Here’s my blog on 11 Action Steps in Loving Yourself: A Path to Living Beyond Chronic Pain
It’s not so easy for us to really love ourselves in the throes of chronic pain. We feel so uncomfortable inside of the body; it’s almost as if there is a war going on in there. We seem powerless to do anything about it, to even make a speck of peace amidst the chaos that chronic pain brings. As we sense the conflict inside of us, we feel a sense of separation, noticing an “us” and a “them” within us, and these parties are not necessarily in the mood for negotiation. I’m here to say that we have more power in this situation than we perhaps see in the moment, and it begins with taking the time to love ourselves through our experience.
This ‘loving yourself’ thing is actually a conscious practice, and ‘an inside job’, as is so often said.
What does that mean – “taking the time to love ourselves through the experience”? I have heard so many people write about and speak about ‘loving ourselves’ and ‘love yourself’, but I have read and heard very few actual action steps for putting this practice into action. I went on a quest to discover what these action steps might be. Here are a few of the ones I came up with and added into my practice and lifestyle of living beyond chronic pain:
1) Stop and really take care of yourself – you’re so worth it, and you will heal as a result. It may be subtle, but you will feel better.
When you are walking, take the time to place your foot where you want it, not just where it falls ‘by accident’.
When you are washing your hair, take the time to give yourself a well-deserved head massage. There are so many acupressure meridians in the skin of the skull. I am always surprised at how this simple extra attention to self can reset and refresh me.
Allow yourself space to just ‘be’ with people and in conversation. There is no need to rush headlong into a sentence or to get your thought out. A moment of reflection after a friend has made a comment to me about something often opens me up to listening even more deeply to what they have just said to me. This act of sitting gently and quietly with myself and a friend somehow brings a new level of just plain presence to the relationship. In pausing, we take care of the other we are sitting with, but we also are taking care of ourselves. When we allow for ourselves, we allow for others as well. We become a bastion of peace and compassion in the world.
These are just a few adjustments or shifts you can make as you move through your day that can really enhance the quality of your experience, enrich your life, and bring that much needed sense of inner peace to you.
2) Don’t judge the moment. Allow yourself to be who you are.
We wake up some days with sore muscles, aching bones, feeling let down, or just plain feeling down. You know what? You do not need to put that “I’m fine’ mask on as you rise. Why not just allow yourself to feel what you are feeling? Scream (maybe into a pillow), cry, and express your anger. And then, once spent and floating in the residue of such expression, hold yourself gently, with sweet and unconditional love. This is all part of the human journey. Smile. There is no dress rehearsal to life. This is it! You might even muster up a smile at all of the richness and variety you are experiencing, even amidst all of the (hopefully now spent) pent-up energy of frustration.
The human journey is fraught with quite the roller coaster of extremes. You are doing the best you know how at any given time. Awesome! Bows and Kudos to YOU! for rising to the occasion of Life. Part of the exhilaration of the incredible ride we call “Life” is in embracing all that comes our way. And loving ourselves unconditionally for however we pull, twist, or go gently into the moment that we are experiencing. This is where you give yourself a break. You are amazing in all of your expression. Allow yourself to fully experience the being that is “you”.
3) Evaluate your food choices. Can you look at what foods you are consuming and notice how they are affecting you?
There are also tests available today that can reveal food sensitivities specific to your body. When I had this work done, we discovered that I had a very sensitive inflammatory response, so I had to remove grains, most legumes, and dairy from my diet. I also removed added sugar and sugary foods like non-berry fruits and fruit-based or high glycemic juices, such as beet, carrot, any tropical fruit juice; in my case even apple and pear juice were bad actors. The tingling, heat, and other sensations associated with my diagnosed peripheral neuropathy subsided greatly as I made these adjustments to my diet.
The foods we eat are information for the body; how we feel is only as strong and powerful as the information we give it.
4) Breathe – consciously. And let stuff go as you exhale….We begin anew in every moment – on the inhale. First, this will bring you directly into the present moment – no room for fretting about the past or projecting fear or worries into future. Second, this will begin to quiet the mind, if only a bit, and you will feel the beginnings of that great well of peace that lives inside of you. (It’s just been a while since you visited there!) Slowly and deeply breathe in the life force in the air as you inhale and feel it fill you, bringing in nourishment every cell in your body and welcoming in whatever is there for you in that moment. As you exhale, realize that you are releasing that which you no longer need – and imagine you are also letting go of whatever is no longer serving you. The breath is a powerful engine of energy exchange for us and as such is a potent and profound transformation machine. Get into the habit of using it consciously.
5) Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! So many of us are walking around at some level of being dehydrated. A body that is trying to heal cannot really achieve the levels of healing within its potential without enough water in the system. As we ask the body to perform for us, we must give it the water it requires. We are, after all, we hold about 57-65% of our body weight in water, and we are constantly perspiring and respiring water. We must replace it. Recommended daily quantities of water for ranges anywhere from one-half ounce of water per pound of body weight to one ounce of water for very pound of body weight. I have heard sports and performance physicians recommend this latter number. They are finding that when we are well hydrated, we are less prone to injury. I would go so far from my experience to say that my whole quality of life improves as I become well hydrated.
6) Develop or enhance your current sleep hygiene regimen. The quality of our sleep can really affect how we feel. Check your current habits around sleep. Try to go to bed at night and awaken in the morning at the same time every day. We have a circadian rhythm within us that we can work with on purpose. When we consciously align the internal clock of the body with the movements of the cycle of day and night, we can find a deeper and more regular rhythm to our sleep and feel more regenerated when we wake up in the morning. This helps us feel better all the way around.
7) Spend some time in nature daily. I just cannot state the importance of a daily excursion into nature enough. When I go out into nature, I rediscover the awareness of my connection to the Wheel of Life, and I also deepen the connection to the Divine within myself. What I am describing here is more experiential than what I can adequately describe with words. Please believe me when I say that a daily jaunt into the natural world is a healing balm for the body, mind, and soul. Please give yourself this gift and get outside. You will find such reward in it!
8) Practice meditation. Since chronic pain changes the brain, your lifestyle needs to shift to allow the brain to heal. The good news here is that the brain CAN heal. We just need to bring a conscious practice to help the healing happen. Studies have shown that the brain waves produced during meditation are conducive to healing. When we are in meditation, the brain is actually able to rest, and hence can rebuild itself and heal. Developing a regular meditation practice can help heal chronic pain. Furthermore, so much has blossomed from inside of me as a result of my meditation practice – far beyond what I ever imagined possible. I have found such deep places of peace with this practice, and a great softening towards myself. I learned a profound sense of self-compassion from meditation. I encourage you to try this ancient practice.
9) Stop and ‘smell the roses’. This suggestion is a somewhat like #7(above) of getting outside, but is more like a first cousin to it. As you go through your day, consider practicing what I like to call “The Mindful Pause”. We get so very busy with all of the doings in our life. Sometimes I find myself lost in all of the ‘doing’ and forget that I am a human ‘being’. Stop during the day and check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What sensations are arising in you? Can you allow them in and rest quietly with them? Take in the beauty and art that you come across during you day. When we take The Mindful Pause, we are standing squarely in the present moment and tapping right into the marrow of life itself. Our ability to be present helps remove our tendency as people with chronic pain to reference the past (“I’ve always had this pain”) and to project into the future (“this pain will always be here…because it always has been here”). As people with chronic pain, we want to be anywhere but here, in the present. Part of breaking the grip of chronic pain is in interrupting old habits that keep us stuck in the frequency of chronic pain – our tendency to stay out of the present moment is one of those old habits we need to rewire.
10) Realize and stand in your sense of self-worth… You were born worthy – it is not something you have to earn. The next time someone tells you, or you tell yourself, that you are ‘not enough’, or you are ‘less than’, or whatever version it is of ‘somehow you are just not measuring up’ – you might ask what exactly IS this measuring system? We – each of us – are made up of atoms born in the center of STARS! We are Oh-So-Ancient Beings, older than time itself, reincarnated as we are in this moment – a flash of a flash inside of a flash really – and we are inextricably interconnected to the All That Is, a collection of intermingling, infinitely diverse creatures all swimming in the same immense sea, all spinning together amidst the great Wheel of Life. They can try measuring that…they’ll be at it for a while. When we just let go of the worry over our self-worth, we find a new level of freedom. This feeling of freedom can be so very healing all by itself!
11) Ask for help. We cannot do it all alone. As sufferers of chronic pain, we are used to carrying this pain by ourselves. The health care workers have done what they can for us. Our family members and friends have done what they can to accommodate to our needs. We are so grateful for everyone’s efforts. Yet we must bear what we feel alone. We even do our best to shield others and not express how we are really feeling inside. Through carrying this pain by ourselves, we build up a habit of isolation and separateness that is really not the best strategy. It is so interesting to me how many of us are so resistant to asking for help. I am certainly one of the ‘us’ here. Here is what I have discovered in my journey to find a life beyond chronic pain: it’s okay to ask for help – in fact, it is preferable. Now, I do not always ask a person for help. I ask my Higher Power for help all the time — way more than I used to. (I ask people for help, too!) What I have discovered is that when I ask for help gratefully, sincerely, and with humility, I receive help. But I have to ask. It’s that simple, and life, which seems so complicated, especially when we carry chronic pain, can truly be that simple.
I am so interested in what you have found to be helpful in your journey to live a life beyond chronic pain. Please feel free to comment and share with us here what you have learned.
Always go gently, dear one…