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02/Jul/2020

An article in the news this week caught my eye and really struck a chord. I don’t know about you, but the period of isolation has seen me gain a little more weight than I’m happy with 🙄

Having more time to cook and create, stress eating, the return of Masterchef 😁 (Go Poh!) and not being as physically active as we were before COVID…not to mention the snacking, cocktail hour and a whole bunch of other factors has caused many of us to gain weight during iso.

Apart from the many health issues associated with being overweight (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure) it’s also linked to increased pain and joint damage due to the increased stress on your joints. It can also affect your ability to be as active as you’d like, which can lead to more pain, musculoskeletal issues and weight gain. We also know that fat releases molecules that increase inflammation throughout your body.

Clearly maintaining a healthy weight is important.

So if, like me, you want to lose some of the weight you’ve gained during the last few months, we can do it! We can turn this around. It may be a challenge and take some time, but we can lose the COVID kilos 😊.

  • Start with a goal. It really does help if you have a clear goal in mind. Just the idea of losing weight isn’t a goal, but a specific, measurable plan – for example – losing 5 kilos in 8 weeks is. So make sure your goal is SMARTspecific, measureable, achievable, realistic and has a timeframe. Read our blog on setting goals for more info. When you’ve created a goal that suits your specific wants and needs, write it down and put it somewhere prominent. It’s a great visual to help you stay on track, and remind you of why you started.
  • Keep track. It’s helpful when you’re trying to get back into a healthy routine to write down what you’re eating. You can use a simple notepad or download an app. Whatever format you choose, make sure you use it. Add every little thing you eat and drink, how much you’re consuming and when. Keeping track of your food intake really helps you see if your diet is balanced and it can help you spot any trends as far as snacking, serving sizes etc. That’ll help you adjust things if you need to.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes a colourful variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, proteins and healthy fats. This gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to work properly, helps you maintain a healthy weight, helps protect you against other health conditions and is vital for a healthy immune system.
  • (Re)Establish a routine. If you had a healthy diet and exercise routine pre-COVID, reestablish it. It may not be exactly the same, but if you had it once, you can do it again. Look at what’s changed for you over these last few months, how it’s affected your diet and exercise, and what things you need to do to get things working again for you in this new world. If you didn’t have a good routine before COVID, now’s the perfect time to get one. Think about your typical weekday (weekends will have a slightly different routine), what you need to fit into your day including your family, work and other commitments. Write it all down and think about how you can establish a routine that works for you. Think about when you’ll work on creating healthy meal plans, when you’ll shop for ingredients, when you’ll cook, and when you’ll exercise. If you break it down into the small tasks, it makes it easier to fit into your schedule. This may take some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort.
  • Get the family involved. Whether you have family living with you, or they’re in another location, get them involved. They’ll be your cheer squad, but they may also benefit from a little TLC when it comes to their diet and exercise. You can support each other, work through problems together, share recipes and ideas.
  • Exercise. Obviously. Make sure exercise is part of your everyday routine. It’s important to help manage your musculoskeletal condition, pain, mental health, weight, sleep – and so many others things.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Research has shown a clear link between not getting enough sleep and weight gain. Poor sleep is also linked to difficulties losing weight. As many people with musculoskeletal conditions struggle with sleep, this is yet another reason to really look at how you can improve your sleep quality and quantity. And if you need help, talk with your doctor.
  • Eat mindfully. This involves taking the time to be aware of what you’re cooking and eating – savour the tastes, the smells, the textures. Be present while you eat, and try not to be distracted by things like the work, TV and other devices. Don’t hurry, eat small bites, take your time and enjoy.
  • Distract yourself. Sometimes we eat not because we’re hungry, but because we’re bored, sad, lonely or upset. Before you eat something outside of meal times, ask yourself why you’re reaching for that food. Do you actually feel hungry? Or is there another reason? If you’re not hungry, distract yourself with a walk, call a friend, drink a glass of water (not wine! – many of us are overdoing that too – see below).
  • Choose snacks wisely. I’m not a chocoholic, but somehow it’s been finding its way into my cupboard on a regular basis 😁. It’s easy for this sort of thing to become a habit, so be mindful of what you’re snacking on and how often. If you’re snacking on less healthy options like high fat, high sugar or high salt treats, substitute them for healthy options such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, yoghurt. But be aware of the serving size and the frequency. You can have too much of a good thing! And save the treats for when you can really savour them. When you only eat them occasionally you’ll enjoy them even more 😉
  • Acknowledge that you’re not perfect and you may eat some things that aren’t part of your healthy eating plan. That’s OK, you’ll get back on track. Don’t let it trip you up, or allow the negative self-talk to sabotage your weight loss. Go back to your goal, remind yourself why you’re doing this, and move on.
  • Don’t deprive yourself but don’t ‘treat’ yourself too often either. Find that balance of enjoying your food, but don’t use it as a reward or to make yourself feel better if you’re feeling down or stressed.
  • Get help. If you’re struggling with your weight and you need professional help, talk with your doctor or dietitian. They can help you with practical information and strategies that are specifically tailored to you.
  • Be careful with alcohol. Reports are showing that many of us are drinking more during these stressful times. If that sounds familiar, cut back on your alcohol intake. Substitute other drinks that you enjoy instead of alcohol, though be careful of drinks high in sugar. Try different teas and infusions, add lemon and other fruits to your water, give kombucha a go (maybe? it can be an acquired taste 😉), make a mocktail (again be careful of the sugar content).

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, managing 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.

More to explore

Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash


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25/Jun/2020

This strange time we’re living through has forced us to live smaller. SARS-CoV-2 is going to hang around for quite some time, so our way of living will likely remain on the small scale for the foreseeable future.

And as we’ve seen with the spike in active cases in Victoria, restrictions can be eased and they can be tightened again. Trips overseas are out and trips interstate are dependent on state borders being open. Even travelling across our own state may be subject to restrictions if outbreaks continue.

It’s easy to feel a little despondent about the whole situation. It’s been a hard slog with no end in sight.

So it’s important we take some time to sit back and take stock. We’ve adapted to isolation and the massive changes in our world. We’ve been creative and done things that we couldn’t even imagine we would’ve done this time last year. We should give ourselves credit for that and continue to discover the small joys in life.

Like having a jigsaw on the go on the kitchen or coffee table that everyone adds to as they walk past. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they’ve been doing this…and how much satisfaction they get when they complete a tricky 1,000 piece puzzle.

Or discovering the parks, paths and until now unexplored areas in our neighbourhoods. Foot power and pedal power has us discovering many hidden treasures we never knew existed before COVID.

We’ve enjoyed cooking and creating meals together. Discovering an interesting recipe, trying new ingredients, and taking time to sit down together and talk, laugh and have fun. With the change in our routines, and the lack of social/sporting/school/work gatherings, we have a little more time to break away from the mundane meals of the past, at least occasionally. Turn the TV off, put some music on, enjoy the company and the meal.

We’ve hauled the dusty board games out of the back of cupboards and spent hours playing and enjoying time together…unless it’s Monopoly. It always seems to start well, then ends in tears 😁. We’re reading, planting vegie gardens, catching up on new TV shows, enjoying a cup of tea in the garden, doing the crossword together – basically living much more simply.

We’re catching up with friends and family with long phone calls and video chats. I think this’s been one of the best things that has come out of the pandemic. Without the distractions of work, social obligations, kids sports and the busyness of pre-COVID life, we have a bit more time to catch up and really talk. This has been wonderful 😊.

And for those of us with a chronic condition, being able to stay home has allowed us to feel safe from the virus, but has also given us the time to reevaluate how we’re travelling. For example, how’s our pain management? Do we need to tweak something, try something new? Are we looking after our mental health? Should we try some mind-body techniques such as mindfulness or guided imagery? This pandemic has paused the world in some ways, but it’s given us an opportunity to check our health and wellbeing.

This time will pass. It’s going to take a while, but we can adapt. We’ve been doing it for months, and we can continue to do it. And rediscovering the small joys in our world will help us get through.

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.

More to explore


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18/Jun/2020

As a species we’re social creatures. We need our tribe – whether it’s a large extended family group and lots of friends, a small intimate group of nearest and dearest, or somewhere in between. We need our connections.

I think that’s one of the hardest things we’ve had to deal with during this pandemic. We’ve been forced to change how we connect with others. We kept away from our people for months, and now that we can gather, we’re told to keep a distance, don’t touch, hug or shake hands. It feels so unnatural.

That’s the insidiousness of this virus. It’s infiltrated our world and affected the very fabric of our connectedness.

I need to make a confession – I’m incredibly sad as I write this blog. My aunt died today. She was a beloved mother, sister, grandmother, aunt and – like me – a crazy cat lady. She’s been unwell for quite some time, and I haven’t been able to see her for months. With isolation and the very real risk of spreading the virus to someone who was already so unwell, it was not a risk we could take.

And so she died, this wonderful, kind, most incredibly well-read woman. Without all of her family around her. And I’m so very sad.

I know I’m not unique in this situation. So many people have died during this pandemic – due to COVID-19 as well as the many other reasons people leave our world every single day. But sitting at home on a cold Sunday afternoon, I can’t help but reflect on how terribly sad this whole situation is.

We’ve missed, and will continue to miss, our celebrations and milestones. Weddings have been postponed. Babies have been born with far less fanfare than would normally happen. Special birthdays have been and gone without the usual fuss. Students have finished courses, aced exams or have mastered a difficult skill without the jubilant gathering of family and friends to celebrate. And funerals have occurred with only a small number of mourners allowed to attend in person.

And it’s not only the milestones and celebrations we’re missing. It’s the small events, the little encounters that go to the very heart of who we are. The big events are important, but the small things, the everyday incidental stuff with workmates, neighbours, friends, family – they’re the things that make our lives rich.

So we need to find ways to ensure our milestones, gatherings, phone calls, video chats and every day encounters carry as much joy, love, sadness, real emotion and connection as they possibly can.

Celebrate and bask in the little things. Share your day – the highs and lows with your partner/kids/closest friend – and really listen as they do the same. Take time to sit and reflect on what’s been happening in your life and those close to you. Even though it may feel like life is moving slowly at the moment, it’s moving quickly – can you believe it’s almost the end of June? – and so much can happen in a day, a week, a month. Don’t let these moments pass you by.

Tell those close to you how much they mean to you. Extend that support and kindness beyond your own bubble to those you encounter at the supermarket, when you’re driving, talking with your child’s teacher, or when you’re in a work meeting. We’re all dealing with all kinds of stuff – big and small – so let’s discard the petty annoyances and frustrations.

We’re still some way from finding a vaccine or treatment for this virus. It’s vital we continue to support and care for each other in this new normal we live in.

Life is short, and although it’s changed so dramatically, we have so much to be thankful for.

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.

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

More to explore

It’s okay to feel sad
Better Health Channel

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash


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04/Jun/2020

As COVID-19 restrictions came into force at the end of March, life as a Musculoskeletal Help Line Nurse began to change. Like many who were lucky enough to be able to work from home, I packed up my office, put it in the boot of my car and set-up my new workspace at home.

Work looked a little different now – face to face meetings became Zoom meetings, COVID-19 health news dominated our searches and we began recording videos to keep consumers updated. But most importantly one constant remained – we were still on the end of the phone or email for when a consumer needed some help or advice.

While the usual enquiries kept coming, there were also stories of personal struggles during the lockdown. People shared their feelings of anxiety surrounding social isolation, their vulnerability and how all too often their exercise routine had diminished, and their pain had increased. We talked over ways to try and overcome this – meditation, mindfulness, online exercise, pain management strategies etc – but sometimes it was just enough to have someone to talk things over with, and to feel like someone was really listening.

While the struggles were evident, it was also lovely to hear reports of some positive experiences that emerged. Social isolation forced many of us to slow down, to reflect on how much we try to squeeze into a day/week, and perhaps allowed us to reflect on the simple things in life that make us happy. For some it was spending more quality time with their immediate family, others enjoyed time to potter in the garden, clear out the cupboards, do some DIY or simply relax with a good book. In a hectic world, pressing the pause button seemed to bring a little light relief in one form or another.

As a nurse I am privileged to be able to share in peoples life experiences, including their ups and downs, and as we all get used to the ‘new normal’ I hope that I can continue to provide a friendly ear to make the COVID-19 journey just that little bit easier.

Clare

And some feedback from one of our recent callers:

“Thank you so much for your caring, helpful time with me, giving me very important vital information that I truly need in this very big, busy, fast city…I have received your email with excellent advice in all possible ways and hope for a better way of going along this painful journey with chronic conditions…in which I may be able to benefit and try…and not to feel so alone. I truly hope that things will change for the better. Thank you again Anne, have a gentle relaxing evening and keep warm. Can’t wait to see and read all the goodies inside the email you sent me. With best wishes and kind regards, VC”

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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28/May/2020

It’s a good thing iso is starting to ease around the country. Did you know people have been injuring themselves with all this time at home? Who knew taking time to get fit, being creative with exercise or tackling some of the DIY jobs around the house could be so dangerous?😮

So here are some tips to help you stay safe at home:

Exercise

We’ll soon be able to go back to our gyms, pools and fitness centres – but the number of people who can be in these spaces at one time will be strictly limited. So you’ll probably still have to make do with home exercise. To keep safe we suggest you:

  • talk with your doctor, exercise physiologist or physiotherapist – in person or via telehealth – if you’re concerned that you’re feeling more pain than usual when exercising or after exercising. They can also tailor a home exercise program to suit your specific needs and health conditions.
  • book an appointment to talk with an instructor at your fitness centre. They can run through your exercises and give you feedback about your exercise technique.
  • before using online exercise videos, classes or apps, check the qualifications of the instructor. Do they have the expertise to provide these exercises safely? And for people with musculoskeletal conditions? Read our blog about evaluating online exercise.
  • warm up before you exercise, and cool down when you finish. Many of us skip this because we don’t feel like we have the time or just can’t be bothered. But it’s an important part of exercising and may help reduce injury. Warming up increases blood flow to the muscles and gives you the chance to get in the right headspace for exercise. Cooling down helps your body return to the resting state it was in before you started, allowing your heart rate to lower and your body to cool down.
  • don’t push yourself too far too quickly. Many of us saw iso as a chance to jump in and get fit. Yay – all this time to exercise, nothing can stop us. Until you hurt yourself or do too much 😪 That’s why it’s important to build up slowly and progress over time. But you do need to challenge yourself, so ensure that your exercise gets more difficult over time.
  • if your joint/s feel particularly painful after exercising (for longer than two hours after an exercise session), reduce the intensity of your next session. And if an activity causes you pain or increases your pain beyond what’s normal for you, then stop this activity. Get advice from a professional to ensure you’re doing the exercise correctly or to modify it for you.

Cycling

Wow that’s really taken off! And it’s great to see so many people and families out cycling together. But if you’re not used to riding a bike regularly you can get hurt. So:

  • be realistic. We’ve all heard the saying “it’s just like riding a bike” so we assume it’s simple, but if you’re not riding regularly, start small. It’s easy when you have the wind in your hair and the sun on your face to just ride and ride and ride. But remember, you need to return to where you started. So plan a bike route that’s easy, flat and achievable. You can increase this over time.
  • make sure you have all the right bits and pieces to keep you and others (like pedestrians) safe. So wear a helmet, use your bell when approaching others and have a light fitted just in case you get caught out when the light begins to fade. And wear comfortable, high visibility clothes so you can be seen.
  • use a bike path if there’s one nearby. Especially if you’re starting out or fairly new to riding. Riding in traffic can be scary and intimidating, and if you’re not confident it can be dangerous. So build up your confidence on bike paths.
  • read our blog for more tips about riding a bike.

DIY

Like getting fit, iso was going to be a time when we got all those odd jobs and repairs done around the home. But this has seen people falling off ladders and injuring themselves with power tool – yikes. So before you tackle that DIY job:

  • ask yourself – does it require a professional? There are some jobs – like electrical work and larger plumbing repairs or installations – that should only be done by someone with the necessary skills and qualifications.
  • do a risk assessment. Most of the time we just want to get the job done – the gutter unclogged, the new towel rail hung. But are there any risks involved? Do you have the right tools and equipment? Do you know if there are electrical cables behind the wall? You don’t need to write up a full risk assessment report, but just take some time before you get started to make sure you have everything you need to proceed safely.
  • be careful if you use a ladder. This is one of the biggest hazards for the DIYer – falling from a ladder or stepladder. And you can really hurt yourself. So if you’re using one, make sure you have someone around to help you move it and to ensure you’re safe. Move the ladder when you need to – don’t lean over or stretch to reach something – that’s when you can overbalance and fall.
  • whatever DIY job you’re doing – dress for it. Wear suitable clothing, footwear, gloves, and a mask if there’ll be dust or fumes.
  • don’t do anything if you’re not 100% – so if you’re tired, you’ve been drinking or you’re affected by drugs (including prescription meds) – don’t do anything. The job will still be there tomorrow.

Mental health

As well as physical injuries we may have suffered during this time, our mental health may have also taken a hit. There’s been a rise in the number of people experiencing anxiety and depression from being cooped up in iso and the loss of normal life and routines. And there’s also the stresses of working and schooling from home, financial pressure and general worry about the future. These issues are no less serious than falling from a ladder or stacking your bike, so if you’re struggling talk with someone. Whether it’s your partner, family member, a close friend or a professional, talk with someone. Don’t ignore these feelings. There’s a lot of help available.

Get help

Finally, if you do hurt yourself seek medical advice. Many people are putting off going to see their doctor or the emergency department for fear of COVID-19. However medical facilities have measures in place to keep the general public and their staff as safe as possible. So if you injure yourself, don’t ignore it or soldier on – make an appointment to see your doctor, or if it’s serious go to the emergency department or call an ambulance.

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.

More to explore

Check out some of our health articles and blogs for more info.


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07/May/2020

Hands up if you’re feeling tired at the moment? Or if you’re too weary to raise your hand, just a brief nod will do it 😉 It seems like we’re a nation of tired people at the moment (😪).

Why is this? We’re not going out like we used to, to the movies, restaurants, family gatherings, to see friends, sports events, or take the kids to all of their extra-curricular activities. We should be swimming in time and feeling relaxed and rested, right?

Ah, no.

We’re stressed

Stop me if you’ve heard this before but we’re going through unprecedented times. This pandemic is causing massive disruptions to our lives, our families, our work and our routines. This constant uncertainty causes us to feel stressed. All the time.

When we’re stressed our bodies release adrenaline. It’s so we can react to a crisis, the old ’fight or flight’ response. But when the stress is constant, as many of us are feeling at the moment, this has an effect on our health – including making us feel physically and mentally tired.

There are lots of things you can do to manage stress. By understanding what’s causing your stress, you can start to manage it. This may include things like developing a new routine (and sticking to it), exercising, talking with your family about how you’re feeling, finding ways to relax, making sure you’re eating a healthy diet and drinking enough water, getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding excessive use of alcohol and other drugs.

We’re staying indoors more

Because of restrictions we’re staying inside our homes more. So we’re not getting exposed to as much sunlight as we normally would. A lack of sunlight causes the brain to produce more of the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy.

To deal with this, schedule time every day to go outside for a walk or stroll in your yard, open your blinds or curtains as soon as you get up and expose yourself to as much sunlight as you can. It’ll help you feel more awake and improve your mood. Just think how much better you feel after being stuck indoors when you get out into the sun. It makes you feel so much more energetic and alive! So this one’s a no brainer. We just have to make time to do it.

We’re sleeping less (or more) than usual

Let’s face it, since this all started our usual everyday routines have been shot to pieces. Work, home life, family, socialising, shopping – it’s all so different at the moment. When you add stress to the mix, our sleep is often affected.

You may find you’re sleeping less than usual because you’re working long hours to catch up on work after spending the day home schooling the kids, or you’re watching more TV and spending more hours online, or stress is causing you to feel more pain and you’re having issues sleeping through the night.

Or you may be sleeping more – trying to rid yourself of this constant feeling of tiredness, or because you’re bored, or because it’s cold outside and you’re feeling cosy and warm indoors, or because you’re feeling sad. Not enough sleep, too much sleep and poor quality sleep will all increase how tired you feel.

That’s why it’s important that you stick to a sleep schedule – even on the weekends. Get out of bed in the morning and go to bed at night, at the same time every day. Your body needs this regularity for your internal clock to function properly, and to help you fall asleep and wake up more easily and feeling more refreshed.

And if you’re regularly finding it difficult to sleep or get out of bed because you’re feeling really sad or down, it’s a really good idea to talk with someone about this, whether it’s family, a close friend or your doctor. Please don’t ignore this.

We’re exercising less

Many of us are finding we’re exercising less because we don’t have access to our warm water exercise classes, tai chi, gyms and exercise groups. Not getting enough exercise can make you feel sluggish and tired. If this continues for some time, we start to get out of shape and feel less inclined to exercise. So it’s really important to make exercise – whether it’s online videos and apps, walking, dusting off your old exercise DVDs, or dancing around the living room – an essential part of your everyday routine. And get the family involved. Everyone needs to be exercising and staying active for our physical and mental wellbeing. If you’re home alone, use a video app to call a friend and exercise together. You’ll find you’ll feel more energised and happier when you’re exercising regularly.

We live with chronic conditions

Apart from all of above affecting how tired we’re feeling, we live with chronic musculoskeletal conditions and other health issues. These often cause us to feel fatigued. Many of our medications and living with chronic pain can also make us feel excessively tired. When you add a pandemic on top of that, the unique issues you’re facing – how the virus may affect you, worry about being more at risk, how to safely access your healthcare team, navigating telehealth – it can heighten you’re feelings of fatigue.

Many of the things we’ve looked at – such as establishing a routine, getting adequate sleep, eating well, exercising and staying connected with your family, friends and work colleagues will help you with some of these issues.

You can also get help from your GP and from the nurses on our Help Line. Contact a peer support group or go online and connect with others dealing with similar things. Even just talking with others who know exactly how you’re feeling can help you feel less isolated.

We may need to talk with our doctor

Finally if you’re concerned that your tiredness is due to more than just the reasons listed above, it might be worth talking with your doctor about it. Your tiredness may be caused by other things like vitamin deficiency (for example iron and vitamin D), side effects of your medications, feeling sad, anxious or depressed or it may indicate another health issue. So make an appointment to discuss it with your doctor – either in person or via a telehealth consultation.

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.

More to explore

Photo by Tracey Hocking on Unsplash


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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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01/Apr/2020

Our worlds have turned upside down and inside out. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of the new normal of isolation and staying at home, a new restriction comes into place. These restrictions are vital to help prevent the spread of a highly infectious virus, but they do make it hard to find your balance.

It’s no wonder most of us are feeling anxious, stressed, upset, angry, vulnerable and a whole host of other emotions. When you also have a musculoskeletal condition, especially if you’re immunocompromised, all of these emotions may be heightened.

That’s why as well as looking after our physical health, it’s really important we look after our mental health.

We’ve put together a list of many practical things you can do to look after your mental health during the pandemic.

A quick warning, this is a ridiculously long blog 😉 but there’s so much we wanted to share with you!

Read it all, or just read the bits that are relevant to you at the moment and revisit as things change.

Find a new routine

This will obviously depend on what you need to do in your day, if you have people depending on you, if you’re working from home, have school work (or need to help others with school work) etc.

It might help to sit down with the members of your household and create a calendar that includes everyone’s commitments and needs. Things to think about when creating your calendar:

  • Get everyone involved. We’re living together in close quarters at the moment, without many of our usual distractions, sports and our friends, so it’s vital that everyone feels that their needs matter and they’re being heard.
  • Include specific time for fun stuff, exercise and connecting with family and friends. Dust off the board games – who doesn’t like a good game of Twister, Monopoly or Yahtzee?
  • Keep your weekends separate – this is really important so that you can get your chores done (sadly the laundry doesn’t stop because of a pandemic) and you have time to do creative stuff, exercise, and get a break from the workday routine.
  • Be very clear on your hours. It’s really easy to lose track of time. If you find this happening, set reminders on your phone to alert you.

Stay informed

There’s a lot of information out there about COVID-19, which can add to our anxiety and stress. But we need to stay up-to-date with factual, current information. Visit the Australian Government website for the latest from the government. Visit our website, follow us on Facebook, and/or call our Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 or email our nurses helpline@msk.org.au for info and support.

And once you’re up-to-date, put the news away for a while. It really doesn’t help our mental state to continually check what’s happening. Consider having a specific time (or two) when you check the latest news, and then go back to doing other things.

Get some sleep

We often struggle with sleep at the best of times, because we live with chronic pain. Unfortunately anxiety and stress can make this worse. But it’s important that we do all we can to get some decent sleep. Our physical and mental wellbeing is inextricably linked to good quality sleep – and getting enough of it. Read our recent blog for some practical tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

The Conversation has also recently written a useful article about the importance of sleep, especially now: Sleep won’t cure the coronavirus but it can help our bodies fight it.

Exercise regularly

We’ve talked, and will continue to talk about the importance of staying active – both during a pandemic (still blows my mind to say that) and during normal times. It helps us sleep better, maintain our weight, manage our pain, reduces our risks of developing other health conditions, and it improves our mood. There’s very clear evidence that regular exercise reduces stress, anxiety and feelings of depression and boosts our self-esteem. So exercise outdoors if you can (while maintaining physical distancing), and exercise in and around your home. Read our blog about exercising during the pandemic.

Eat well

Hands up who’s eating more often, and more unhealthy food choices at the moment? 🙋‍♀️🙋‍♂️ Food is a comfort to us all…and when we’re feeling a bit lost many of us reach for the food that makes us happy. But remember this gratification is short lived. Try to stick to your usual meal times, and gather everyone together and discuss your day (as long as you’re all well). If you live alone, use one of the many apps available (e.g. House Party, Hangouts) and share a virtual meal with a friend or your family.

Be careful with alcohol and other drugs

The temptation may be there to drink a little more, or use other drugs to make you feel better. But any mood changes you may experience are temporary, and drugs and alcohol have a negative effect on our mental health and our wellbeing.

Stay connected

Many of us are feeling the effects of being isolated, even if we live with others. We’re missing our circle of friends, our various social groups, our workmates and our extended families. There are many ways we can stay connected and keep up with each other’s lives. The simplest way is to pick up the phone and call. Avoid discussing the doom and gloom of the news cycle if you can. Instead focus on the new things you’re doing, your triumphs, how you’ve been able to work through challenges. And if there is something really worrying you, or making you anxious or upset, discuss it with someone you trust. Don’t ignore it. Get it out in the open so you can deal with it. As well as calling people, use tech to connect. There are a ridiculous number of ways to connect with others using social media platforms and apps. If you’re not sure where to start, read From Houseparty to Hangouts, these apps can help you stay social in coronavirus isolation by ABC News.

Create something

Channel your inner creativity. It’s a great way to relieve stress, and distract yourself from the worries of the world. There are a lot of online tutorials and info to help you: write a poem/song/novel/blog; learn a craft/language/skill; grow a flower/herb/vegie garden; paint a landscape/portrait/abstract; organise your home/office/life; cook a new recipe.

The sky really is the limit. So ask yourself – what have you always wanted to do if you just had the time??

Turn off the screens/limit news

Although a lot of the tools we’re using to deal with this pandemic are online, we need to set ourselves limits. Too much screen time, too much news – it’s just not good for us. As with everything, moderation is key. Turn off the electronics and pick up a book, or go for a walk, weed the garden, do some deep breathing exercises, talk with someone, try mindfulness. Do anything else but look at your screen or the news…at least for a while.

Give yourself a break

Our world really is crazy at the moment, so it’s important to recognise that and give yourself a break. We’ve not had to deal with a pandemic on this scale before, so be kind to yourself, and if you have a bad day, or a meltdown, that’s ok, we’ve all done it. You’ll brush yourself off and keep on going. And if you feel like you’re not finding it as easy to move on, or get past these moments, it might be time to talk with your doctor about getting professional help.

Get help when you need it

This may be psychological help if you feel like you’re not coping emotionally, financial help if you’re worried about your money situation or legal help if you have some concerns about your employment rights, or you have questions about writing your Will or setting up Powers of Attorney. Getting expert advice can help relieve some anxiety.

Take heart

🧡We’ll get through this. We may have to change and adapt, but we will come out on the other side of this pandemic. We just have to be patient, follow the advice and guidance of our health professionals and the government, look after each other and be creative with how we live during these crazy times.

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01/Apr/2020

This blog was updated 15 April 2020.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. Welcome to our brave new world”.

OK, so I’ve mixed my classic Hollywood movie and a classic Huxley novel, but we really are in unchartered waters!

Just this week the Federal Government announced that telehealth will now be available for everyone. It’s one of the many measures the government is introducing, to enforce physical distancing and slow down the spread of the virus.

So what is telehealth and how is it even possible? 🤔

Simply put telehealth enables you to consult with your health professional over the phone or through a videoconferencing app (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp).

Depending on the technology you have available, and how comfortable you are using it, you might have a conversation over your phone with your doctor (like any other phone call), or you may interact face-to-face through a videoconferencing app.

Don’t worry though – if you’re only comfortable talking on your phone, that’s fine. You don’t have to download apps and learn how to use them. But if you’re interested, they’re easy to use. They just take a little practice.

Will I have to pay more for telehealth?

It depends. The Health Department has recently made some changes around telehealth.

From 6 April 2020 telehealth services must be bulk billed for “Commonwealth concession card holders, children under 16 years old and patients who are more vulnerable to COVID-19”.

The good news is that ‘vulnerable’ includes people being treated for a chronic condition and people who are immune-compromised. For all other patients, health professionals may set their own fees for the new temporary MBS telehealth items.

Confused? You’re not alone! Read this fact sheet (PDF) from the Department to find out more: COVID-19 Telehealth Services: Consumer Factsheet, Last updated: 25 May 2020

With any new system we need time to adjust

As many of us have discovered as we’ve started working, schooling and just trying to entertain ourselves at home, there may be some teething issues.

If you’re calling over the phone you’ll need to adjust to not seeing your doctor face to face; if you’re using an app you’ll need time to adjust to using new technology.

And if you’re using an app you may also experience slower internet speeds, which may affect your consultation. This is more likely to happen during busy times when everyone’s trying to get online (streaming their favourite shows, catching up with friends, watching cat videos).

As with any appointment, there can also be issues with time. Your health professional may be running late, they could be having tech issues, other patients needing more time, a medical emergency, or because they’re human and also need to adjust to working from home. You may be running late too. So it’s vital we all try to be patient, and give ourselves and others some leeway as we navigate this new ‘normal’.

But we can make it easier

We’ve identified these potential issues not to freak you out, but to prepare you. So here are our top tips to telehealth harmony.

Be patient – if your doctor is running late, if your internet is slow, if your appointment is rescheduled due to an emergency, be patient. This can be really hard to do when you’re unwell or in pain. You can feel vulnerable and worried, and being stuck at home can be frustrating. But becoming impatient won’t change the situation and will only make you feel worse – both physically and emotionally. Make a cuppa, read a book, do a crossword, talk with your partner/cat/dog/kids – distract yourself while you wait.

However if you have chest pain or difficult breathing, or have a medical emergency, call 000 immediately.

Don’t wait for your telehealth appointment.

Be prepared – before your appointment, make a list of the things you want to discuss with your doctor. Put them in order from the most important to the least. That way you won’t finish your consultation and then kick yourself for not asking X. Also – be aware that your appointment may end earlier than you anticipate if there’s a tech issue or an emergency. So lead with your most pressing questions or concerns, and if you have time, follow with the ones that are less important.

Be kind – our health professionals are doing the very best they can, often under very stressful, trying circumstances. They’re our frontline during this crisis, so please be kind to them. And be kind to yourself. You’re learning new technology or new ways to do things and just trying to stay sane during an insane time – recognise that you’re also doing the best you can. So hang in there.

Talk with someone who cares

Call the National MSK Help Line – our nurses are available weekdays from 9am to 5pm on 1800 263 265 or you can email helpline@msk.org.au. They can help you with info and support about musculoskeletal conditions, managing pain, treatments, accessing services, COVID-19 and much more.

Call the National Coronavirus Helpline – if you want information on coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 020 080.

More to explore

Expert advice matters
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
This new website from the RACGP provides information on the importance of continuing to see your GP – especially if you live with a chronic condition or you develop new symptoms or illnesses. It also provides lots of useful info about telehealth.

What is telehealth and is it right for you? 
NHMRC Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability, March 2020
This guide explains the basics of telehealth and describes how to find telehealth services. 

Attending a video consultation 
NHMRC Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability, March 2020
This guide explains how you should prepare so you can get the best out of your video consultation.

What can you use a telehealth consult for and when should you physically visit your GP?
The Conversation, 1 April 2020
Some info to help you work out when you should or shouldn’t use telehealth, with a handy infographic to clarify it even further.


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25/Mar/2020

Update – April 2020. This blog has been updated in line with the new restrictions on gatherings and physical distancing.

Ok, so the title dates me…I’m a child of the 80s. Olivia Newton-John was a leg-warmer wearing goddess to many 🤣🤣

During this crazy, unbelievable, unprecedented COVID-19 (coronavirus) time it’s important that we embrace the practice of physical distancing, also called social distancing (your choice whether to do this wearing leg warmers, but please, please, please just do it).

It’s the best option we have for slowing the spread of COVID-19 so that we protect the most vulnerable in our community (our older people, people with suppressed immune systems, people with chronic conditions, pregnant women and people with pre-existing health conditions). Obviously, this list includes many of us, so physical distance is important for protecting our own health and wellbeing, as well as the broader community.

Physical distancing also helps us to flatten the curve. You may have heard this term reported in the media and thought – “huh?? What does that have to do with me?”.  In basic terms when we practice physical distancing we reduce the risk of passing on, or catching the virus and we’re helping to spread out the number of people becoming infected over a longer period of time. By spreading it out, our health system is more equipped to handle the numbers and not become overwhelmed, which would be the case if we all got sick tomorrow.

And it’s not just us – many of our wonderful healthcare workers will inevitably get sick too. Which will affect the ability of the health system to keep up with the demand. So spreading this out over a longer period of time makes a lot of sense. Read more about flattening the curve here. 

Now more than ever it’s important we stay in contact with the people we care about

Personally, I like the term physical distancing. It’s seems to me to be less isolating and now more than ever it’s important we maintain our social connections (just not physically in the same space). By maintaining our physical distance we can still chat and stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues – using technologies like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, emails, as well as going old school and actually calling someone (insert gasp here) and even send letters (both WHO and CDC have confirmed that you can’t catch the virus through your mail).

So what do you need to know about physical distancing?

Stay informed. This is really important. Misinformation leads normally rational people to buy more toilet paper they can use in a lifetime, causing shortages for others. It leads to fear, anxiety, confusion and anger. So stay informed with accurate, up-to-date information. Go to our website, we have a dedicated section with up-to-date, reliable and practical information on COVID-19.

Maintain your physical distance. But be careful with the pinwheeling arms (if you’re not a child of the 80s look it up). I saw someone doing that today to emphasise that she had enough space around her and she almost took her husband’s eye out (clearly he wasn’t keeping the recommended physical distance).

We’re advised to maintain at least 1.5 metres between ourselves and others. As a guide if you stretch your arms out to your sides (horizontal with the floor) and imagine this amount of space goes all the way around you. Now imagine everyone you come in contact with has the same amount of space around them. This is how much distance you need to keep between yourself and others.

Stay home. We’ve now entered a period that requires us to stay at home as much as possible. The 1.5 metre space around you is a guide for when you HAVE to go out. We’re being advised to only go out when absolutely necessary – when we need to go to the supermarket or chemist for supplies. If you do have to go out, try to avoid crowds and touching too many surfaces.

Now’s the time to embrace your inner introvert! Think about all the times you said you’d like to do X if only you had the time. Well now’s the time! Learn that language, write that book, do something with all your holiday photos, clean the clutter from your cupboard/house/garage, virtually travel the world, live stream the zoo, tune in to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra online. You’re not only doing something you’ve always wanted to do, but you’re helping to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Public gatherings. On 29 March the Federal Government brought in restrictions to limit most indoor and outdoor non-essential gathering to 2 people. Places where more than 2 people may gather as they’re considered to be essential are: workplaces (if you can’t work from home), health care settings, pharmacies, food shopping, schools and universities (if you can’t study from home) and public transport. You need to maintain physical distance (i.e 1.5 metres between each person) during this time. Unfortunately many of our favourite places to gather are not considered essential at this time. This includes: libraries, cafes, galleries, movie theatres, markets and places of worship. But this won’t last forever – and just think how much more we’ll enjoy them when we get to go back?? Find out more about these restrictions: Limits on public gatherings for coronavirus (COVID-19).

Look after yourself. While you might be tempted to go full out couch-potato, you need to stay active, eat healthy foods and watch your weight, get plenty of sleep, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, and generally look after yourself. Also go easy on the alcohol. These things will all help your immune system, and help you feel the best you can. And if you do become sick – whether it’s with COVID-19, a cold or some other illness, you’ll do better if you’ve been looking after your health.

Check in with others. There are many people on their own who may become isolated during this time. Call them. If you don’t know them (for example an elderly neighbour) leave them a note with your phone number and let them know you can help them out if they need groceries or other supplies. Also some people may just need to hear another voice and know someone is looking out for them.

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