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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.

More to explore

Photo by Grace Madeline on Unsplash


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30/Apr/2020

Have you noticed how many more people seem to be out and about – in the shops, on the road, walking in the park? And even though restrictions haven’t changed yet, many seem to have become a bit more relaxed when it comes to their activities and physical distancing?

While many of you have self-isolated in the past because of your musculoskeletal condition or other health reasons, what we’re all experiencing now is unprecedented. And for it to go on this long, with only a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, it’s no wonder we’re all going a little stir crazy.

There may be many reasons for this:

  • In Australia we’ve done exceptionally well at flattening the curve. But that means most of us don’t know anyone affected by COVID-19. So the virus doesn’t seem quite real to a lot of us.
  • We started iso thinking it was a chance to do the odds jobs, hobbies, reading, Marie Kondo-ing your space etc. And we’ve either done all of those things, or we’ve realised there was a reason we didn’t do them in the first place – we don’t want to! So now we’re getting a bit bored.
  • Decisions are being made that affect our lives, our families, our work and finances. And most of the time we have no say in these decisions. So we feel out of control.
  • The reality of home schooling, the chaos of everyone working from home, the isolation of being cooped up in your house alone, the constant internet and tech issues, fighting for space, the endless baking of banana bread…we’re over it.
  • We’re social beings, but we’re having to make do with virtual almost everything. But phone and video calls can’t compete with or replace the face-to-face connections with our family and loved ones. We want and miss our physical interactions.
  • All of the restrictions are a bit confusing – especially since every state/territory has their own specific set. So we’re confused, and a little jealous of the areas that are slowly easing restrictions.
  • We just want things to return to normal.

But we really need to adhere to the restrictions in our state/territory.

It’s hard. But we’re up for the challenge. So when you start getting a bit itchy or grumpy or frustrated, here are some things you can do:

  • Remember why we’re doing this. Think of the health system and the frontline workers and essential services. Think of the vulnerable in our society (which may indeed be you or someone you care about).
  • Remember there are outliers. People have become very seriously ill or have died from this virus for reasons we don’t understand. There are still so many unknowns when it comes to COVID-19 – so not following the advice from our health officials will put you and others at risk.
  • Check the restrictions relevant to you. Visit the website of your state/territory health department so you know what you need to be doing.
    Australian Capital Territory
    New South Wales
    Northern Territory
    Queensland
    South Australia
    Tasmania 
    Victoria 
    Western Australia
  • Stick to your routine. Get up at the same time each day. Exercise regularly. Eat healthy meals. Plan time for fun and creative things you can do in and around your home.
  • Connect with others. Yes, we’re getting sick of our phones and computers (who thought they’d ever say that ??) but they’re the safest way for us to connect with the people important to us. So do it. Pick up the phone or get on your computer and make a call. Talk about anything other than the virus. Reminisce about fun times, silly things you’ve done together, jokes you’ve heard. It’s a great way to give yourself a lift when you’re feeling down. Contact the people you know are on their own and may be struggling. See how they’re doing and if you can help in any way. I know I keep saying it, but we really are in this together.
  • Set yourself a challenge or goal. It may involve looking after your health – e.g. exercising 30 minutes a day 5 days a week – or getting your finances in order, or starting an evening book club with the kids, or scheduling time each day to meditate/read/listen to music/relax, or plant a vegie garden, or doing that 3,000 piece jigsaw…Think of something you really want to do. Not the things you thought of at the start of iso, but something that seems more relevant to you 2 months into isolation – and set yourself the challenge to do that. If you encounter obstacles, that’s fine. Look for ways to manage them and move on.
  • Ignore the social media posts from the people who seem to be achieving amazing things during iso. You know the ones…they’ve learned a language, repainted their house, started a successful online business and written a book – all while working full time and home schooling 5 children under the age of 5. What a load of rubbish. Remember we generally use social media to present ourselves in the best light – it’s not always an accurate representation of what’s really happening. So take these posts with a grain of salt, or stop following them all together. It’s pointless comparing your situation with someone else’s. And it can make you feel stressed or inadequate, so try not to do it. You’re doing the best you can – so be kind to yourself.
  • Remember this will end.

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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22/Apr/2020

Updated July 2022

Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed and frustrated by 2022? You’re not alone! It’s been a bumpy ride. Filled with uncertainty, new pressures, lots of unknowns and a lack of control, many of us are feeling anxious, upset and vulnerable. When you have a musculoskeletal condition and live with regular pain and fatigue, the urge to retreat to your warm, cosy bed and pull the covers over your head can be very tempting.

But you’re strong. You can take control of the situation and do something proactive by examining your self-care plan. Ask yourself – “is my plan realistic now? Or does it need updating in light of the changes to my world?”

What is self-care?

Self-care is a popular term these days, with lots of different definitions and uses.

The World Health Organisation defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker” (1).

That’s a rather dry definition, so for the everyday person with a musculoskeletal condition, we describe self-care as the things you consciously and deliberately do to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

It includes everything from exercising regularly and staying active, eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, caring for your mental healthmanaging pain and fatigue, seeing your healthcare team regularly, learning about your musculoskeletal condition, and staying connected with family and friends. It also involves things like good hygiene, avoiding risky behaviours and actions, and using medicines and treatments appropriately.

So to create a self-care plan for yourself that’s realistic and achievable, let’s get real, start small and appreciate the things you can do right now.

Get some sleep

Easier said than done I hear you say! But getting good quality sleep is crucial for our everyday functioning. If it’s an issue for you, especially at the moment, part of your 2022 self-care plan may be to look at ways you can improve your sleep quality and quantity. We have resources to help you – including nurses you can speak to on our Help Line (see details at bottom) and info on our website. Or if it’s a problem you feel you need extra help with, talk with your doctor (in person or via a telehealth consultation) to get professional help.

Eat a healthy, nutritious diet

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

Stay active

Regular exercise has many health benefits for people with musculoskeletal conditions. It helps improve your symptoms, including pain, stiffness and fatigue.

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. These chemicals also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system.

Being active is also essential for your overall good health and wellbeing. It helps keep your muscles, bones and joints strong so that you can keep moving. It reduces your risk of developing other conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. It boosts your mood, benefits your mental health, helps with weight control and improves sleep. If you’re not sure where to begin when it comes to starting an exercise program, talk with your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist for some advice.

Take care of your mental health

It’s really easy when you’re constantly surrounded by virus talk and the doom and gloom of the 24 hour news cycle to become overwhelmed. Especially if you’re also worried about your health, family, work and finances. And when you’re stressed and not looking after yourself properly, it can affect all aspects of your life including your family life, your ability to focus on work properly, sleep well, eat well…and so it becomes a vicious cycle.

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

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

Cleaning – plan, prioritise and pace

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

Even before you get out of bed, while you’re lying in your warm, little cocoon, plan what you’d like to do during the day. Maybe have a notepad and pen beside your bed, or use a note app on your phone and write it all down. You can even do your planning the night before.

OK, seeing it in one place, you can see that it’s a lot 😕.

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

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

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

Make time for the things you enjoy

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

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

Reference

(1) Self-care interventions for health, World Health Organization.


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01/Apr/2020

Updated July 2022

Over the past few years, our worlds have turned upside down and inside out. And just when you think you’re getting the hang of the new ‘COVID normal’, something else changes. This makes it hard to find (and keep) your balance.

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

That’s why as well as looking after your physical health, it’s essential you also look after your mental health.

There are many practical things you can do.

Find a new routine

This will obviously depend on what you need to do in your day, if you have people depending on you, the day of the week 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 allows you the time you need to get your chores done (sadly, the laundry doesn’t stop because of a pandemic), exercise, do creative stuff, socialise, and get a break from the workday routine.
  • Be very clear on your hours. It’s easy to lose track of time if you’re working from home or your work/school routine has changed due to COVID. It’s important to have boundaries between work and home life.

Stay informed

There’s a lot of information out there about COVID, the flu season, Monkeypox, vaccinations, restrictions and mandates – some true, some not so much! This can add to our feelings of anxiety and stress. But we can’t bury our heads in the sand – we need to stay up-to-date with factual, current information so we can protect ourselves. Visit the Australian Government website for the latest health alerts from the government. You can also contact our nurses on the MSK Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 or email helpline@msk.org.au for info and support.

And once you’re up-to-date, put the news away for a while. It doesn’t help your 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 we need to 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 blog for some practical tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

The Conversation has also 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. It helps us sleep better, maintain a healthy weight, manage pain, reduces our risks of developing other health conditions, and improves our mood. There’s clear evidence that regular exercise also reduces stress, anxiety and depression, and boosts our self-esteem.

Eat well

Hands up if you’re eating more often and/or 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 sadly, this gratification is short-lived. Try to get back into the habit of eating healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks – your mental and physical health will thank you.

Be careful with alcohol and other drugs

The temptation may be 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 your mental health and wellbeing.

Stay connected

Many of us are worried about COVID numbers and the current flu season. This may be even more so if your immune system isn’t so good, and so you may decide to limit how often you go out. The good news is there are many ways you can stay connected and keep up with your friends and family, even if you don’t want to venture out of your home. The simplest way is to pick up the phone and call. As well as calling people, use tech to connect via social media platforms and apps.

Channel your inner creativity and create something

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 many of the tools we use to deal with this pandemic are online, we need to set 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, or try mindfulness. Do anything but look at your screen or the news.

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 never dealt 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 or questions about your employment rights,  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’ve been adapting to our changing world for some time now, and we’ll keep adapting as we need to. Although it may not always feel like it, we’re resilient. We all just need 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.

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore




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

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