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10/Feb/2022

It’s hard to believe that we’ll soon be into our 3rd year of this pandemic 😷. We’ve made sourdough bread, gotten ‘used’ to masks, embraced jigsaws and telehealth, changed the way we work, go to school and socialise. We’ve missed out on many important events – big and small – as our world changed so dramatically.

It’s been really hard, and it’s taken a toll on our physical, mental and emotional health.

One aspect of ourselves that has suffered is our resilience. Resilience is our ability to cope and adapt to changes and challenges that the world throws at us. As this pandemic continues, we’re constantly tired, anxious, and stressed, with no end in sight. And this is really testing our resilience. Add to this a chronic, painful musculoskeletal condition, and everything seems amplified 😫.

For example, this morning, I was driving to the chemist to buy more masks. Someone cut me off in traffic. In the past, I would’ve muttered to myself and continued on my way. But today, I flashed my lights, tooted my horn and yelled. I yelled! Madness 😣. And at that moment, I realised that the only person negatively impacted by the situation was me. The other driver was long gone, but I could feel my heart pumping and the adrenaline coursing through my veins. It’s clear that my resilience is at an all-time low at the moment. I’ve known this for some time but haven’t done anything about it. But it’s now time.

So if you’re like me and know that your resilience isn’t what it used to be, and that you’re not handling stress and challenges as well as you once did, what can you do about it? How can you rebuild your resilience in a world that’s still so topsy-turvy, and you have no idea what’s around the corner?

Accept that you’ll have to face change, stress and challenges. Our lives are messy. And nothing is ever smooth sailing. However, by accepting that change is always happening – both good and bad – you can mentally prepare yourself for it. You can learn from how you’ve reacted in the past and how situations have affected you. You can use this information to prepare for future events and challenges. But the first step is to accept that things will happen. Change is constant. You can choose to deal with it in a positive, proactive way, or you can choose to let it negatively affect you. Acceptance isn’t always easy and will take time and reflection, but it is possible. And if you need help, it’s available. Read our article on support for mental and emotional wellbeing for more info about the types of professionals who can help you.

Make time for your people and your relationships. It’s tempting when you’re feeling low, in pain or like you just can’t take any more drama, to disconnect from others. However, when you’re on your own, it’s easy for your mind to get stuck on a merry-go-round of negative thoughts. They go round and round as you think about different ways you could have handled past events or as you worry about the unknown future. Staying in touch with the people who care for you can distract you from this rumination and help you focus on what’s actually happening in the world around you. They can also be a supportive ear and listen as you explain what’s affecting you and how you’re dealing (or not) with these things. They can also be a valuable source of advice if you choose to ask for it.

Write it down. Putting pen to paper and writing down the things that are causing you stress, or to feel anxious or powerless, is a useful strategy to help you see the nuances of the problem. Take the time to think about all sides of the issue and how it affects you. You can then process it more clearly, allowing you to do some critical thinking and problem-solving. Read this article, ‘5 ways journaling can build your resilience’ for more info about journaling.

Keep up your self-care. Again, it’s easy to let things slide when we’re not feeling on top of things. You may stop exercising, go to bed later or sleep in more often, eat comfort foods that give you a quick rush but don’t give you the nutrition you need, or rely on alcohol and other drugs to pick you up. But these behaviours will negatively affect your physical and mental health if you don’t get on top of them. So it’s important that you make a conscious commitment to continue your self-care, especially because your resilience is low. Because self-care practices such as sticking to a daily routine, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting good quality sleep and getting out into nature, will make you feel healthier and more able to cope with life’s challenges. They’ll also help you deal with pain and other symptoms of your musculoskeletal condition.

Focus on what you can control, no matter how small. You can’t control what’s happening with the pandemic, apart from following the health advice you receive from the government and your healthcare team. This lack of control can sometimes make you feel powerless. But you can control things closer to you, like how often you access social media or how much ‘doomscrolling’ you’re doing. You can choose to give your mental health a break from negative news and socials. You’re giving yourself power – over your actions and the effect they have on you – which will help build your resilience.

Think about how you can positively deal with challenges you’re currently dealing with. For example, if you’re working from home and feel isolated from your colleagues and the world in general, how can you manage this? Or, if you’re feeling financial stress because you’re not getting as much work as you once did, what options are available to help you? By problem-solving and coming up with a range of potential solutions, you can start to feel more in control. And if it all seems to overwhelming, you can always break big challenges down into smaller actions. If we look at the financial stress example, the first step might be to read our information on financial support. The next step might be to list who you need to contact to get help – e.g. your bank, utility companies etc. The third step might be to contact them, and so on. The point is, by breaking it down, and moving through a series of steps, you’re dealing with whatever issue or obstacle is causing you stress. You’re taking control of the situation.

Think of the things that make you happy or grateful. Every day, before getting out of bed or before you go to sleep, think of three things that make you feel happy or grateful. It can be anything you like – the sound of your child laughing, the sight of dogs playing in the park, the scent of freshly mown lawn, the warmth of your partner’s hand as you go for an evening stroll etc. Taking time to think of these things will make you feel more optimistic because there’s so much good around us. We just have to take the time to be aware of it.

Learn from the past. What things have helped you through a hard time in the past? Can you use that strategy/behaviour/resource now? It’s important to remember that you’ve gotten through tough times before, and you will again. It can just be a little hard to see that when you’re still going through it. But as they say, this too shall pass.

Get help. Sometimes you can try really hard, but you just can’t seem to get on top of things by yourself. That’s ok. We’re living through very difficult times, and we all need help from time to time. Talk to trusted family or friends about how you’re feeling. They can help you work through many of the above strategies if you’re struggling. Or it may be time to speak with a mental health professional to get some support that’s specifically tailored to you and your own specific circumstances.

We’ve all been rocked by these extraordinary times, and many of us are finding it difficult to find our footing again. We feel out of control and powerless by so much of what’s going on around us. However, by building our resilience, we’re more able to cope with these challenges and feelings and bounce back more quickly. It takes time and commitment to build your resilience, but it can be done. One step at a time.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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18/Nov/2021

Warning: This article mentions self-harm and may be triggering for some people.

I’ve recently had some tattoos added to my upper arms. I love them – dragons, books, peonies and symbols that commemorate my parents.

But before I got them, I had to come to terms with the fact that to show them off, people were going to see my arms. And that was a problem. You see, when I was much younger, I hated my body so much that I used to cut myself. So I have several scars on my left arm that I’m constantly covering up.

But I’m tired of hiding. It’s Australia, and it gets so bloody hot in the summer that I don’t want to wear long sleeves all the time. Plus, I wanted to get new tattoos, and my arms were the perfect canvas. So I had to accept that people might stare.

My story isn’t unique.

Sadly, many adults, teens, tweens and little kids 😥 have body image issues. And they cause us to do all kinds of things – from wearing baggy clothes, to excessive exercising, cosmetic surgery, unhealthy eating, comparing ourselves to others, becoming isolated, hurting ourselves – and everything in between.

So it’s time to love the bodies we’re in, and accept the diversity of bodies around us. Because they’re amazing, beautiful and wonderfully unique.

What is body image?

Basically, it’s how we see our bodies, and how we feel and think about them. It can be positive, negative or neutral. And it can fluctuate. One day you may feel really great about your body, and the next, really down on it.

Living with a musculoskeletal condition can affect the way we see our body. These conditions, the pain and fatigue they cause, as well as the medications we take to manage them, can affect the way we move, our joint structures, our weight, fitness, skin, hair and nails. And SARS-CoV-2 – the pesky virus that keeps on giving – hasn’t helped things. Over the past couple of years, many of us have experienced changes in our appearance that we may not be altogether thrilled with.

But we need to accept that our bodies change, and they’ve been changing since we took our very first breath. They change as we age, as we develop health conditions, as we take different meds, as we injure ourselves, as we exercise, lose or gain weight, get piercings or tattoos, go through puberty and menopause, as we change our hairstyle and our fashion sense…as we embrace change.

Not accepting these changes, and our bodies as they are, only leads to unhappiness. It can also cause low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, disordered eating, isolation and relationship issues.

“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked.
Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” Louise L Hay

Loving yourself

1. Be kind and accept your body as it is

This is a big one, and can be really, really difficult. Especially if you’ve had body image issues for some time. But consider this – if someone said that your bestie was ‘fat’ or ‘plain’ or ‘has horrible hands’ or ‘terrible skin’ – you’d immediately defend them. So why is it ok to say these things to yourself? Be your body’s friend and advocate, not its enemy.

“And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’
It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’” —Nayyirah Waheed

2. Practise every day

It takes time to change the way we see ourselves. When you wake up, and before you go to sleep, think about something you love about your body. It doesn’t have to be related to appearance – we’re so focused on that – but it could be your sick dance moves, or the way your body enables you to play a musical instrument, or walk the dog, or laugh out loud.

Write these onto post-it notes and put them on the fridge, the mirror, in the car. And read and repeat them when you need a little extra boost.

“Your self-esteem won’t come from body parts.
You need to step away from the mirror every once in a while and look for another reflection,
like the one in the eyes of the people who love you and admire you.” – Stacy London

3. Appreciate the differences

We’re all different, and that’s the way it should be. How boring would the world be if we all looked the same? Differences are beautiful.

“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress,
simultaneously.” – Sophia Bush

4. Be a good role model

Kids pick up on our behaviours and attitudes, and they learn from them. So avoid criticising yourself or others in front of kids. Instead, say nice things about your body and how you appreciate what it can do.

“As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, ‘I love my body’.
Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body.’
So I make sure to say it to my daughter because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.” — Kate Winslett

5. Surround yourself with positive people

It’s easier to be kind to yourself and love your body when you’re with positive people. Those who also accept and value their bodies for how amazing they are, rather than how they look. People who are critical of themselves and others are tiring, and feed our negative self-talk. So if your friend or family member is constantly berating their looks or weight, gently explain to them that you’d prefer not to discuss appearances. And move the conversation on to other, more enjoyable topics.

“I say I love myself, and they’re like, ‘oh my gosh’, she’s so brave. She’s so political.
For what? All I said is ‘I love myself, bitch!’” — Lizzo

6. Ditch the influencers and body shamers

And any other online platforms or magazines that promote idealised and unattainable body images. They just exacerbate negative feelings. Instead, find media and socials that show diverse images, and appreciate the differences.

“We come in many different shapes and sizes, and we need to support each other and our differences.
Our beauty is in our differences.” – Carrie Otis

7. Replace the time you spend criticising your appearance with happier, more enjoyable activities

Being mean to yourself can be a major time-suck. And it’s exhausting! We have enough things making us tired without adding something as pointless as belittling ourselves. So whenever you feel like you’re about to go on a self-hating tirade, do something else:

  • walk in the park and listen to the birds
  • breathe deeply and be conscious of every breath
  • listen to some arse-thumping music and dance
  • call a friend
  • take down the Empire in Star Wars Battlefront
  • cook a yummy meal
  • get your hands dirty in the garden
  • have sex!

And make sure that while you’re doing these things, you’re in the moment, not in your head.

8. Don’t compare yourself to others

We’re all different and have different genes, lifestyles, health issues and backgrounds. These things all play a part in how we look. I’m from a family of relatively short people. The only way I’m going to be tall is with the addition of very high heels 😆. I also know that I’ll always wear glasses, have fine hair and be covered in tatts. It’s my make-up and lifestyle, and it’s part of what makes me, me. And that’s ok.

“Step away from the mean girls and say bye-bye to feeling bad about your looks.
Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that makes so many of us feel physically inadequate?
Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others.” — Oprah

9. Remember that images on socials are the highlights

It’s rare for people to put up images of themselves when they’re looking their ‘worst’. How many pics have been taken before the ‘right’ image was selected, filtered, touched up and then posted? They’re carefully curated to make a person look a certain way. So don’t get sucked into the madness.

“Your body. Your diet. Your life. It isn’t perfect. It never will be. But it’s real. It’s honest.
It’s beautifully flawed. And totally magical.” ― Nicola Jane Hobbs

10. Nurture your body

Feed it healthy, tasty food that makes you happy and satisfied. Move it regularly and often. Refresh it with good quality sleep. Pamper it with massage, warm baths, lotions and potions and hugs.

“You can’t hate yourself happy. You can’t criticize yourself thin. You can’t shame yourself worthy.
Real change begins with self-love and self-care.” — Jessica Ortner

11. Get help

Sometimes we need help to change the way we think about ourselves. This could be from a really good friend who you can talk openly and honestly with. Or it could be a professional. Just know that help is available if you need it. You don’t have to feel bad about yourself. Read our article ‘Support for mental and emotional wellbeing’ for more info.

And if you want to change something like your weight or fitness level for health reasons, rather than trying to match up to society’s ideals, you can get help with that too. So you can lose/gain weight safely and become more active. Talk to your GP for information and support.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else
is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

12. Be patient

Changing the way you think and feel about your body will take time. So be patient with yourself. And acknowledge that there may be times when you’ll stumble and start thinking badly about yourself. But you can use any of these strategies to pick yourself up again. We’ve also included lots of great resources in the More to explore section for you to check out.

My scars, and the kick-ass tattoos nearby, are just outward representations of part of my journey. So even if people notice them and stare, I can feel proud that I’ve survived. And while I’m still very much a work in progress, I’ll continue to work on loving myself and striving to be a good role model to those people around me. At the end of the day, that’s something I can control, not other people’s perceptions of me or society’s ever-changing ideals of the ‘perfect body’.

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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26/Aug/2021

This is the second in our series exploring the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

Mental and emotional support professionals

Being diagnosed with a musculoskeletal condition can be overwhelming. You may feel a range of emotions such as fear, anxiety, stress, loss, worry and anger.

And living with a condition that causes ongoing pain and fatigue, and has the potential to change the way your body moves and functions can cause you to feel an array of emotions too.

If you feel these ups and downs, you’re not alone. Many people living with musculoskeletal conditions find that their emotional and mental health is affected from time to time. In fact, anxiety and depression are more common in people with musculoskeletal conditions than in the general population.

It’s important to recognise signs of these conditions and seek help as early as possible. Together with your healthcare team, you can develop a treatment plan that fits your needs physically, emotionally and mentally.

Your support team

Depending on your needs and whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, or you’re seeking support to help manage your emotions, you may see one (or more) of the following professionals:

Your general practitioner (GP) – is usually the first person you see when you have a health issue. As well as helping you manage your musculoskeletal condition, they coordinate your care and help you access other health professionals and services. If you require specific support for your mental health, they’ll work with you to create a mental health treatment plan. This plan entitles you to Medicare rebates for certain mental health professionals and care via the Better Access initiative.

A psychologist – can help you work through your feelings, particularly if you’re feeling anxious, stressed or depressed. They can also help you set goals and work through any problems that may be preventing you from achieving your goals.

A psychiatrist – is a medical doctor who’s undergone further study to specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They tend to treat severe and complex illnesses. They’re able to prescribe medication, such as anti-depressants, if appropriate.

A mental health nurse – is a registered nurse who’s undertaken additional training to care for people with mental health issues. They work in the community and hospital settings to support people in managing their mental health and treatment.

A mental health occupational therapist (OT) – OTs help people learn better ways to do everyday occupations (or activities). Those working in mental health help people lessen the impact their condition has on their quality of life and their ability to do their everyday activities.

An accredited mental health social worker – specialises in assessing, treating, and preventing mental health conditions. They help people manage their condition and its impact on their family, friends, work, and education.

A counsellor – is someone you can talk through your problems with. They can help you find clarity and solutions. A trained counsellor has usually spent three or more years studying counselling; however, there’s no requirement in Australia that counsellors have any qualifications or experience.

Wow, that’s a lot of support! How do you choose who to see?

Several factors will influence your decision:

Your mental health issues/condition. It can be challenging to know what to do or where to go when you’re struggling with mental health issues. This is where your GP comes in. They’re trained to help people with their mental health issues. By talking with you about your situation, they’ll be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist to get the care you need. They can also assess whether you’re eligible for a mental health treatment plan.

Your history. Have you seen a mental health professional before? Do you have a good relationship with them? Have you experienced good outcomes from your sessions with them? If so, you may decide to go back to them. If not, discuss your options with your GP.

Cost. If you’re able to access subsidised treatment via the Better Access initiative, you’ll be able to see a mental health professional at a reduced cost. However, health professionals set their own fees, so be sure to ask about out-of-pocket costs when you’re booking your appointment. If these costs are an issue for you, even with Medicare rebates, talk with your GP.

Access. If you live in a rural or remote area, you may not be able to see a mental health professional in person. In this case, you may be able to access them via telehealth. Telehealth enables you to consult with your health professional over the phone or through a videoconferencing app (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp) on your smartphone, tablet or computer. You can choose phone or video consultations, depending on the technology you have available, and how comfortable you are using it.

Treatments

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when treating mental and emotional health issues. Treatment will be tailored to your unique situation and the goals you have. But treatment will commonly include:

Lifestyle factors – regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting enough good quality sleep, managing your stress and limiting your use of alcohol and drugs are practical things you can do to improve your physical, emotional and mental health.

Psychological therapies – also called psychotherapy or talk therapies – explore the feelings, thoughts and behaviours that are distressing you, and work towards changing them. It can be used by people with mental health conditions and people who want to understand themselves better.* There are many different forms of psychological therapies, including:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – this helps people learn to identify and change negative or unhelpful thoughts that have a harmful effect on behaviour and emotions, and replace them with more objective, realistic thoughts. People learn practical coping strategies such as goal setting and problem-solving that they can use in the current situation and in the future.
  • mindfulness-based cognitive therapy — combines cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness strategies.
  • acceptance and commitment therapy – focuses on acceptance to deal with negative thoughts, feelings, symptoms, or circumstances. It also encourages a commitment to positive, healthy attitudes.

Medication. For some conditions, such as moderate to severe depression, you may be prescribed anti-depressant medication. This will work alongside treatments such as lifestyle changes and psychological therapies. Find out more about anti-depressant medications.

Other support is available

  • Your family and/or close friends can be a great source of support and understanding.
  • Peer support groups, or people in similar situations, can also be a valuable resource. Talking with someone who really understands what you’re going through and has lived experience and practical info is priceless. Groups meet in person and online. For specific mental health groups, check out this list by the Black Dog Institute. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/support-groups/
  • Mental health organisations provide a considerable amount of information and support to help you manage your mental and emotional health. See the list below for details of these groups.
  • Online therapy. There’s also a lot of information online that you can access whenever and wherever you want. Healthdirect has some information to help you find out more about eTherapy, including links to useful sites.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

Mental health organisations and resources

Reference

* Psychotherapy, healthdirect, September 2019.


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05/Aug/2021

Humans have evolved to be an incredibly social species. That’s why our connections are so important to us – with family, friends, work colleagues, teammates, walking buddies, fellow book clubbers and staff at the local coffee shop. They all play a role in shaping who we are and how we get on in the world.

So when we can’t see these people in person due to lockdowns, restrictions, quarantine and the general chaos of COVID, it’s really hard on us.

The last 16 months have been so wearing – both physically and emotionally. We’re living with heightened feelings of anxiety and stress – what will the case numbers be today, when will I be able to visit loved ones, how long will we be homeschooling, when will life go back to ‘normal’??

Unfortunately, there aren’t any simple answers for any of these questions – especially the last one.

But there’s a simple thing you can do to combat the loneliness, lethargy, emotional fatigue and general feeling of ‘meh’ that COVID is causing us to feel. And that’s staying in touch with your peeps and extended community.

How to stay connected when you have to stay apart

First, we should never forget that restrictions and social distancing measures are all about physical distance. We need to remain separate from others so that the virus can’t spread. But that doesn’t mean we have to be socially separated or isolated.

Even before the pandemic, we used technology to remain connected. COVID has just put that on the fast track, and we’ve become familiar with video chats, long phone calls, and messaging.

So what else can you do to ensure you remain connected with the people and places important to you?

Check in. And no, there’s no QR code involved in this one ?! Take time daily to check in with yourself. How are you doing? If you’re feeling anxious or lonely, or overwhelmed, reach out to others for support. If you’re feeling fatigued or in pain, what can you do to deal with this? Taking a few moments to check in with yourself each day helps you deal with any issues before they become significant problems.

Take time to connect with those in your own home – your partner, kids, parents, siblings, housemates, pets, plants??. How’s everyone doing? Share your experiences and feelings about the day. And if you want to go beyond the small talk, try these ‘36 questions for increasing closeness’ from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley (USA).

Phone a friend. Make a regular time to call/video chat with those important to you. And make that day/time sacred – nothing (other than an emergency) should get in the way of this contact.

Get everyone involved. Call your nearest and dearest for a group chat and…watch movies, listen to music, make dinner, enjoy happy hour, fold the washing, discuss a book, play online games. You can still do things together even if you can’t be together.

Get out and walk. Exercise is essential for our physical and mental health, so get out and breathe in the fresh air. Take the family for a stroll, or meet up with a friend in the park. If you can’t walk with your usual crew, link your fitness apps and compare how many steps you’ve done for a little friendly competition ?. Go on a scavenger hunt. Or send pics to your network of the things you see on your walk. Walking isn’t just a good form of exercise – it can become an adventure, or a mindfulness exercise, or a chance to see other people in the flesh (and safely distanced).

Connect with your neighbours. Have a chat over the fence as you do your gardening or peg out the laundry. Or sit in your separate yards/driveways/balconies and just natter the afternoon away. Take note of any neighbours who live on their own and reach out to them. See if they need any assistance, groceries, someone to take the bins out, or most important of all, simple human interaction. It’s what we all need to get through this.

Immerse yourself. There are lots of online support/hobby/social/exercise groups that you can access from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can learn new things and meet new people without stepping out your door. And the beauty of online groups is they don’t even have to be in the same city, country or continent! Befriend Inc has created a handy guide to help you find and attend social groups online.

Send a care package. To someone you care about, or someone you know is having a difficult time. Send books, jigsaws, flowers, yummy food, a handwritten note. Anything that lets them know you’re thinking of them. It’ll be a lovely surprise and a boost for them, and for yourself. “As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way” – Mary Anne Radmacher.

Give thanks. Even though we’re tired, frustrated, anxious and sick of the stupid virus, there are still things to be thankful for. Taking time to reflect on these things helps us feel more positive and more fulfilled. Find out how you can become more grateful in your everyday life.

Volunteer your time and skills – from home. Volunteer work can be rewarding for yourself and your community. And there’s a lot of volunteer work that can be done online or remotely. So think about the types of things you’re passionate about, your skills, the amount of time you can give, and look around your local community to find the best match. Or visit GoVolunteer and search the database for volunteering opportunities.

Learn something new. There are so many organisations providing online learning courses, and many of them are free or low-cost. Just search online using your favourite search engine, and explore what’s available. Also, check out Laneway Learning, MOOCs (massive open online courses), TAFEs, colleges and community houses. You’ll come out of this pandemic with so much knowledge you’ll wow everyone at your next trivia night ?. And you’ll meet a bunch of like-minded people. Win-win!

Worship. Attending churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship with our family and friends isn’t an option for many people at the moment. The good news is that a lot of them are now online. Contact your place of worship or search online to see what events are being streamed and when. Gather with your extended family and friends virtually after worship to celebrate together.

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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24/Jun/2021

Why practising gratitude is good for you

At the start of 2020, I found a jar, a notepad and pen and started a gratitude jar. I’d read about them somewhere and decided to give it a go. Every day I’d write about something – big or small – that I was grateful for. Some days I wrote more than one thing. Then as 2020 rolled along, I wrote less and less. My last entry was just before we came out of hard lockdown in late October. The jar was pushed to the back of the cupboard and I forgot about it.

Until today. I’ve just re-read my notes, and they made me smile. They included things like:

  • Yay! Played with Helen’s tiny new kittens! Kittens!!!
  • Had a wonderful lazy, sunny, Sunday arvo reading by the river with Duncan.
  • The bus driver waited for me!
  • The hairdresser is open again. Thank the lords – I look like Cousin It!

There were lots of others, and as I read them, I was caught up in the moments. And I wondered why I’d let this practice go?

Stupid pandemic, that’s why. The impact it had on my physical and mental health, the lockdowns, the on-again off-again masks, concern for loved ones, too many quarintinis – it all took over my life. Well, to be honest, I let it. I focused on the negatives, so the positives were harder to find.

I know I’m not alone in this. Many of us often focus on the negative, especially when we’re in pain, frightened, worried about the future, or just because it’s Thursday (I never could get the hang of Thursdays).

But if we open ourselves up to the positives in life and become more grateful, we’ll feel happier, more fulfilled, and we may even improve our physical health.

9 ways to become more grateful

There are lots of ways you can become more grateful. We’ve selected a few to help you get started. Then it’s a case of – practise, practise, practise. Because as with any new skill or routine, practise makes perfect.

1. Write it down

Gratitude journaling is one of the most common ways you can practise being grateful. It helps you actively focus on the positive things in your life. All you need to do is choose a method that works for you. For example, write about what you’re grateful for on a piece of paper and pop it in a jar each day, write in your diary, post about it on your socials, or use an app. The physical act of writing it down makes you think about what it is you’re grateful for, reflect on how it made you feel and experience that feeling again.

2. Pay attention and be thankful for the people around you

The pandemic has opened our eyes to how meaningful our connections are. It’s been a wake-up call to savour the moments we have with the people that make up our world, especially those closest to us. So take time to really listen to them. Stop flicking through your phone, turn away from the TV, look up from the pile of laundry you’re folding and listen to your partner/kids/parents/friends. And be thankful that they’re in your life.

3. Be mindful of the things around you

We often rush about with our heads down, not taking note of our surroundings. But there’s so much beauty and wonder for us to enjoy and be grateful for. So next time you head outdoors, keep your phone in your pocket and look around you. Listen to the birds in the trees, notice how the trees sway in the wind, enjoy the dogs playing in the park, be in awe of the mountains or the sea. Take the time to pay attention, and you’ll feel the boost to your mood and a skip in your step in no time.

4. When you wake up or before you go to sleep…

Think of something or someone that you’re grateful for. Or focus on something that happened during the day that made you smile or lifted your spirits.

5. Thank someone…

In person, with a letter, call or DM them. Let them know about something they did that made you happy or really helped you out. Or just to thank them for being in your life. You’ll both feel happier for it ?. It’s nice to know you’re appreciated and loved.

6. Surround yourself with gratitude cues

You’re probably doing this instinctively anyway. These are the photos, affirmations, quotes and jokes that make you happy, inspire you, remind you of beautiful people and times, and fill you with joy. No surface should be safe from gratitude cues – fridges, bookcases, walls, mirrors, windows, desktops, phones – they’re all fair game. So fill them up! And change them around – remove old ones, add new ones. That way you’ll have a constant array of things that make you grateful, and they won’t start blending into the background.

7. Meditate

It’s a great way to relax and gain some balance in a topsy-turvy world. But it’s also some ‘you time’, when you can take a few moments to shut out the world, breathe deeply and evenly, and focus your mind on positive thoughts.

8. On the job

We all have times when we feel a bit blah and uninspired about work. If that sounds familiar, try this: at the start of each workday, think of one thing about your job that you’re grateful for. It might be the quiz you do at lunchtime with your workmates, or the opportunity to learn new skills and stretch yourself, or the friendships you’ve developed with interesting people. Big or small – think of one thing each day that makes you feel grateful about your job.

9. Wander down memory lane

Check out your memories on socials, crack open your old photo albums or just allow your mind to drift back to past, happy times. There’s a lot of joy in our lives that we forget about when we only think of our current state or upcoming events. Or when we only focus on our anxieties or negative things. We’ve lived through some amazing times and met lots of lovely people. That’s something we can all be grateful for, and our memories and photos can help us relive them. And if you see the faces of those no longer with us, you may feel sad, but you can also feel grateful that you met that wonderful person and had them in your life. And that’s a blessing.

Before you get started

It’s important that you don’t get on the gratitude bandwagon to the detriment of your other feelings. Being grateful doesn’t mean that you can’t experience worry, sadness, anxiety or anger. You can be grateful and still experience a range of other emotions. These feelings are valid too, and we need to feel them. As with most things, it’s all about getting the balance right.

Try not to compare yourselves with others. It’s never a healthy thing to do. We all have our set of unique challenges and opportunities, so comparisons just don’t work.

You can be grateful for what you have, even if there are others in the world who you perceive to ‘have it worse’ than you do. If you feel that way, think about what you can do to enrich the lives of others. Do volunteer work, donate to charity, become a mentor; you can give back to the community in so many ways.

Or if you perceive that others ‘have it easier’ than you do, feel grateful for what you do have and the people and things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Focusing on the negative won’t bring you happiness, and won’t magically bestow on you the perceived riches that someone else has, so dump the comparisons and focus on your life.

And finally

We asked some of our consumers and staff what they’re grateful for. Here are some of the responses we received.

I’m grateful:

  • that I live near some beautiful running and walking tracks
  • that I can enjoy the outdoors, the scenery and the sunsets
  • for having the basics – a roof over my head, good food and warm bed on a cold night
  • for strawberry Freddo frogs…and pizza night
  • that my workplace supports me to work flexibly and put my condition first
  • for my sister sending me lots of pictures and videos of my niece and nephew who live overseas
  • for my partner, without whom I don’t know where I’d be
  • for my son, who is hard work but makes me laugh every day
  • that I can still do the job I love despite restrictions due to arthritis and age
  • that my desk overlooks a tree that’s covered in rainbow lorikeets most afternoons
  • that I have two fluffy indoor cats who deign to let me pat them from time to time.

What are you grateful for?

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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22/Apr/2021

13 strategies to get you through

Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition sucks. It may only suck occasionally, or it may suck a lot of the time. But there’s no denying that living with pain, fatigue and uncertainty isn’t a fun day at the beach.

In our 2020 national survey, we asked people how their condition affected all aspects of their life. One thing that stood out dramatically was that of the more than 3,400 who took part, 52% said their condition affected their ability to enjoy life in general.

That’s enjoying life in general – not enjoying big life events or travel – but life in general. And that’s disturbing and very, very sad.

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes for improving quality of life, or the enjoyment you get out of your day-to-day reality. Living with a musculoskeletal condition means that life isn’t always predictable. You can be going through a period of stability then suddenly – bam – you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck. Or your emotions or mental health suddenly take a downward turn. Living with a chronic condition, or multiple conditions, is a tricky, complicated balancing act.

But there are some things you can do, if you feel you need something to help you get on top of the ‘blahs’ and hopefully start to feel more happy, optimistic and fulfilled. They’re the tried and true ones I use when life starts to feel a bit grey.

  1. Get on top of your condition and pain management (as much as possible)
    If your condition is affecting your ability to enjoy life in general, is it because it’s not well managed or you’re in constant pain? If so, it’s time to talk with your healthcare team about how you can get on top of this. Complete pain relief may not be an option for all people, but getting your pain to a level that you can cope with, and so it’s not severely impacting your ability to enjoy life is doable. It may take some time and effort, but it can be done. Talk with your doctor and healthcare team to develop a plan to get your condition and symptoms under control. And read our A-Z guide to managing pain for more info.
  2. Get some sleep
    One of the biggest factors that affects our mood and mental health is lack of sleep. It’s much more difficult to cope with every day stresses, family life, work/study, as well as managing your health, if you’re exhausted. After dealing with poor quality sleep for some months, I recently took time off work to try and get myself into a better sleep routine. I exercised, went to bed at a reasonable time, ensured I got up at the same time every day, and limited caffeine, alcohol and screen time for several hours before I went to bed. My sleep quality – while still not perfect – is much better. Taking time away from your responsibilities may not be an option for everyone, but there are other strategies you can try to improve your sleep quality. Find out more.
  3. Make time for you
    Ever had those days/weeks when you feel like your life is consumed by everyone else’s problems and issues, and yours keep getting pushed further and further back? If that’s the case – it’s time to take some time back for you. However much time you can carve out of your day, just do it. You deserve and need it. Take the time to rest/meditate/read/go for a walk/just breathe. You’ll feel much better for it and be more equipped to help others afterwards.
    “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown
  4. Connect with your peeps
    It’s an easy trap to fall into. When you feel crappy, and everything seems too hard, staying at home in your safe and cosy cocoon feels like all you can bear to do. You don’t want to share your miserable mood, or let others see how you’re really feeling. But this can become a vicious cycle, and before you know it, you lose touch with family and friends, or miss out on fun times, and important events. If you don’t feel up to going out, call your people. Chat, catch up with each other over the phone or video. Share how you’re feeling (it’s up to you how much detail you go into), and just enjoy the connection. When you’re able to, even if it’s an effort, try to get out and see your peeps. They care about you, and you’ll feel happier for making the effort.
    “It’s not what we have in our life, but who we have in our life that counts.” – J.M. Laurence 
  5. Schedule time to relax
    It may seem crazy, but in this busy world we live in, if you don’t schedule time for relaxation, it often doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about the near comatose slouching on the couch at the end of the day, type of relaxing. But the things that actually refresh body, mind and spirit, and ease your stress and muscle tension. This includes meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, massage, a warm shower or bath, going for a walk or listening to music. So think about the things that relax and refresh you, and make time to do those things each week.
  6. Focus on self-care
    Take time to evaluate your self-care plan. Is it covering all aspects of your life, health and wellbeing? Not only your physical health, but mental and emotional health as well? Or do you need to create a self-care plan? For help to get you started, read our recent 7 pillars of self-care article. It has lots of info to help you understand self-care, as well as resources to help you create a self-care plan.
  7. Enjoy the small things
    One of the silver linings of the COVID lockdowns for me was that we were forced to live smaller, and as a result really take note and appreciate the little things in our lives. When we could only walk in our local area, I noticed amazing gardens and parks that I hadn’t known existed. It gave me the chance to enjoy the quiet as we worked on a jigsaw or crossword puzzle together. I read, I learned some yoga, I rode my bike. I talked with my young niece and nephew over the phone, and listened as they excitedly told me about their daily adventures. I enjoyed the breeze on my face when I went for a walk, the glow of the full moon, the smell in the air after a rainstorm. Taking a moment to enjoy, and be thankful for these little things, lifted my mood and made me smile. It’s simple, but so powerful. And perfectly segues into my next tip…
  8. Be grateful
    Sometimes we get so bogged down in what’s going on in our life – our problems and issues, family dramas, and the million things that need to be done at home and work – that we can’t see all the good things in our lives. The Resilience Project has a range of activities and resources exploring how we can feel grateful by “paying attention to the things that we have right now, and not worrying about what we don’t have”. Visit their website to find out more about being grateful in your everyday life.
  9. Write a wish list of the places you want to go
    I love to explore. Whether it’s overseas, interstate or my local area. And I subscribe to countless newsletters and alerts that provide info about interesting walks, galleries and exhibitions, cafes and restaurants, and upcoming markets and festivals. I add these to a burgeoning list on my phone, complete with links. This gives me a never-ending list of adventures. And nothing pulls me out of the doldrums like an adventure! Depending on what I’m doing, I do need to take into account my condition, how I feel that day etc. But a little planning, sharing the driving with others, and just being leisurely and not rushing, means that I get to enjoy some amazing things. Just seeing a list of opportunities is exciting, so I’d recommend giving it a go.
    “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” ― Dr. Seuss
  10. Be mindful
    How many times have you eaten dinner, but can’t really remember what it tasted like because you were watching TV? Or gone for a walk but can’t remember much of what you saw, felt or experienced? If this sounds familiar, try some mindfulness. You may have heard of mindfulness meditation, but you can also be mindful when you do other activities, like eating or walking. It simply means that you focus your attention on the moment and the activity, without being distracted. So when you’re eating, really take time to focus on the textures, smells and flavours, and how the food makes you feel. Or when you’re walking, how does the ground feel under your feet, the sun on your face, the wind in your hair? Do you hear birds in the trees, are there dogs running in the park? Be aware and enjoy it all.
  11. Try something new
    From time to time we can get stuck in the rut of everyday life/work/study/home activities. And while having a daily routine is an important strategy for living with a chronic condition, sometimes we just need a little something extra, something new and exciting to get us out of the doldrums. What have you always wanted to do? What’s on your bucket list? Learning a language? Visiting a special place? Writing a book? There are lots of low and no cost online courses that can teach a range of skills from juggling, cooking, origami, geology, playing the guitar, speaking Klingon. And while we can’t travel to a lot of places – especially overseas at the moment – you can still travel virtually and whet your appetite for when the borders reopen. The point is, adding something new and interesting to your everyday life makes you feel more fulfilled and optimistic. Just head to your favourite search engine, and start searching!
    “Don’t be afraid to try new things. They aren’t all going to work, but when you find the one that does, you’re going to be so proud of yourself for trying.” – Anonymous
  12. Exercise
    I can’t get through an article without talking about exercise ?. It’s just so important, and can improve not only your physical health, but your mental and emotional wellbeing. I find it’s the perfect thing to do whenever I’m feeling at my lowest. It can be hard to get up and go, but even if it’s a short walk outside, or 10 minutes of stretching exercises, or some yoga – just making the effort and getting the blood moving, immediately lifts my mood, and distracts from my symptoms. That’s because 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. So grab your walking shoes, or exercise mat, and let the endorphins flow!
  13. Seek help
    If you feel like your condition is significantly affecting your ability to enjoy life, and these basic strategies aren’t enough to change that, talk with your doctor. Be honest and open, and explain how you’re feeling. You may need to talk with a counsellor or psychologist so that you can explore some strategies, tailored specifically to you, to help you get through this rough patch.
    “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene

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.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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22/Apr/2021

I know, I know…we talk about self-care A LOT. But understanding and practising self-care is such an important tool for living your best life and getting the best health outcomes when you have a chronic condition. That’s why we talk about it so much.

Based on the findings of our 2020 national consumer survey, we know people with musculoskeletal conditions are practising self-care by exercising, eating healthfully, appropriately using medications, working with their healthcare team, using mind-body techniques and seeking peer support.

But they also told us they needed support to do this.

So what is self-care?

Self-care is vital and covers all aspects of our health and wellbeing. Things like exercise, visiting your specialist, taking your medication, mindfulness, learning about your condition/s, talking with a friend and even relaxing in a bubble bath; are all part of self-care

To understand the breadth of self-care, and how you can incorporate it into your life in a meaningful way, the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) has developed a framework for self-care around seven ‘pillars’ or ‘domains’.

Let’s explore each of these.

Pillar 1. Knowledge and health literacy
Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power – so understanding your body, how it works, how it’s affected by your musculoskeletal condition/s, as well as any other health condition you have – gives you the ability to make informed decisions and play an active role in the management of your healthcare.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care defines health literacy as the way we “understand information about health and health care, and how we apply that information to our lives, use it to make decisions and act on it”.

Together, health literacy and knowledge give us the tools we need to be empowered when it comes to our healthcare. By understanding our body and our health, we can discuss our options with our health professionals, we can critically evaluate information from a range of sources, make adjustments to our lifestyle and behaviours, understand risk factors and the appropriate use of treatments and tests.

In fact, research shows that people who have high levels of knowledge and health literacy have much better health outcomes.

If you want to know more about your health and musculoskeletal condition/s, or you need help to improve your health literacy, there are lots of people who can help you.

Talk with your doctor and other members of your healthcare team. Contact the MSK Help Line and speak with our nurses. Visit authoritative websites (like ours).

And don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s how we all learn.

Pillar 2. Mental wellbeing, self-awareness and agency
Incorporating things you enjoy and that make you feel good into your daily/weekly routine – such as mindfulness, exercise, alone time, relaxation, massage, and staying connected with family and friends – is a simple thing you can do to look after your mental wellbeing and increase your resilience.

Self-awareness involves taking the knowledge you have about your condition and health in general, and applying it to your specific circumstances. For example, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you know exercise can help with that, ensure you’re getting enough exercise each day. Or if you’re carrying more weight than you’d like, and this is causing increased knee pain, as well as issues with your self-esteem, talk with your doctor about safe ways you can lose weight. Or if you have rheumatoid arthritis and a family history of osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about how you can look after your bone health.

Agency is the ability and intention to act on your knowledge and self-awareness.

Pillar 3. Physical activity
OK, so this one’s fairly self-explanatory since we talk about the importance of exercise and being physically active all the time ?.  Regular exercise helps us manage our musculoskeletal condition/s, pain, sleep, mood, weight, bone health – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It keeps us moving, improves our posture and balance, helps us stay connected and helps prevent (or manage) other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Pillar 4. Healthy eating
This one’s also easy to understand, as along with exercise, healthy eating plays a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing.

Being overweight or obese increases the load on joints, causing increased pain and joint damage, especially on weight-bearing joints like hips, knees, ankles and feet. The amount of overall fat you carry can contribute to low but persistent levels of inflammation across your entire body, including the joints affected by your musculoskeletal condition, increasing the inflammation in these already painful, inflamed joints.

Being overweight or obese can also increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, poor sleep and depression.

Being underweight also causes health issues. It can affect your immune system (meaning you’re more at risk of getting sick or an infection) and you may feel more tired than usual. Feeling tired and run down will affect your ability to be active, and do the things you want to do.

If you need help to eat more healthfully or manage your weight, talk with your doctor or dietitian.

Pillar 5. Risk avoidance or mitigation
Taking responsibility for our actions and doing all we can to reduce or avoid actions and behaviours that increase our risk of injury or death, is good for our health.

This includes things such as driving carefully and wearing a seatbelt, drinking alcohol in moderation, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, getting your vaccinations, protecting yourself from the sun, quitting smoking and practising safe sex.

It also includes seeing your doctor and healthcare team regularly so that you can stay on top of any changes to your musculoskeletal condition/s.

Pillar 6. Good hygiene
Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition/s are more susceptible to bugs, germs and other nasties in the environment than other people. Their immune system is weakened due to their health condition and/or the medications they’re required to take. Practising good hygiene is a simple thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting sick or developing infections.

Good hygiene includes things such as regular and thorough hand washing, coughing/sneezing into your elbow, appropriate and safe preparation and storage of food, cleaning your teeth regularly, staying home when sick, and having a clean home/work environment.

They all help us maintain good health and avoid spreading disease.

Pillar 7. Rational and responsible use of products, services, diagnostics and medicines

ISF calls these self-care products and services the ‘tools’ of self‐care, as they support health awareness and healthy practices.

These tools include medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), complementary therapies, monitoring equipment (e.g. blood pressure and blood glucose machines), aids and equipment (e.g. TENS machine, heat or cold pack, walking stick), wellness services (e.g. exercise classes, weight loss groups), and health services (e.g. smoking cessation programmes, physiotherapy, massage therapy).

ISF also states that the use of these tools should be ‘rational and responsible’. That means only using products and services proven to be safe and effective.

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So that’s it – the seven pillars of self-care. They provide a convenient, easy-to-understand description of self-care practises we can use to manage our health and musculoskeletal conditions.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” – Unknown

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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18/Mar/2021

When this pandemic began a year ago we were all hopeful that it’d be over quickly. We were in a surreal and unprecedented situation, but we did the best we could and hoped for the best.

Twelve months down the track we’re all a little battle-scarred and weary.

We’ve had virus outbreaks, lockdowns, home-schooling, border closures, panic buying, changes to how/when/if we work and we’ve had financial stress. We’ve missed big and small life events, scaled our worlds down and we’re now getting ready to roll up our sleeves for the vaccine.

Pardon my language, but it’s been a pretty shit year. It’s been exhausting and stressful, and we’re tired. It’s no wonder many of us are feeling the impact on our mental health.

When you add painful, musculoskeletal condition/s into the mix, the effect is intensified.

In our recent report: Making the invisible visible: Australians share the impact of musculoskeletal conditions on their lives people revealed that having a musculoskeletal condition affected all aspects of their lives.

In regards to mental health, one person wrote: “it’s a constant battle with my body and mind. It’s hard to stay positive when pain has been a constant in your life for twenty years. I…have had to relinquish shift work and reduce to three working days a week as a result of health issues, mental health and ongoing pain”.

And another: “COVID-19 has severely affected a very active life and contributed to my downturn in mobility and therefore weight gain…My lonely times and feeling a lack of adequate social interaction [combined] with physical pain had a depressive effect. Am picking up now with support, activity and hope”.

People also shared that their condition affected their ability to:

  • be emotionally and mentally well – 50%
  • enjoy life in general – 52%.

With such large numbers reporting negative effects on mental health – because of their condition, and the crazy times we’re currently living through – we thought it was timely to revisit some of the many things we can do to look after our mental health.

So what can we do?

Lots! We can look after our mental health in so many ways. And the sooner we start to take care of our mental health the better it’ll be.

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

Establish a routine. Do you have a regular routine or are you just winging it from day to day? We’re creatures of habit and thrive on our schedules. They give us some control over our lives – especially when the world feels topsy-turvy. 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.

Create a weekday routine that takes into account work, school and other commitments, and a weekend routine that involves your chores, as well as the fun stuff like social, leisure, sporting and family activities.

Don’t compare yourself with others. We all know people who appear to have it all worked out and seem to glide through life effortlessly. So if you’re comparing yourself to that ‘perfection’ – as you sit in your grungy jeans and t-shirt, with dirty laundry taking over the house, kids/partner/housemate driving you crazy and your dog weeing on the floor…STOP! Stop right now.

First – no one’s perfect. We all have our challenges, but some people are just better at concealing them. Second – comparing ourselves with others isn’t helpful. Most of us only share online the things that make us look good. We choose our best photos, we use filters and we manipulate our pics so we look amazing. Comparing yourself with others and their ‘perfect’ pics 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. 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 choose to talk about things that make you smile. Shared memories, your kids/pets/hobbies, or something that’s happened in your day that made you feel good. Or venture out of the house and catch up for a coffee or a walk in the park. Just be sure to keep the communication channels open. And check out our blog on staying connected.

Get back to BACE-ics. BACE is a way to divide your daily activities into areas that encourage 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). As this ABC Everyday article explains 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.” So get back to BACE-ics and focus on self-care.

Schedule time to face your worries and fears. We can’t always escape our worries about things like our health, work, finances, the future or COVID. We’re bombarded with news, social media and that annoying voice in our head at night when we just can’t sleep. So acknowledge that you’re worried and schedule a time to process this. (Just don’t do it too close to bed time or you’ll be tossing and turning all night.) Now look at these thoughts and feelings closely – really shine a light on what’s bothering you. Try to come up with possible solutions for dealing with them. 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. Constantly focusing on our worries is bad for our mental health.

Talk with a professional. Half of the people who completed our survey said that their condition affected their mental and emotional health, and yet only 11% said that they had used the services of a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health coach or a counsellor. But help is available if you need it. The Australian Government is providing up to 20 Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions each calendar year. So if you’d like to talk with a professional about your mental health and how you’re feeling, talk with your doctor about how you can take advantage of the Better access to mental health care initiative.  And find out more about the different types of professionals that can help you.

You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. Just try for your best – and give yourself a break. Your best before all of this started is different to your best now. So do what you can in the circumstances you find yourself in and be kind.

Nurture your relationship. Whether you live with your partner/significant other, or they live elsewhere, it’s important to nurture your relationship with them. Everyday stresses have been compounded by the pandemic and its effect on our lives. This in turn 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 live apart use video chat, phone calls and good old-fashioned love letters (swoon). Just put in the time and effort your relationship deserves. Get dressed up. Don’t talk about any of the usual day-to-day 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 really horrible to ourselves, especially when we’re feeling down. “I’m fat”, “I’m hopeless”, “I’m a terrible dad/mum/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 is often easier said than done, and like any new habit it will require 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 living, working and existing 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 often 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. That’s why we go on and on about it.

Be careful with alcohol and other drugs. 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 actually 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.

We often focus so much on our physical health, that caring for our mental health tends to be pushed to the side. There are just too many other commitments 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.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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17/Dec/2020

With Christmas and the festive season just around the corner, and a tough year almost behind us, it’s the perfect time for a wellness challenge!

And before you roll your eyes, this challenge is fun, it’s easy and we‘ve tied it in with song The 12 days of Christmas… so it all begins on Christmas day.

So strap yourselves in, it’s a weird and wacky song! But we hope you’ll have some fun with the 12 days of wellness challenge.

Happy holidays, stay safe, and keep well!

25 December

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree…

While a partridge in a pear tree doesn’t sound like cause for celebration, the fact that we’ve made it to Christmas Day certainly is! So let’s celebrate!! Dance around your lounge room, sing carols, toast your family and friends because we made it! We’re with our loved ones – hopefully in person, but if not, virtually is good too. Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy this day.

26 December

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me, two turtles doves… 

Get outside and walk off some of the Christmas yumminess. See if you can spot some turtle doves (might be a tad tricky as they appear to be European).

Any-hoo, see if you can at least spot a pigeon while enjoying your walk. Enjoy the sunshine and vitamin D and breathe in the fresh air – how good does it feel without a mask?

27 December

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me, three French hens…

What’s with all the birds? Weird, but we can use the French vibe for our third day.

Catch up with friends and do something fun together. Channel your inner Parisian, grab some baguettes, cheese, wine and eclairs (yum), and have a picnic in the park. Or visit a café and enjoy a cafe au lait while you watch the people stroll by. Finish with a promenade along a river or visit a gallery for the perfect end to your day.

28 December

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, four calling birds…

More birds! But they’re on the right track as far as calling goes.

Today call or face time someone you haven’t spoken with for a while. Catch up on their lives and let them know how you’re doing. If this year has taught us nothing else, it’s that our connections are vital. We need them for our physical, mental and emotional health. So pick up the phone and call someone.

29 December

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, five gold rings… 

Now we’re talking! Only joking, I prefer silver.

Today the challenge is to take photos of three things that make you happy. The sky’s the limit – so it may be some gold rings, or your family, your dog, some flowers, a sunset, a meal, or the clouds in the sky. Whatever makes you happy – point and click. And save them so you can look at them whenever you’re feeling a bit down and need a boost.

30 December

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, six geese a-laying…

Come on, seriously? This true love was mad for birds!

Today, let’s hit the trails. Grab your bike, borrow one from a friend, or hire one…and let’s go for a ride. Riding is a low impact and fun exercise that’s suitable for most people. Read our blog for some tips to make your ride a fun, enjoyable outing without the pain.

As usual keep your eye out for birds – especially of the geese variety who may or may not be laying.

31 December

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, seven swans a-swimming… 

More birds – sigh. But the swimming part is a great idea! Nothing says summer like hitting the beach, pool, river or watering hole for a swim to cool down. And it’s a wonderful exercise for anyone with a musculoskeletal condition. Your body is supported by the water and the resistance provided by moving through water builds muscle strength and endurance.

And since it’s New Year’s Eve, while you’re floating around in the water, take some time to reflect on 2020 and three things you’re grateful for. It’s been a tough year, but there have been some highlights. What were yours?

1 January

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eight maids a-milking… 

Hello 2021! It’s a new year, and we often start a new year with some resolutions. Instead of doing the usual – lose weight, get more exercise, quit smoking (although we can still do these) – let’s use the new year to a set a goal to do that ‘one thing’ we’ve always wanted to do. And make a plan to achieve your goal.

So if you’ve always wanted to milk a cow, get those milk maids involved and find a cow.

But seriously, most of us have something that we’ve always wanted to try or accomplish. Write a novel, play an instrument, become conversant in another language, take up pottery, learn to cook…whatever it is, write it down, then work out the steps you need to achieve your goal. Check out our info on goal setting for tips and advice. And good luck!

2 January

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, nine ladies dancing… 

Today it’s all about unplugging and a digital detox. Put your phone aside for an hour, 2 hours, the whole day! Dance with nine ladies, or just by yourself, go for a walk, talk with your neighbor, do some yoga/tai chi/stretching, curl up on your couch with a book, de-stress with some guided imagery. Whatever you do, avoid using any tech or gadgets for the time you’ve put aside for your detox…and enjoy!

3 January

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, ten lords a-leaping…

This true love had some wacky gift ideas, but hats off for the creativity!

The tenth day challenge is to do some mindfulness meditation. With Christmas and New Year done and dusted, many of us will be feeling tired from all of our commitments and celebrations. This may have aggravated our pain and fatigue, and made us feel a little overwhelmed. So let’s do something that will help us focus and be mindful. Find yourself a comfy spot, read our info on mindfulness meditation and do the simple body scan we’ve provided.

Or if mindfulness isn’t your thing, what about some visualisation? It also uses the power of your mind to reduce pain and stress, but it’s free flowing and allows you to use your imagination. Remember the details of a past event, visualise a future event, or think of something completely out there…like 10 lords a-leaping.

4 January

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eleven pipers piping…

Today seems like a good day to go all out and make a meal that fills you with joy. Whether it’s something your mum or dad used to make for you when you were little, that brings back happy childhood memories, or a meal that you love but never make because it’s too complicated/decadent/full of calories…cook it! And take time to savour it. Really enjoy each mouthful. And then blow your own trumpet about how good it is (that’s the closest I could get to pipers!).

5 January

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, twelve drummers drumming… 

Drumroll please- let’s go out with a bang!

Today is the day to do whatever you want. So it’s not a hard challenge at all.

Put your favourite music on and sing, dance, do your best air guitar/air drums or just sit back and listen. Pamper yourself with a spa treatment – in a salon or at home. Read a book or magazine, put your feet up and relax. Go for a hike with friends. Pull out the Lego and let your imagination go wild. Build a fort in your lounge. Stay in your PJs all day. Explore a gallery/museum/library – in person or virtually. Go hot air-ballooning. Buy a drum kit and go crazy – like Animal from the Muppets playing with Dave Grohl, or the True Love’s twelve drummers.

Take this day to do something that makes you happy and fill you with joy. Life’s short – let’s make every moment count.

Call our Help Line

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


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17/Dec/2020

…when it comes to complementary, alternative and ‘natural’ treatments

Many Australians use complementary or alternative treatments to manage their health condition (e.g. arthritis, anxiety) or to improve their overall health and wellbeing. But what are these treatments and what do you need to consider before trying them?

Complementary and alternative treatments include a wide range of therapies, medicines, products or practices that aren’t currently considered to be a conventional or mainstream medical treatment. They include acupuncture, meditation, massage, herbal treatments, yoga, aromatherapy and naturopathy.

The word complementary usually refers to treatments that are used alongside conventional medicine, whereas alternative usually means the treatment is used instead of conventional medicine.

To make things easier (and less wordy), we’ll use the term complementary treatment when referring to all types of complementary or alternative treatments in this article.

Why do we use complementary treatments?

People are attracted to these treatments because they often have a more holistic approach and treat the entire person, rather than just their condition or symptoms. They also appear to be more natural and safer than conventional medicine.

But it’s important to understand that as with any treatment, complementary treatments may cause harm and make you unwell if they’re not taken correctly, if they interact with one of your other medications, or if the practitioner you see isn’t properly trained or qualified. That’s why you should discuss your use, or intended use, or any complementary treatments with your doctor.

Do they work for musculoskeletal conditions?

While many people feel that using complementary treatments has been beneficial for their health and wellbeing, there isn’t as much evidence to support its use for musculoskeletal conditions as there is for conventional medicines.

For many complementary treatments there just aren’t enough well-designed randomised controlled trials to show whether or not these therapies are effective. And if they are effective, for which conditions or symptoms.

However some types of complementary treatments show promise and may be helpful for managing your condition. More and more research is now focusing on these treatments. But at the moment the evidence is still lacking so it’s best to take your time, do your research and make sure the treatment is right for you.

Tips for starting a new complementary treatment

Let your doctor know what you’re doing. Keep them informed about any things you’re taking or considering taking (e.g. supplements, homeopathic treatments, herbal medicines) as well as any other therapies you’re trying or considering trying (e.g. acupuncture, yoga).

Continue taking your medications as prescribed. Don’t stop taking any medications without first discussing it with your doctor. Some medications need to be gradually reduced, rather than simply stopped, to avoid side effects.

Think about what you want to get out of the treatment. Are you hoping to control symptoms like pain or fatigue? Sleep better? Reduce or stop taking certain medications? Manage your anxiety? When you have a clear goal from the beginning of your treatment, you can monitor your progress and see if there are any improvements. After starting a new treatment, write down any changes you notice for a month – remember to include any medication changes, changes in your exercise program, the amount of sleep you’re getting and anything else that could affect your symptoms. At the end of the month, you’ll have a clearer picture of whether or not the treatment is working. If it’s not, it may be time to look for an alternative.

Do your research and ask lots of questions. Some treatments may help you manage your condition or symptoms, while others will have no effect. Visit websites such as MedlinePlus and The Cochrane Library to learn more about the treatment. And talk with your doctor and the therapist. Find out if:

  • there’s any current evidence that the treatment is effective and safe for people with your condition?
  • the treatment’s been shown to be effective in repeated scientific studies with large numbers of people?
  • the research used a control group? A control group is a group of people who don’t have a particular treatment compared with a group of similar people who do. This helps to show that any results are due to the treatment and not some other factor.
  • potential risks, side effects and interactions with other treatments are clearly identified?
  • you can continue to use your current effective treatments, as well as the complementary treatment?
  • the treatment’s something you can afford and can access easily?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you should be wary of the treatment. Discuss it with your doctor or specialist before you go any further.

Check the qualifications of the person providing the treatment.

  • Do they receive regular training and updates?
  • Have they treated other people with your condition or health issues?
  • Are they a member of their peak body?
  • Are they accredited?

Buy Australian. Australian complementary medicines are subject to strict safety and quality regulations. This may not be the case in other countries. In Australia the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) ensures the safety of medicines and other therapeutic treatments.

Call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). As well as information on your prescription and over-the-counter medicines, they can also help you find out more about herbal medicine, vitamins and minerals.

After doing your research, if you have any doubts about the treatment, don’t use it.

Talk with your doctor or contact our MSK Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 helpline@msk.org.au for information about other treatment options.

Call our Help Line

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

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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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