very basics of self-care involve good quality sleep, a nutritious diet, exercise, looking after your mental health and keeping yourself and your home clean. If you have family, then you have that added responsibility as well, especially at the moment if you’re home schooling while juggling work.

So wow – that’s already a lot! So let’s break it down into bite-size chunks

Get some sleep

Easier said than done I hear you say. But getting good quality sleep is crucial for our everyday functioning. If it’s an issue for you, especially at the moment, part of your 2020 self-care plan may be to look at ways you can improve your sleep quality and quantity. We have resources to help you – including nurses you can speak to on our Help Line (see details at bottom) and info on our website. Or if it’s a problem you feel you need extra help with, talk with your doctor (in person or via a telehealth consultation) to get professional help.

Eat a healthy, nutritious diet

While it’s tempting when you’re feeling crappy to eat foods you think of as comforting (e.g chocolate, cheese, ice cream, biscuits, alcohol) you need to enjoy them in moderation. While they may make you happy for a while, it’s only temporary. Too much of a good thing can lead to weight gain and other health issues. Eating a variety of healthy foods, in a range of colours (eat the rainbow) will make you feel better overall and will give you more energy. And on the days you’re feeling great, prepare some healthy meals you can pop in the freezer for the days you’re feeling lousy.

Stay active

Exercise is so important when you have a chronic condition, but when you can no longer access your warm water exercise class or your tai chi group, finding a new exercise program can be daunting. If you’re looking online, it can sometimes be hard to judge if the exercise will help or hinder you. We’ve created some information about exercising during this time – including some tips about how you can stay active, as well as how to judge whether an online video or app is right for you. If you need some expert help and guidance, talk with your doctor about seeing an exercise physiologist, a physiotherapist or a sports and exercise physician. You can access them via a telehealth consultation or visit them in person.

Take care of your mental health

It’s really easy when you’re constantly surrounded by virus talk to become overwhelmed. Especially if you’re worried about your health, family, work and finances. And when you’re stressed and not looking after yourself properly, it can affect all aspects of your life including your family (and many of us are living in tight quarters at the moment), your ability to focus on work properly, sleep well, eat well…and so it becomes a vicious cycle.

The good news is there are lots of things you can do to look after your mental health during this time (read our blog for tips and strategies) including getting professional help if you need it. Again you can access the help you need in person or via a telehealth consultation. Talk with your doctor if you want more information about getting professional help.

But a really simple thing you can do immediately is to limit your exposure to all things COVID – pick a time when you’ll catch up on what’s happening – for example the evening news or morning bulletin – and then turn it off and tune it out.

Cleaning – plan, prioritise and pace

Cleaning – yourself, your kids, your home can be an enormous challenge. Hands up if there are days you feel like you need a nap after having a shower in the morning? It happens to most of us living with chronic pain at one time or another. For some more frequently than others. But the best thing you can do is to plan, prioritise and pace yourself.

Even before you get out of bed, while you’re lying in your cocoon, plan what you would like to do during the day. Maybe have a notepad and pen beside your bed, or use a note app on your phone and write it all down. OK, seeing it in one place, you can see that it’s a lot.

So now to the second P – prioritise. What are the things you really need to do? Do you really need to wash your hair today, or can you use the dry shampoo? Do you really need to vacuum the entire house, or just the living area? Do you really need to do 15,000 steps today, or do you need to take it down a notch. You know how you’re feeling on any given day – so plan, then prioritise.

Which then brings us to the 3rd P – pacing. Whatever you’re doing – cleaning, exercising, cooking, working, gardening, playing with the kids – pace yourself. It’s not a race – so be generous with your time, build in space for rest breaks.

And this brings us to the 4th P – peeing…after lying in bed thinking about all of this, you now need to rush to the loo 🤣

And finally, when it comes to cleaning – don’t forget hand washing. We need to do it regularly and thoroughly. We also need to be careful how we cough, sneeze and blow our noses. And avoid touching our face. Check out our hygiene 101 blog for more info.

Make time for the things you enjoy

When you’ve given the basics of your self-care plan some TLC and revised it for the current world, now take some time to consider other aspects of self-care. You may not have the time, energy or inclination to do these sorts of things most days, but schedule time to do the things that make you really happy, or relaxed, or pampered at least once a week – like a bubble bath, taking an hour to curl up with a good book, having a moment of peace and quiet in your garden to relax, doing a jigsaw puzzle, video chat with your bestie. We all need these moments to help us recharge, especially when life is so crazy and unsettled.

Contact our free national Help Line

Our nurses are available weekdays between 9am-5pm to take your calls (1800 263 265), emails (helpline@msk.org.au) or messages via Messenger. So if you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services – contact them today.

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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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