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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.

More to explore


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22/Oct/2020

And things you can do to manage

Finding and keeping a job when you have a musculoskeletal condition can be difficult. Pain, fatigue, medication side effects and the unpredictability of your condition can all affect your ability to work.

The extent to which this happens will depend on many things such as the condition you have, e.g. back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, how severe it is, how well it’s being managed and the type of work you do. Physically demanding work, such as building, nursing and farming, will be impacted by painful joints or restricted movements. And any work that requires you to focus and concentrate, especially for extended periods of time, will be affected by brain fog, pain and lack of sleep.

The good news is there are things you can do to help manage these issues. We’ve listed a bunch of strategies here. This is part 1 of our 2 part blog.

Note: we understand that some of these strategies may not be possible for all workplaces or conditions. However the majority of them can be adapted in some way to suit your needs.

Work with your healthcare team to ensure your condition is under control and well managed. This may involve your GP, rheumatologist, physiotherapist, podiatrist and/or occupational therapist. They’ll also help you develop a plan to manage at work when your condition flares.

Evaluate your workspace. Whatever your setting – office, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, transport – there are options for making it more supportive for you. The first step is to talk with an occupational therapist about the issues you’re facing and developing some strategies to help you manage them. They may include simple things such as being aware of your posture throughout the day and changing position regularly to reduce pain, strain and fatigue. They may also include changing your workspace to make it work for you.

For example:

  • using a standing/sitting desk
  • rearranging the setup so that items you use most often are close by
  • sitting on a chair or perch instead of standing for long periods
  • using a headset on your phone
  • getting lumbar supports for your chair or car seat
  • using a trolley to help you move heavy items.

Some of these options may be easy to do without going through your employer, but some changes may need their involvement. If your employer knows about your condition, then you can discuss these changes together. However if you’ve chosen not to disclose your condition, your employer is still obliged to make reasonable adjustments to your workstation or environment to ensure your comfort and safety. Things such as stand up desks, foot rests, wrist rests, height adjustable chair, ergonomic chair are all considered reasonable. For more information read our information on Employment FAQs and visit Safe Work Australia.

Take control of your pain. Chronic pain can affect your ability to do the things you want and need to do, your quality of sleep, your concentration and mood. Basically it sucks 😣. That’s why you need a toolbox of strategies for managing your pain. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to pain management. So having several strategies you know work for you, is essential. They may include gentle exercise, medications, heat and cold, stretches, massage, splints, braces and aids and equipment. It’ll take some trial and error, but it’s well worth the effort to find what works best for you. You can then pull them out of your toolbox when needed, giving you more control over your pain. Your doctor and physiotherapist can also give you tips for managing your pain while at work. For more information and practical tips for dealing with pain, read Managing your pain: An A-Z guide.

Along with pain, fatigue is a massive issue for people with musculoskeletal conditions. Fatigue is very different from just being a little tired. It’s overwhelming physical and mental tiredness that makes every activity a struggle. But there are things you can do to manage so that it has less impact on your life and your work. Find out how.

Acknowledge the unpredictability of your condition. It’s a fact that musculoskeletal conditions are unpredictable. You often won’t know you’re about to have a flare until one happens. Apart from increased pain, stiffness and fatigue, having a flare can be really stressful as you worry about getting things done – at work and at home. So having a plan in place for managing – before a flare occurs – means you can be proactive. This may involve developing a plan with your healthcare team that will help you cope at work, prioritising and pacing your activities so that you get any important, time dependent tasks done when you’re feeling your best, discussing flexible work arrangements (like working from home) with your employer, or taking time off work or reducing your hours until you can get the flare under control. The important thing is that you’re prepared, with a plan of attack in place, ready to go when needed.

Use your scheduled breaks. It’s easy when you’re feeling under pressure – whether it’s from your employer or pressure you’ve put on yourself – to ignore your lunch or tea breaks and just keep working. But this will only add to your stress, pain and fatigue. You need to take some downtime during your day to eat, drink and give your mind and body a break. If you can, get outdoors and breathe in some fresh air. When you return from your break you’ll feel better, have a clearer head, and be more productive.

For more info and tips check out part 2 of this blog.

Call our Help Line

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

More to Explore

JobsAccess
Australian Government
JobAccess is the national hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers. It provides:

  • a wide range of info and services to help people with disability find and keep jobs, get promoted to better jobs, upgrade or expand their workplace skills
  • advice on modifying your work area, talking about your disability, training for your co-workers, negotiating flexible work arrangements and returning to work
  • the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) which gives financial help to eligible people with disability and mental health conditions and employers to buy work related modifications, equipment, Auslan services and workplace assistance and support services.
  • and much more.

Work Assist
Australian Government
Work Assist can help you stay in work if you risk losing your job through illness, injury or disability.

I have a job and arthritis: Now what?
Arthritis Society Canada

Fatigue: Beyond tiredness
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK)

Sleep and pain
painHEALTH 

Managing flares
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) 


Woman-sitting-back-pain.jpg
22/Oct/2020

And things you can do to manage

This blog was so full of info and strategies we had to split it into 2 parts 😊. You can access part 1 here.

But here’s a recap: We know finding and keeping a job when you have a musculoskeletal condition like back painrheumatoid arthritisosteoarthritis and gout can be really tough.

Pain, fatigue, medication side effects and the unpredictability of your condition can all affect your ability to work.

The extent to which this happens will depend on things such as the condition you have, how severe it is, how well it’s being managed and the type of work you do. Physically demanding work will be impacted by painful joints or restricted movements. And any work that requires you to focus and concentrate, especially for extended periods of time, will be affected by brain fog, pain and lack of sleep.

The good news is there are things you can do to help manage these issues. We’ve listed a bunch of strategies here. This is part 2 of our 2 part blog.

Note: we understand that some of these strategies may not be possible for all workplaces or conditions. However the majority of them can be adapted in some way to suit your needs.

Manage your meds. Sometimes medications cause side effects like nausea, headaches, lightheadedness and drowsiness. This can make it really hard to concentrate at work, and may in fact make it dangerous to perform some work duties such as driving or operating machinery. If you find that your medications are causing issues for you, talk with your doctor about possible alternatives you can use.

You may also need to have a review of your medications if you find your condition’s not under control or you need more help managing pain and other symptoms. Again, talk with your doctor about this.

Get a good night’s sleep. We all go through periods when sleep is elusive. Chronic pain and anxiety are just a couple of things that can affect our ability to get enough quality sleep. But sleep is important for good physical and mental health, and to give us the ‘get up and go’ we need to get to work and work productively. If you’re having issues sleeping, don’t just put up with it. There are lots of things you can do to get the sleep you need.

Take a break. Get up, move and clear your head. We all need to take breaks for our physical and mental wellbeing. So walk to the photocopier or around the block, do some simple stretches, step outside and do some deep breathing or visualisation. Whatever helps you manage your pain, fatigue and brain fog, do it.

Dealing with time off work. We all need time off from time to time, but for many people with musculoskeletal conditions it may happen more often than we’d like. Attending healthcare appointments during working hours or having a flare means you may go through your personal leave quite quickly. If this is a concern or problem for you, discuss your options with your healthcare team. Are you able to attend appointments via telehealth or outside of your usual working hours? An occupational therapist or physiotherapist may have some solutions for working during a flare and to reduce the pain and strain on your joints. And if you’ve disclosed your condition to your employer, discuss your concerns with them. Together you should be able to come up with a plan to help you balance time off and the work duties you need to complete. One of the silver-linings of the COVID pandemic is that we’ve discovered that many jobs can be done productively from home. So working from home may be an option. As too are aids and equipment that protect your joints and save energy, or even changing the work you do at your workplace. Being proactive and knowing your rights is key to working well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing changes to your abilities and functioning. Unfortunately some musculoskeletal conditions will change a person’s ability to do certain tasks. For example, someone with back pain may find sitting for long periods of time impossible. Or a person with arthritis in their hands may find repetitive work such as typing extremely painful. Talking with an occupational therapist or physiotherapist can help you find potential solutions to these issues. Whether it’s finding new ways to do work tasks, using special equipment and aids to support you and protect your joints, or managing your pain while at work, they’ll tailor a solution to your specific needs.

These are just some of the things you can do to manage your condition and continue to work. Feel free to share the things you do to help you manage at work with a musculoskeletal conditions. We’d love to hear from you!

Call our Help Line

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

More to Explore

JobsAccess
Australian Government
JobAccess is the national hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers. It provides:

  • a wide range of info and services to help people with disability find and keep jobs, get promoted to better jobs, upgrade or expand their workplace skills
  • advice on modifying your work area, talking about your disability, training for your co-workers, negotiating flexible work arrangements and returning to work
  • the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) which gives financial help to eligible people with disability and mental health conditions and employers to buy work related modifications, equipment, Auslan services and workplace assistance and support services.
  • and much more.

Work Assist
Australian Government
Work Assist can help you stay in work if you risk losing your job through illness, injury or disability.

I have a job and arthritis: Now what?
Arthritis Society Canada

Fatigue: Beyond tiredness
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK)

Sleep and pain
painHEALTH 

Managing flares
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) 


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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.

More to explore


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10/Sep/2020

If you live with a musculoskeletal condition, chances are you’ve had a flare at some stage. Your body turns up the dial on your pain-o-meter and wow…that hurts 😢. As well as increased pain you may experience increased joint stiffness, inflammation and fatigue. As a result everyday activities – getting out of bed, showering, looking after the kids, working, cooking – become much more difficult.

Flares are frustrating and painful. You don’t always know why they happen – and sometimes they seem to come out of the blue. How long they last is also uncertain and can in part depend on how you deal with them.

What causes a flare?

Flares can be caused or triggered by a number of things including:

  • stress
  • changes in medications
  • overdoing it physically
  • changes in weather
  • poor sleep
  • illness, infection or injury.

Knowing the triggers that cause you to have a flare can help you be prepared and take control.

Your flare plan

Be prepared

  • Talk with your doctor about the things you can do to manage a flare when one occurs. This may include pain relieving medications to help you get through the worst of it, as well as self-management strategies, including rest, gentle exercise and the use of heat and cold. You may also need to adjust your medications, or alter the dosage during a flare.
  • Have a plan in place for how you’ll deal with your commitments when you’re in the middle of a flare – family, work, home life, social activities. Can you alter your work hours, work from home, get your family to help out with chores?
  • Manage your stress. Many people find they’re more prone to flares when they’re stressed. Unfortunately we’re living through a particularly stressful time at the moment 😷. But there are things you can do to deal with stress. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises and visualisation, avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes. And talk to someone – whether it’s a family member, friend or a mental health professional. Talk through what’s stressing you out so you can deal with it, and hopefully avoid a flare.
  • Don’t overdo things. We’ve all done it. Countless times. We’re feeling great so we decide to go for the extra-long walk. Or clean the house from top to bottom. Or weed the entire garden. Afterwards we’re proud of our achievements…until we wake up and can’t move 😣. And we tell ourselves never again 😉. But we really need to follow through with the ‘never again’. So when you’re feeling great, pace yourself. Go for the walk – but don’t go too far, or stop for a coffee break and a rest. Do the cleaning or gardening – just don’t get carried away, and get help from others. By managing your activities, energy levels and pain, you can hopefully prevent a flare from occurring.

Take control

Even when you do all you can to prevent a flare, you can still have one. Some flares we can predict, but sometimes they seem to happen for no reason at all. Or they may be triggered by things we can’t control – such as changes in weather or changes to meds. So you need a plan for dealing with them in the moment.

  • Over-the-counter and/or prescription medications may help you manage the pain and inflammation of a flare. As we mentioned earlier, discussing this with your doctor before you have a flare means that you can act quickly as soon as a flare strikes. You’ll have the medications you need, when you need them. But if you haven’t had the opportunity to have this discussion, now’s the time. Make an appointment as soon as possible. Don’t try to soldier on. This will only make life miserable, and can potentially make your flare last longer and cause more damage.
  • Write down what you were doing before the flare. It might seem like it came out of the blue, but there may be triggers you aren’t aware of. Tracking your activities, sleep patterns, stressors, diet and even the weather each time you have a flare may help you identify potential triggers. This will help you reduce your risk of future flares.
  • Prioritise your tasks and activities. You still need to be able to get through your day and commitments, so you need to prioritise what’s most important. You may not be able to do everything if you’re in a lot of pain or you simply can’t focus because you’re so tired. So be realistic – what really, seriously needs to be done? Only do those things. You can get to the other things when you’re feeling better.
  • Pull out all of your pain management strategies. Use heat or cold packs, get a massage, go for a walk, distract yourself…use all the things you know help you manage your pain.
  • Rest when your body needs it – but not for too long. Going to bed and being inactive during a flare can make your pain and fatigue worse. Continue to exercise, but at a lesser intensity than usual. It’s important you listen to your body.
  • Use aids and other gadgets when your joints are painful and swollen. Aids include splints, walking sticks, jar openers, tap turners and pick-up reachers. They’ll help protect your joints, and reduce some of the pain you feel when doing everyday tasks. Check out our online shop to view some of the items we have available to make life easier.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Not enough sleep or poor quality sleep has a negative effect on our mood, our physical wellbeing, pain levels and our energy. It can also trigger a flare. Unfortunately it’s easy to say ‘get a good night’s sleep’ but it’s often hard to do when you’re in a lot of pain. The good news is there are lots of things you can do to improve your sleep. Find out more.
  • Track your flares. Keep an accurate record of when you had a flare (or flares). Also note down the symptoms you experienced and rate them. For example if you have increased fatigue, how would you rate it compared to the fatigue you feel when you’re not having a flare? Do this with all of the symptoms you experience. All of this information is valuable to help you and your doctor understand how your condition is progressing, if it’s being well managed or if your treatment plan is providing the best results.
  • See your doctor. If your flare is lasting longer than usual, your symptoms are much worse, you’re experiencing unusual symptoms or you’re having more frequent flares, go and see your doctor or specialist. You may need your medications to be adjusted. Or you may need an assessment of your current treatments to see if there’s an alternative that will help you gain control over your condition.

Some of the suggestions listed here are easy, however others involve a bit of thought, as well as input from others. But taking the time to work out a plan that works for you will help you manage your flares better, and with less disruption to your life.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


mental-health-dog.jpg
13/Aug/2020

When we first entered this pandemic earlier this year we were hopeful. The situation we found ourselves in was a little surreal, but most of us were optimistic it would end quickly. There was even talk about a vaccine by September! So we (mostly) did all the things we were meant to do and got on with life.

Six months down the track we now have large numbers of active cases and deaths occurring in a second wave. And we’re realising just how insidious and grim this virus is. Just when we think we have it under control, new cases and clusters appear. Many people are back to juggling work and home schooling while under tight restrictions and curfews. And a lot of people have lost their jobs and are facing serious financial hardship. Most distressingly of all, many of our fellow Aussies have lost their lives.

We’re seeing this all play out in the 24/7 media cycle. It’s exhausting. It’s stressful. And we’re scared and angry. It’s no wonder many of us are feeling the impact on our mental health.

So what can we do about it?

Lots! There really are a lot of things we can do to look after our mental health during this time. And with no end date for this pandemic, the sooner we start to take care of our mental health, as we do our musculoskeletal conditions, the better it will be.

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

  • Check your routine. Do you have one? Or are you just winging it from day to day? We’re creatures of habit and thrive on our schedules. They make us feel like we have some control over our lives. But it can be hard to develop and stick to a new routine. You really need to work at it, or you’ll find yourself staring at your phone and socials for hours, or going to bed later and later, not sleeping well, snacking more often, and basically forming some bad habits 😑.
    So whether it’s just for you (or your household) create a routine. Or update your existing routine; what worked at the beginning of the pandemic may not work anymore. Things have changed so much, and will continue to change, so we need to adapt. And don’t forget to include time for leisure, fun and exercise 😊.
  • Don’t compare yourself with others. We all have the friend who appears to have it all – somehow during iso they’ve mastered the perfect sourdough, have juggled work and home schooling effortlessly, all while looking perfectly put together. So if you’re comparing yourself to that ‘perfection’ – as you sit in your tracky pants and baggy windcheater, not able to remember when you last washed your hair, and that pile of laundry on the floor threatens to engulf you, your kids are nagging and the dog hasn’t been fed yet. STOP! Stop right now.
    First – no one’s perfect. We can never know what else is going on in someone else’s life. We all have our trials and challenges. Some people are just better at concealing them than others. Second – comparing ourselves to others isn’t helpful. Remember, most people only post on social media the things that make them look good. We select the best photos, we use filters and we crop and manipulate our pics so we look our best. Comparing yourself with others just makes us feel ‘meh’, so don’t do it.
    And third – don’t compare yourself with others in a way that invalidates what you’re feeling. Don’t feel guilty for being upset, sad or anxious by telling yourself “that person is worse off than me, what do I have to feel sorry about?”. Our feelings are valid, they’re real and we need to acknowledge them.
  • Stay in touch. When you’re feeling down, anxious or depressed, it’s really easy to become isolated. You just want to stay in your safe cocoon. Interacting and opening up to others can be difficult when you’re struggling – but it’s really worth it. Call someone. You can choose whether to open up about your worries and fears. Or you can just talk about things that make you smile. Past trips together, childhood memories, something that’s happened in your day that made you feel good. Keep the communication channels open. If you aren’t locked down or under restrictions, catch up for a coffee or a walk in the park.
  • Get back to BACE-ics. BACE is a way to divide your daily activities into areas that promote self-care. BACE stands for Body care (e.g. exercise, showering), Achievement (e.g. chores, reading), Connecting with others (e.g. family, pets), and Enjoyment (e.g. dancing, movies). A recent ABC Life article explained that a “routine that has activities across all BACE categories is good for us because it releases good chemicals in our brain which are key to staying mentally healthy. That’s because: exercise releases endorphins, achievement releases dopamine, connecting with people releases oxytocin and physical activity releases serotonin.”(1)
    So get back to BACE-ics and focus on self-care.
  • Schedule time to face your worries and fears. We can’t get away from the worries of COVID and what the future may hold…it’s always in our face. In the news, on social media, in the eyes of our masked neighbours walking in the park . So acknowledge that you’re worried and schedule a time to process this. Don’t do it too close to bed time or you’ll be tossing and turning all night. Now look at them closely – really shine a light on what’s causing your worry, fear, anxiety. Try to come up with possible solutions or things you can do to lessen these issues. Or you may need to accept that some things are outside of your control. But once you’ve taken the time to acknowledge them – put them away. It’s not great for our mental health if we constantly focus on our worries.
  • You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. Just try for your best – and give yourself a break here. Your best pre-COVID is different to your best now. So do the best you can in the circumstances you find yourself in.
  • Limit exposure to the news. It’s full on and much of it’s grim. So pick a time when you’ll watch or read the news, and then tune it out. Don’t constantly check it. Another tip is to share the job of gathering the daily news with your partner or a friend. Take turns getting the latest, authoritative info. Discuss it, and then put it aside. That way you won’t feel like you’re totally immersed in the news cycle.
  • Nurture your relationship. Whether you live with someone or your partner/significant other lives elsewhere, it’s important to nurture your relationship with them. Everyday stresses have been compounded by COVID, and can affect how we interact with the most important people in our lives. So schedule a regular date night or alone time with them. If you’re living under restrictions, especially if you have kids, you’ll need to be creative 😊. And if you live apart you’ll need to resort to video chat, phone calls and good old-fashioned love letters (swoon 💖) But you can do it! It’s important to give your relationship the time and effort it deserves. Dress up or wear something that makes you feel good. Don’t talk about COVID, schooling, work, finances or any of the usual worries. Talk about your favourite books/music/movies, your hopes and dreams, your fantasy holiday destination, reminisce about when you met, tell them things they don’t know about your childhood and growing up. Put some music on and dance in your lounge room. Have a moonlit picnic in the backyard. Or hold hands for a stroll around the local park. Whatever you do, make sure to take the time to cherish this relationship.
  • Watch the self-talk. We can be horrible to ourselves, especially when we’re feeling down. “I’m fat”, “I’m hopeless”, “I’m a terrible mum/dad/partner”, “I’m a failure” – sound familiar? The critical things we say to ourselves really undermine our mood and our mental health. They can be so destructive. Some simple things you can do to negate these thoughts are:
    • Ask yourself if you’d talk to someone else the way you talk to yourself. The answer is likely no, so don’t talk to yourself this way. This will take some practise, but keep at it.
    • Ask yourself why you think you’re any of these things. And don’t be overly critical of yourself. Again ask yourself if you’d judge others with these labels, or so harshly.
    • Address these thoughts. If you think you’re overweight, and that makes you unhappy, what can you do to work on this? If you think you’re hopeless, why? It’s such a vague concept. What makes you think it? Is there something underlying it, or you’ve just had a bad day when a bunch of things haven’t worked out as you’d hoped.
    • Now give yourself a break. We’re all learning to live, work and exist in a really trying and stressful time, so we need to be kind to ourselves and others.
  • Stay active. One of the best things you can do to boost your mood is regular exercise. When you exercise your body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into your bloodstream. They’re sometimes called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they boost your mood and make you feel good. They also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system. Exercise has so many other wonderful benefits. It’s why we go on and on about it 😉And when you combine it with a bit of sunshine, it’s the best feeling ever 😊
  • Do something for others. Focusing on others can take your mind off your own anxiety and stress. Send a letter or card to a friend just to say hello and let them know how important they are. Write a note to an elderly neighbour and offer to bring them groceries or take their bins out. Volunteer for a charity or community group. Check the Volunteering Australia website to learn about volunteering opportunities or contact your local community group, sporting club, park, school. Become a Citizen Scientist! There are research projects across Australia looking for ordinary people to take part across a wide range of sciences from animals to information and computing to water studies.
  • Take time to listen. When someone is sharing their concerns/stresses/anxiety – really listen to them. It can be easy to leap into ‘let’s fix it’ mode because we want to help those important to us. But sometimes all someone wants is for their fears, concerns and worries to be heard and validated. If they ask for your help, then jump in. Do some problem solving together, but wait to be asked. Or ask if they’d like your help before offering advice.
  • Be careful with alcohol and other drugs. Recent research by The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) has found that since the pandemic began more Australians are drinking, and people are drinking more. While you might think alcohol makes you feel better, and more able to cope with your anxiety and stress, alcohol is a depressant and will affect your mood, ability to sleep and can make existing mental health issues worse. Find out more in this article from Beyond Blue. The ADF also has an online tool to help you change your habits if you’re finding yourself drinking too much.
  • Talk with a professional. Whether it’s a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health coach or a counsellor – seek professional help if you need it. You don’t need to put up with mental health issues – there’s help available. And the Australian Government recently announced that they’ll provide “10 additional Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions for people subjected to further restrictions in areas impacted by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic…the additional Medicare subsidised sessions will allow people in eligible areas who have used their 10 sessions to continue to receive mental health care from their psychologist, psychiatrist, GP or other eligible allied health worker.”(2) 

Final words

We often focus so much on our physical health, that caring for our mental health is pushed to the side. There are just too many commitments and other things competing for our time and energy. But we need to take care of our mental health so that we feel strong and resilient enough to get through these constantly changing and crazy times. This article has just skimmed the surface of the many things you can do to look after your mental health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sad, stressed, afraid or angry, decide to do something about it. You can feel better, you can take control. One step at a time.

Crisis support

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

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

References

  1. An illustrated guide to BACE self-care
    ABC Life, 23 April 2020
  2. Additional COVID-19 mental health support
    Department of Health, Australian Government, 2 August 2020

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash


dog.jpg
13/Aug/2020

The purr-fect treatment for COVID and MSK conditions!

In the midst of all of the stress, unhappiness, boredom and frustration of this pandemic, something that always lightens my heart is the presence of my cats. Their antics while I work from home are so entertaining (and often distracting 😊).

And nothing lifts the spirits more than seeing ridiculously happy dogs in the park as they take their owners for a walk 🐶.

There’s a reason we share so many animal memes and videos. Animals take us out of our own world for a moment, and make us smile and laugh out loud with their boundless joy and exuberance.

In the absence of a specific treatment or vaccine for this pandemic I think our pets, and the animals around us, are the perfect therapy. They’re always ready for walks, pats, cuddles and conversation. They ease our loneliness, they listen to our rants, they don’t judge our moves as we dance around the house 😉. They give us a reason to get out of bed, to be active and to just keep going when things seem bleak.

Apart from helping us through these tough COVID-times, our pets are wonderful therapy for helping us manage our chronic conditions. They distract us from our pain and can help us manage our anxiety.

Research has shown that owning a pet can:

  • decrease cholesterol levels and blood pressure
  • decrease feelings of loneliness
  • reduce your stress
  • improve your mood
  • increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities.

With all of that good stuff, it’s no wonder almost two-thirds of Australian households have a pet, and 90% of us have had a pet at some time. (1)

The time’s right – let’s get a pet!

Hold your horses for a minute. If you’ve been thinking of getting a pet, and you think now’s the right time, it’s important that you do your research. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of adopting a pet. Especially now in the thick of a global pandemic and you’re feeling lonely or bored.

But you need to make sure the fit is right for you and the animal. You need to be willing to take on the pet for the entirety of its life. That’s a big responsibility. You need to have space for them, be able to afford them (including food, bedding, vet bills, vaccinations, litter, boarding), have time to play with them and exercise them.

The RSPCA has several resources to help you decide on the right pet for you. Check the More to Explore section below for links.

I love animals, but I can’t have a pet 🙁

Sadly pet ownership isn’t an option for everyone. You may live somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, you don’t have space, you’re allergic or you live with someone who is, or you work long hours and aren’t home very much.

If that’s the case, but you want to be around animals more, there are lots of other options:

  • offer to walk a family members/friends/neighbours pet. Just make sure you follow all the COVID requirements for your area, including washing your hands thoroughly before and afterwards.
  • volunteer your time at an animal shelter – there are lots of things you can do – playtime socialisation, patting cats, walking dogs.
  • look after a family member or friends pet when they go on holiday (remember those? 😉).
  • think outside the litter box. There are others pets you can adopt that may be an option including fish, birds, spiders, mice, rabbits, ferrets and rats. They may provide a bit more flexibility than the traditional cat or dog ownership.
  • watch videos online. The internet is practically one big animal video…crazy cats, daggy dogs, goofy goats. It’s all there waiting for you to find. And even though you’re not in physical contact with an animal, this connection can boost your mood and relieve stress.

What about COVID?

According to the World Health Organization “several dogs and cats…in contact with infected humans have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, ferrets appear to be susceptible to the infection…however, there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans and spread COVID-19.”(2)

Phew. But what if you get sick?

First – the Australian Veterinary Association advises that if you get COVID-19, you should minimise close contact with your pet during this time, such as hugging, face to face contact or sleeping on your bed.(3) 😥

Second – you have to isolate until the Public Health Unit lets you know you can go back into the community.

That means you can’t leave your house except in an emergency or to get essential medical care. But if you have a pet, you might need some help. You may not feel well enough to care for your pet/s, you may need more food and supplies for them or need someone to take your dog for a walk. Or your pet may need to see the vet.

Some things you can do:

  • order food and other essentials online, via pet supply stores or your grocery store, and have them delivered to your door
  • ask a friend/family member/neighbour to pick up supplies for your pet, or take your dog for walks
  • if you’re too sick to look after your pet, ask a friend/family member/neighbour if they can take them in, or look after them
  • if your pet is unwell and needs to see the vet, don’t leave your home. Call your vet and ask for their advice. They’ll work with you to ensure your pet gets the treatment they need while keeping vet staff safe.

It’s vital that you take all precautions to ensure that whoever helps you isn’t exposed to you and the virus. You’ll also need to be mindful of current restrictions. Check your local state/territory health website for info.

Finally – the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (UK) has some information on other things you can do to care for your pets if you’re ill or have to self-isolate due to coronavirus, including brain games to keep your dog occupied and happy. This is a general guide. Please be mindful that some of the restrictions in the UK are different to those in Australian states and territories.

Coming out of COVID-cray-cray

One day things will calm down and we’ll spend less time at home. We’ll be able to go to work, visit friends and stay away from our homes for longer periods of time. So we need to help our pets – those wonderful little creatures that have kept us sane during an insane time – get ready for this change. They’ve had us for AGES, and they’ll miss us being around all the time. This may cause them unnecessary stress and anxiety. The RSPCA has written a great article full of tips and advice on how you can make this transition less stressful for your pets: How can I prepare my pets for easing of COVID-19 restrictions? 

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

References

(1) Pets in Australia: A national survey of pets and people
Animal Medicines Australia, 2019
(2) Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)
World Health Organization, 17 April 2020
(3) Advice from the Australian Veterinary Association to pet owners: COVID-19 and companion animals
Australian Veterinary Association Ltd

Photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash


phil-cole.jpg
30/Jul/2020

Guest blogger Phil Cole

Hi I’m Phil Cole. I’m 47 years old and have a young family. Ziggy is just over a year old now and my long suffering partner Marie is an amazing mother 💖. She always carries on despite the extra stresses my condition brings to our lives.

My musculoskeletal situation is complicated…

I officially have psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune inflammatory condition similar to rheumatoid arthritis. It affects all of my joints and organs.

But recently I’ve been under the care of an immunologist investigating rare immune diseases, in conjunction with my endocrinologist and many other ‘ologists’.

I’m prone to infections and am mostly always sick with something. The only good thing about this lockdown is I haven’t been out much and been exposed to germs – so I’ve haven’t caught as much as I normally do. Sometimes these infections can last months 😑.

But the jury’s out on what I have, unfortunately. We know it’s immune-related, we know it’s inflammatory, that’s it so far. I’ve probably had it in some form for most of my adult life, but it’s over the last ten years that its really gotten worse. I also have some added complications due to my Army Service – bad knees and other injuries that don’t help.

Day to day life

Like other people living with a chronic condition, it affects my day to day life. And it’s gotten progressively worse each year.

Chronic pain and exhaustion are the most debilitating factors. I have some mobility issues that flare and have had to give up activities I loved – like kite surfing and skiing.

To be truthful every day is some version of the same struggle. Frustration is the hardest thing. It’s like I’m stuck in a sick Groundhog Day (remember that movie with Bill Murray?). There’s no improvement over all. In fact it’s been heading the other way 😑.

My condition affects my future plans to some degree, but overall we try to plan and live as if I will improve someday, as any plans are not just for me.

Coping strategies

In the past my coping strategies weren’t great. It involved a lot of self-medication and isolation.

But I’m really happy to say that all changed after I attended a pain clinic nearly two years ago.
Since then I’ve been off all my opioids and I have more of a framework to help deal with the pain and bad flare ups.

Having the right mindset is really important. For me it’s knowing I can at least run the clock out on this flare up – just get up every morning and keep going. There’s others far worse than me out there suffering.

Regular walking and stretching, mindfulness, hot chips with grated cheese and baked beans helps too 😋

This is all a work in progress – trying to stick to a schedule with all the above isn’t always easy with a one year old terrorist hiding your car keys!

I wish people knew…

When it comes to my condition I wish people knew that a lot of the worst symptoms are invisible to anyone outside of your immediate family. And that’s because they have to live with it too.

Chronic pain isn’t like normal pain, just as exhaustion isn’t the same as being tired. There’s literally no break from it, no return to normal life.

Both of these things are impossible to convey to others. In fact I don’t, or try not to these days.

It’s not anyone’s fault at all. These things are subjective to a great extent and the nature of the degeneration and symptoms are largely hidden from view.

Some annoying/frustrating things I hear about my condition

This will probably ring true for most people living with a musculoskeletal condition, but it can be annoying when people say “you look well”. I know it’s not their fault, they often don’t know any better. But I did have an ‘ologist’ say exactly that to me last week – now they should know better.

Then there’s the usual stuff – “it improves in good weather” or “I’m tired too” or “have you tried X?” or “my aunty tried X and now she’s better”. Most times it turns out that X is a pseudoscience.

This all comes from a good place so it’s not that annoying really. It’s just that it always happens 😑.

So I now try to look at it as more info to consider. One day someone might have just the right idea or advice, so I’ve decided the best thing to do is listen and then apply some critical thinking to the claim.

Some tips and advice I’d like to share with others

Hands down the best thing I ever did to manage my condition was attend a pain clinic. It taught me how to live with chronic pain and even reduce it, as well as how to get off all the drugs I was taking to manage it.

Some other things I’ve learned along the way:

Own it – don’t rely on others to fix you. You may be lucky and your pain goes away or your condition gets better, but realistically, this is unlikely to happen. So own it.

You have to keep on top of all your specialists. The current model is your GP manages all of your specialists, but in my experience this only exists on paper. That’s why you need to be on top of it all. And try to stay up to date as far as the research and current consensus is for your condition. If, for example, ‘eating oranges cures psoriatic arthritis’ then that will show in the consensus. Until then, it’s just speculation, not fact.

It can be hard to keep on top of it all, but do your best. Keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out 😁

Learn and practice critical thinking methodologies and have a basic understanding of the scientific method. These are not just catchphrases but a learned skill. You can use these real step-by-step methods to evaluate potential treatments, drugs, research your condition and challenge specialists – at the very least it will save you time filtering the interweb.

Be the custodian of ALL your medical records. Get a copy of every single test and scan you have. Consider keeping them organised online using a cloud drive like Google Drive or Dropbox so you can access them in real time at any of your appointments. Some pathology centres will email the results to you. So it can’t hurt to ask.

If you know how, transcribe all your results into a master spreadsheet. You can see patterns over time. This has been instrumental in my diagnosis and realisation that what’s going on with me is more complicated than a ‘normal’ rheumatological condition.

Other tips:

  • Learn the medical lingo.
  • Try to eat well.
  • Get referred to a chronic pain clinic.
  • Learn about sleep hygiene – or the habits and everyday practices that help you sleep well. This includes things like exercise, having a nighttime routine, turning off screens etc. This is so important!
  • Don’t ever give up, especially trying to find a diagnosis.

I’m participating in Walk in July for MSK

It’s a great excuse to see how I go on a longer walk than I’m used to. It’s also my chance to help out a great organisation and generally rib the CEO Rob Anderson along the way (or get him to buy me a coffee at least!).

Final words

I think most people living with musculoskeletal conditions have the same struggles. Generally there’s only so much you can do to slow the progression of the condition and limit the pain, exhaustion and mobility issues.

At its core it’s a big, lifelong mental battle. It can be very isolating dealing with that every day, you have to try and come to terms with the fact that your life has changed forever and there’s no cure…yet.

So you must adapt, and seek out the positives…you’ll find there’s many if you look for them 🙂

Believe me, I know it’s not always easy to do. There’ll be some dark days ahead – that’s why acceptance is so important.

Things that your old self loved to do may no longer be an option – try and find new stuff to replace that old stuff.

In the end you may find your life becomes much more simplified in many ways, and that’s a really good thing 😊.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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16/Jul/2020

We’re used to having a certain amount of control and consistency in our lives. Before COVID our lives were fairly predictable and we generally knew what was coming. It made us feel secure and settled.

But at the moment it’s almost impossible to know what’s coming. Things are constantly changing and there’s so much we can’t control because of this new world we find ourselves in.

The problem is that when we feel like we have little or no control, we can start to feel more anxious and stressed. Apart from the significant impact this can have on our mental health, we know our physical health is negatively affected by periods of increased stress and anxiety. Our pain and fatigue becomes more intense, our sleep is affected, as is our concentration and blood pressure. We may also get more frequent headaches and stomach upsets.

So if we can take back some control, we won’t feel so powerless. This can help reduce the impact of stress and anxiety on our health.

But we’re in a pandemic – what can I control?

I’m glad you asked. While there are lots of big picture problems we can’t change, we can focus on the small, personal things that affect ourselves, our family and friends and our community.

Start with rituals and routines

Work – Hands up if your working from home attire is something you couldn’t wear to work even on a casual Friday? Many of us have relaxed into trackies, slippers and other comfy clothes. Unless we’re on a video chat, in which case our top half is more presentable 😁.

But this has the effect of blurring the lines between work and home life; just when we really need that distinction to give us work/life balance. And while I won’t go so far as to suggest we all get dressed in our pre-COVID work clothes (though some of you may do that) making a few simple changes may help solidify the lines between work and leisure.

In a recent article in The Age, Melissa Singer wrote that when she’s working she puts on her work shoes, even if she’s wearing comfortable, loungy clothes. At the end of the day she can kick them off. This is her signal that work is done for the day.

You can do similar things like putting on some perfume/aftershave, lipstick, a favourite work shirt, or putting your work away in a briefcase or work bag at the end of the day. They’re things we associate with work, and when we’ve finished work, we should go through our end of work day routine.

And if you can, put your work out of sight so it’s not in view. Even if that means putting a sheet over it. Create a new work routine that helps you put work aside so you can relax and enjoy your leisure and home time.

Daily routines – It’s important during times of change and uncertainty to have a daily routine that you stick to. It will help you feel more in control of your life and what’s happening at the moment.

Your routine is very specific to you and your life, and will be affected by 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. 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.
  • 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.

Birthdays, weddings, graduations, funerals – These are big events for us all. They make us feel connected with our people. And while there may be some restrictions depending on where you live, it’s important we continue to mark these occasions in whatever way we can. In person, via video or phone. We can send celebratory or condolence cards; we can even go the extra mile and make our own 😊 We can write letters and actually put down on paper how much people mean to us. I can guarantee that this will mean so much to the recipient 💗.

Things are different, but there’s no reason we can’t still connect when it comes to the important occasions in our life. Or just on a random Tuesday 😄

Our health

We need to continue to look after ourselves. We have musculoskeletal conditions, so we need to continue to manage them as best we can. That means staying in touch with your healthcare team, alerting them to any changes or concerns, exercising, getting your regular tests done when they’re due, managing your weight and looking after your mental health.

Many of us have other health conditions as well. So we need to manage those too. Looking after your health is a really tangible thing you can do to feel in control in an upside down world.

The COVID three

This would be the worst band name ever, but it’s stuck in my head from all the ads in the media. Which I guess is the point 😉.

We can control how we react to the pandemic and reduce our risk of becoming infected, or spreading the virus, by following what Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth calls the COVID 3.

Wash your hands, physically distance yourself from others and consider downloading the COVIDsafe app. Stay home if you’re unwell and get tested. Cough and/or sneeze into your elbow. Consider wearing a mask. Use hand sanitiser when you don’t have access to soap and water. And follow the advice of the chief health officer in your state or territory. Wait, hang on, that’s 10 things 😉.

Oh well, just stay safe people. Stay kind. And look after yourself and others.

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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Reference

  • Even behind the curtain of Zoom, the show must go on
    The Age, 9 July 2020

donuts.jpg
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




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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