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31/Aug/2022

Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine. – Lord Byron

I think there’s a reason we respond so positively to the memes, social media posts and jokes that poke fun at pain, chronic illness and the trials and tribulations that come from living with both.

Having a foggy brain isn’t particularly funny, being unable to sleep isn’t a joke, and pain – wow, that’s probably the un-funniest thing you can think of 😣. But we all tend to laugh at and share the well-crafted meme or post that pokes fun at these things because we identify with the truth behind them. And with the best ones, you can tell it’s been created by someone who knows what it’s like to live with pain and illness. You recognise a fellow traveller.

Laughter and humour are such powerful forces. Just think about the last time you had one of those huge, spontaneous belly laughs with family or friends. Something was said, a joke was told, or you all saw something ridiculous. You snort, giggle, and guffaw. Your eyes water, you gasp for breath, and your belly starts to hurt. When you look at each other, you laugh some more. When you finally do stop laughing, you feel euphoric. Everything seems better, and you feel happier 😊.

However, when you’re in the grips of pain, laughing is probably the last thing you feel like doing. But laughter can actually help you deal with your pain better. A good joke, a funny movie, or just seeing something silly can distract you from your pain and make you feel better, at least for a while.
Laughter also causes your brain to release some feel-good chemicals that boost your mood and make you feel more optimistic. They include endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Endorphins are your body’s natural pain reliever; releasing them into the body temporarily reduces your feelings of pain. Serotonin produces feelings of calmness and happiness. And dopamine is part of your brain’s reward system and gives you a sense of pleasure. It also helps reduce feelings of anxiety.

Other health benefits of a good giggle

As well as helping you cope with your pain and the stress of living with chronic health issues, laughter has many other health benefits. Laughing regularly:

LOL ideas

To bring on the laughs, giggles, chortles, snickers, cackles and guffaws, give these ideas a go:

  • Watch/stream a funny movie or sitcom – check out these lists from Flickchart and Rolling Stone for their top picks.
  • Listen to a funny podcast – this list from Time Out will get you started if you need ideas.
  • Run through a sprinkler on a hot day.
  • Talk with a friend and reminisce about a funny experience you had together.
  • Watch cat / dog / panda videos (you’re welcome!). 😹
  • Grab the kids, friends, partner or housemates and play. Anything! … Keep a balloon off the floor. Throw a frisbee. Charades. Pub quizzes. Truth or dare. Never have I ever. The floor is lava…
  • Have a pillow fight.
  • Think about the funniest joke you ever heard or your best (worst) dad jokes.
  • Jump on a trampoline.
  • Take silly selfies and send them to your bestie.
  • Grab a microphone (or a hairbrush) and sing out loud!
  • Join a laughter club. Simply google ‘laughter clubs’ for your state or territory.
Laughter serves as a blocking agent. Like a bulletproof vest, it may help protect you against the ravages of negative emotions that can assault you in disease. – Norman Cousins

Sadly it’s not all fun and games

It’s important to remember that laughter and humour are temporary distractions from pain. They’re great, and we should definitely cram as much into our day as possible. Just for the sheer joy of it 🤡.

But when you have a chronic illness and persistent pain, a balanced treatment approach should include self-care, appropriate medications and medical care, a healthy lifestyle, exercise, mindfulness and, yes, laughter.

Laughter may not be the best medicine (as the old saying goes), but it’s pretty close to perfect.

So, make sure you take a dose (or better yet – several!) every day!

A good laugh heals a lot of hurts. – Madeleine L’Engle

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

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash


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21/Jul/2022

Self-care is a trendy concept at the moment with many different definitions and uses.

You often see social media posts promoting self-care with pictures of day spas, yoga retreats and people exercising on the beach at sunset. All wonderful things, but when you live with a chronic condition, pain and sometimes-crippling exhaustion, life’s not always that glamorous!

So what is self-care?

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 pretty 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 good hygiene, avoiding risky behaviours and actions, and using medicines and treatments appropriately.

The International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) has developed seven pillars of self-care. They aim to help people understand the breadth and importance of self-care, and provide information about the steps you can take to care for yourself better.

Let’s explore them.

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 conditions you have – gives you the ability to make informed decisions about your healthcare.

Health literacy refers to how 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”.(2)

Together, health literacy and knowledge give you the tools you need to actively manage your healthcare. By understanding your body and health, you can discuss your options with your health professionals, critically evaluate information from various sources, adjust your 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 many 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 never be afraid to ask questions.

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 your health knowledge and applying it to your specific circumstances. For example, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you know exercise can help, you can 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 and self-esteem issues, 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, and joint 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

This pillar has the sexiest and most user-friendly title 😜😝.

Simply put, this pillar is about taking responsibility for your actions and behaviours. In particular, those that increase your risk of injury, ill-health or death.

To avoid these risks, you can drink alcohol in moderation, drive carefully, wear a seatbelt, get vaccinated, protect yourself from the sun, quit smoking, wear a helmet when riding a bike, and practise safe sex.

Seeing your doctor and healthcare team regularly is also important to stay on top of any changes to your health.

Pillar 6. Good hygiene

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with self-care for people with musculoskeletal conditions living in Australia. After all, most Australians have access to clean water and clean living/working spaces.

However, the last few years have shown how vital good hygiene is for protecting all of us from bugs and germs. It’s even more important if your condition or meds have weakened your immune system.

Practising good hygiene is a simple thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting sick or developing infections. So continue to regularly wash your hands, cough/sneeze into your elbow, stay home when sick, and keep your home/work environment clean. And although they’re not yet mandated in most places, wearing a mask is recommended and a really good idea when you’re indoors and can’t physically distance yourself from others.

All of these things will help maintain good health and avoid catching (or spreading) any nasties.

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

Another fun one! 😁 Although the title doesn’t roll off the tongue, this is an important pillar.

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

They include medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter), aids and equipment (e.g. TENS machine, heat or cold pack, walking stick), health services (e.g. physiotherapy, massage therapy), wellness services (e.g. exercise classes, weight loss groups), and complementary therapies.

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

“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

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

References

(1) Self-care interventions for health, World Health Organization.
(2) Health literacy, Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care


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21/Jul/2022

Looking for ways to put more ‘care’ into your self-care game? We’ve got 21 tips to help you!

1. There’s no perfect or right way to practise self-care

The first tip, and I can’t stress this enough, is there’s no perfect or right way to practise self-care. Sure, we can talk about the International Self-Care Foundation’s seven pillars, and we can push exercise, healthy eating and hand washing until the cows come home 🐄 🐄 🐄. But, if those things don’t resonate with you, or you have other pressing issues vying for your attention (e.g. dealing with a case of painsomnia), you’re not going to care about our messaging on those topics. Or, at least not at the moment.

2. Choose your own adventure

This leads us to tip number two. Self-care is like a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. It’s unique to you, your life, your specific set of circumstances and your choices.

3. Create your toolbox

Knowing the basic elements or tools of self-care (see the seven pillars) means you can choose what you need to help you manage at specific times. It’s like having a trusty toolbox filled to the brim with info about exercise, smoking cessation, healthy recipes, pain management strategies, guided imagery scripts and massage oil. You can pick and choose what you want or need. The key is knowing what’s available and how they can help you.

So far, we’ve been talking broadly about self-care. Now let’s look at some more specific tips our consumers and staff recommend.

4. Drink water

It lubricates and cushions your joints, aids digestion, prevents constipation, keeps your temperature normal and helps maintain your blood pressure. The amount of water you need varies from person to person and from day to day. There’s no ‘one size fits all’, but “as a general rule, men need about 10 cups of fluids every day and women need about 8 cups (add another cup a day if you are pregnant or breastfeeding)”. (1)

5. Plan your menu

You can take a lot of the stress out of your day if you sit and plan your week’s meals and snacks. Check what ingredients you have in your pantry, fridge and freezer, work out what you need to buy, and write it all down. Then all you hopefully need is one trip to the shops, and you’re sorted! No more – ‘what’s for dinner’ angst. 😐 Eatforhealth.gov.au has some info on meal planning and sample plans for men, women and children.

6. Get excited about exercise

Mix up your exercise routine with something fun and enjoyable to get you out of your exercise rut. Try Zumba, cardio, low-impact exercises, tennis, dancing, skipping, cycling, or trampolining. Head to your local fitness centre or gym, try an online class or download an app like Get Active Victoria. There’s something for everyone!

7. Just breathe

Our breathing can become shallow when we feel stressed, anxious, upset or in pain. This, in turn, can elevate blood pressure and increase the heart rate. It can also cause more tension. When you notice this happening, take some time to decompress. Relax your body. Focus on your breathing. Slowly take a deep breath in. Fill your lungs to a capacity that’s comfortable for you. Then slowly release this breath. Don’t release it in a sudden exhale, but control it, so it’s slow and smooth. Continue this deep breathing, and you’ll feel your muscles relax, and your mind calm.

8. Write it down

Write about the things that make you happy and grateful. Write about the things that went well in your day.

And write about the bad things. Not so you’ll continue to obsess about them, but so you can process your feelings and actions. This reflection allows you to devise strategies to prevent the bad thing from happening again, or ways to handle it differently in the future.

9. Fill your home with plants

Bring the outdoors in and enjoy the health benefits. Having plants in your indoor spaces can help relieve stress, improve mood, lower blood pressure and improve air quality. Just be sure to check that they’re not toxic for you, your family or your furry housemates. 🌼

10. Have a regular date night

Whether with your significant other or a bestie, having a regular date night scheduled gives you something to look forward to. It also means there’s less chance that other commitments get in the way of you spending dedicated time with that person, which is essential for nurturing your relationship. 🧡💚💛

11. Say no

We all want to please others, so saying no can be challenging. But you need to weigh up everything you have going on and decide whether you can take on something else. If you can’t, then say no. And don’t feel you have to apologise for doing so.

12. Discover new places

Embrace your inner adventurer and explore new places. Far or near – it doesn’t matter. The point is to get out in the world and experience new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Immerse yourself in new experiences.

13. Listen to music

Music is a powerful force we often don’t think about – or at least not too deeply. It’s always there, often in the background. But music can improve your mood, help you focus, get motivated and even ease your pain. Find out more about the power of music.

14. Pat your pets

Spending time with your pets is a wonderful tonic. It can decrease blood pressure, reduce feelings of loneliness, reduce stress, improve your mood and increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities. And they’re so much fun! 🐶😺

15. Get tidy and organised

Nothing can make you frazzled faster than not being able to find that ‘thing’ you’re looking for. So taking time to put things away in their place after you’ve used them, or reorganising your cupboard/pantry/child’s room, so that things are orderly and easy to find can bring a lot of calm to your life. The level of order you want to achieve is up to you. Although there are MANY social posts about the perfectly organised home, don’t fall down that rabbit hole. All you need to achieve is a space that makes you feel good and suits your lifestyle.

16. Eat mindfully

How often have you eaten dinner but can’t remember what it tasted like because you were watching TV? Or wondered how on earth you ate a whole packet of potato chips while scrolling through Insta? If this sounds familiar, try some mindfulness. You may have tried mindfulness meditation, but you can also be mindful when you do other activities, like eating. It simply means that you focus 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.

17. Get your meds sorted

Medicines are an important part of our self-care, but it’s easy to miss doses, get them mixed up with others meds or take them at the wrong time. So have a chat with your pharmacist. Ask questions about your medicines and supplements, so you’re fully informed about each one.

Many pharmacies have apps you can download that alert you when you need a new script, or you can download the MedicineWise app from NPS. If you take lots of medicines, or you find it hard to keep track of whether you’ve taken them or not, consider using a pill dispenser. You can buy one and fill it yourself, or your pharmacist can do this for you.

18. Listen to your body

Living with a chronic condition means that you need to be self-aware of how you’re feeling. If you’re exhausted, rest. If your back’s stiff, move. If you’re feeling sluggish, get some fresh air. If you’re feeling full, stop eating. Whatever your body is telling you, listen and take action.

19. Treat yourself

Many self-care posts we see on socials are very much of the ‘treat yo’ self’ variety. Going to a day spa, enjoying decadent foods, doing some online shopping, getting a pedicure, binging a favourite TV series, or travelling to exotic places. And why not? Why not indulge in pleasurable things that make you happy every now and again? As long as you’re not overindulging, overspending or overeating. Find the right balance and treat yourself. 😍

20. Stand up

We spend so much of our time sitting. In the car, on the couch, at the office, in waiting rooms. But we know that too much sitting can be bad for our health. It increases the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. It also makes us feel tired, and our muscles and joints become stiff and sore from inactivity. So stand up and move regularly. Set alerts on your phone to remind you. Or download the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute Rise & Recharge app, which helps reduce sitting time and encourages regular movement.

21. Play

We loved to play when we were kids. Chasing each other, making up games, not overthinking things and just having fun. But as adults, we become too busy for play. Or we feel silly or self-conscious about how we might appear when we play. But playing is fun! It helps us forget about our work and commitments. It lets us be in the moment and let our inhibitions go. Play relieves stress and allows us to be creative and imaginative. So rediscover playing – with your kids, pets, partner, and friends. Let your inner child loose, play and have fun! Rediscover chasey (the dogs love that one), play hide and seek, build a blanket fort in your lounge, throw a Frisbee, play charades, the floor is lava, or a video game tournament. There are no rules – just have fun!

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) Drinking water and your health, Healthdirect


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10/Feb/2022

“The secret of great style is to feel good in what you wear.” Ines de La Fressange

Hands up if you wake up some days and the thought of getting out of bed, let alone dressed, seems impossible?

Painful muscles and joints, fatigue, difficulty with buttons and zippers, not being able to reach behind your back or over your head, sensitive skin and continence issues can make getting dressed a challenge. However, because staying in your pajamas all day is rarely an option 😣, you need some practical strategies to take the stress out of getting ready for the day.

So how can you tackle getting dressed so that you feel comfortable and put together, even if you’re in pain and exhausted?

Make a plan

I know it’s not particularly glamorous or cool, but planning can be your best friend when you live with a chronic condition that can be so unpredictable.

Decide what clothes and accessories you want to wear the night before. Or be a super-planner and do this on the weekend, for the week ahead. Take into account your activities and the weather. Then have them arranged in your cupboard so you can simply reach for the items you need for the day.

Choose your clothes carefully

When buying new clothes, choose those with quality fabrics that are soft and stretchy.

Loose clothes are perfect on days when you’re in pain, or your skin is sensitive. If twisting or reaching behind you is difficult, buy clothes that fasten at the front or side. Or ones that have no fastenings at all.

Avoid clothes that require ironing if you can…unless you find ironing relaxing (I know that person 😉). But seriously, who can be bothered ironing when you’re already tired? For clothes that do crease in the wash, hang them up on a hanger as soon as you take them out of the wash so that most of the wrinkles drop out. You can also hang them in your bathroom while you shower so that the steam removes any stubborn wrinkles.

Buy clothes that you can dress up and dress down as the occasion warrants. For example, plain black t-shirts can be as casual as you want for hanging out at home with a pair of leggings/loose jeans and sneakers. But by simply adding a light jacket, some accessories, and changing your shoes to low wedges/loafers, you’re ready for lunch with friends. No muss, no fuss.

Add layers. Many people with chronic pain are sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. Because you can rarely control the temperature of the places you visit, layering your clothes can be a lifesaver. You can remove/add layers as needed.

Use dressing aids. If you have difficulties with fastenings (e.g. zippers, buttons, shoelaces) or putting clothes over your head or shoes on your feet, there are gadgets to make life easier. They include zipper hooks, dressing sticks, buttonhooks, shoehorns, elastic shoelaces, and so much more. Check out our online store for some of these items. An occupational therapist can also give you tips for getting dressed as well as other available aids that are available to help you.

Have a go-to outfit that makes you happy. We all need a pick-me-up now and again, and often what we wear can do that. Have a favourite outfit or two ready to go for when you need a boost or some extra confidence to face the world 😍.

Don’t forget your accessories

Shoes: When buying new shoes, make sure they fit your foot properly, including any bunions, hammertoes and other structural changes to your foot. Choose shoes with a good, supportive sole, and decent grip to avoid slips and trips. Avoid wearing high heels or very flat shoes every day. If you wear orthotics, ensure they’ll fit in your new shoes. And if you have painful feet and you’re having trouble managing, talk with a podiatrist. They can give you information to help you look after your feet, including advice on your footwear.

Bags and backpacks: We carry a lot of stuff with us every day – phones, purses/wallets, computers, medication, keys, masks, water, hand sanitiser, snacks, work/school gear – so bags and backpacks that can help you cart this around, without aggravating your condition, are a must. Bags with thick straps that spread the weight across a wider area, rather than bags with thin straps, will cause less pain and strain. Avoid large bags, where the temptation can be to throw everything in them. Instead, choose a bag that suits what you need to carry, and avoid adding anything that isn’t necessary for your outing. Have a couple of bags and backpacks that’ll accommodate what you need to carry, whether it’s a casual outing or work-related, and your outfit. That way, you can mix and match as necessary.

Hats and caps: Don’t forget your head! Hats and caps protect your head and face from the heat and UV rays, as well as the cold bite of winter. Again, have a couple you can choose from to suit your outing and the elements.

Now add bling: I find that even when I’m wearing my most casual, comfy outfit, I can dress it up, and by doing so, feel better, just by adding some earrings, a cool watch or another piece of jewellery. It may sound superficial, but personally, anything that lifts my mood when I’m feeling low or in pain is just as necessary to me as my medication or meditation 😊.

Be a thrifty shopper

Living with a chronic condition can be costly, so saving money where you can is important. Op shops, clothing exchanges and online noticeboards can help you save money when it comes to sourcing new clothes and accessories. I’m an avid op shopper, and I find many unique, good quality and fun items at great prices. I also feel better about recycling clothes rather than buying a cheap item from a chain store that won’t last the season. And don’t forget you can also sell or donate the quality clothes you no longer wear to these networks.

Develop your own style

Throw the season’s fashions out the window! Wear clothes that make you happy, comfortable and project your own personality and style. I’ve said it many times – the world would be incredibly dull if we were all the same. And that goes for what we wear. So embrace your inner fashionista and create a style that’s uniquely you.

“When you don’t dress like everybody else, you don’t have to think like everybody else.” – Iris Apfel

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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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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09/Dec/2021

Woo-hoo! The year is wrapping up – and what a crazy year it’s been! It’s time to enjoy some well-earned festive cheer with our loved ones.

But we also need to take care. In our excitement to fling off the shackles of 2021, there’s the very real chance we’ll end up in a painful heap.

So, we’ve put together some tips to help you get through the holidays intact. (And we’ve added a little holiday cheer to the headings so make sure you click on the links! ???).

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas: Brace yourself for the shopping madness

  • Plan around your pain and fatigue. Wear comfy shoes (including orthotics if you have/need them), grab your walking aid, your shopping list (a foggy brain makes remembering almost impossible) and your shopping buggy/bags. Be kind to yourself as you may feel exhausted for hours/days after your trip. If your battery was already low before you tackled this, it might take some time to recharge and feel yourself again.
  • Once you get to the stores, follow the COVID-safe guidelines that apply.
  • Use a trolley or a shopping buggy, even if you’re only getting a few things. It’ll do the heavy carrying for you, so you can avoid muscle and joint pain.
  • Use your assistive devices – walking aids, braces, orthotics. If you have them, use them. They make a big difference.
  • Take breaks. Shopping is exhausting and stressful, so take breaks when you need them. Don’t push yourself too hard, or you’ll end up paying for that over the coming hours/days.
  • Shop online. We’ve learned through life in lockdown that so many things can be purchased with a few quick clicks of your mouse. So visit your favourite stores online and save yourself some trips to shopping centre madness. Just be sure to check the shipping details to ensure your goods arrive in time.
  • Shop local. You don’t need to visit the big shopping centres to find unique gifts or fresh produce. Small, independent local stores often have most of what you need. And many of these businesses have been doing it tough. So share the love and shop local.
  • Be kind to others. Your fellow shopper isn’t the enemy. Be patient, give them space, and be tolerant. The retail staff also deserve our kindness and empathy – they’ve been on the frontline for a long time. And if you feel yourself getting a little hot under the collar, breathe and remember we’re all going a little crazy at the moment.

Dance of the sugar plum fairy: Festive feasting!

  • Rule #1 – don’t skip meals. It’s a common mistake to make. You’re anticipating a delicious lunch and/or dinner with all your favourite foods, so you skip meals to make space. But this can lead to overeating because you’re starving when you do sit down to eat. It’s also not a great idea to have an empty stomach when taking certain meds or drinking alcohol. So make sure you eat, even if it’s a small meal, to tide you over until you get to the main event.
  • Stay hydrated. The silly season is usually a hot time of the year and it’s easy to become dehydrated. Especially if you’re drinking alcohol and/or playing backyard cricket, so keep the water flowing.
  • Cook/bake things ahead of time. Many foods we enjoy at our holiday gatherings can be made days and sometimes weeks before the big day. That means you don’t have to work yourself into a cooking frenzy on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And you’re more likely to enjoy yourself on the day if everything’s prepped and ready to go.
  • If you’re hosting, ask your guests to bring a plate. This shares the work, the cost and ensures those with special dietary requirements can bring food that accommodates their needs.
  • Slow down – appreciate the food and the company you’re with. It’s been a really tough year, and we’re finally able to be together. Relax, eat your delicious food ? and enjoy catching up with the important people gathered around the table ?.

Santa baby: Buying gifts

  • Take a leaf out of the big guy’s book ? – write a list and check it twice. Knowing what gifts you’re looking for before you hit the shops will save you time, energy and money.
  • Consider spending less. It’s been a tight year for many of us, so it makes sense to be economical and save some dollars. You don’t want to head into 2022 with massive debts.
  • Make your own gifts. Embrace your inner creative guru and bake, paint, draw, build, knit or sew your presents. Another option is to make your own gift vouchers – e.g. 1 hour of babysitting or dog walking.
  • Embrace Kris Kringle or Secret Santa gift exchange. They’re popular for a reason ?. Save yourself time, stress and frustrating shopping expeditions. It’s perfect if you have a lot of people to buy for.
  • Give gift cards and vouchers. They’re an excellent idea for the person who’s hard to buy for or already has everything. And you can get a lot of them online – without the hassle of changing out of your pajamas or leaving the comfort of your couch ?.
  • Donate to charity. Instead of buying a gift for those who have everything they want or need, consider donating in their name to their favourite charity.
  • When it comes to wrapping your gifts, gift bags are easier on sore hands than cutting wrapping paper and using sticky tape. They’re also a lifesaver for those of us who are hopeless at wrapping ?. They’re also reusable ?.

Deck the halls: Decorating your home

  • Get the family involved. Put on some music and have fun with it. Decorating your home and your tree is all about the joy of the festive season, being together and the love of shiny tinsel ?.
  • Keep it simple. Remember, what you put up has to be packed away. So if that thought fills you with trepidation, choose the ‘less is more’ option.
  • Save your back when you’re decorating and put your baubles and tinsel on a table or bench. That way, you’re not constantly bending over to pick them up.
  • Use a step ladder rather than overstretching. And if you have any balance issues, ask someone else to do the high stuff.
  • Remember, things don’t have to be ‘perfect’. That’s too much pressure. Things should be happy and festive, so fling some tinsel over the banister, a wreath on the door, and presents under the tree. Job done! ?

Rockin’ around the Christmas tree: Hosting gatherings

  • Keep it COVID-safe. What you can do and how many people you can have over will depend on where you live. So visit your state/territory government health site for the latest info. Have plenty of soap and hand sanitiser available, and if you’re feeling unwell, get tested and stay home, or cancel your gathering. That last one will be incredibly tough, as we’re so used to soldiering on through our aches, pains and fatigue, but if you think there’s even the remotest chance you have COVID, get tested and keep everyone safe by isolating until you know you don’t have the virus. Use the Healthdirect symptom checker to find out if you need to be tested.
  • Keep it simple. As with decorating, keep your celebrations simple. Seriously after the year we’ve had, any celebration will be epic!
  • Take a seat. Make sure you take time to rest and get off your feet.
  • Be medicine-wise.
    • Over-the-counter and prescription medication may help you manage pain and inflammation so you can enjoy your day. If you’re not sure what will work best for you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
    • Watch the alcohol. Many medications don’t mix well with alcohol, so find out if it’s ok to have a drink with your meds.
  • Give yourself a break when it comes to cleaning and packing up. Get the family and your guests involved – even if it’s simple things like folding up chairs or bringing dishes to the kitchen. And ask yourself if you really need to do everything immediately? A lot can be done the next day after you’ve had a rest.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas: Taking care of you

  • Manage stress. Christmas and the holidays can be stressful, but you need to manage your stress as best you can or risk having a flare. So pull out your best stress management strategies and use them as often as you need to.
  • Pace yourself. When you’re hosting an event, it’s easy to get carried away and be constantly on the move. Gatherings can be a marathon, so pace yourself. You don’t want to run out of steam before the end. The same goes if you’re visiting others. Travelling to and from your home to theirs, being a witty conversationalist ? and just interacting with others after a year of lockdowns and isolation is exhausting.
  • Get some sleep, and rest when you need it. With so many events and gatherings happening at this time of year, it’s easy for our sleep to be disrupted. And we have enough problems with sleep at the best of times! Try as much as possible to stick to your sleep schedule and take rest breaks or naps when you need them.
  • Stay active. Regular exercise is essential all year round for managing a musculoskeletal condition and chronic pain. It’s also important to help offset some of the extra kilojoules you may be consuming at this time of year. And it will help you deal with excess stress and sleep issues.
  • Listen to some tunes. Music helps to reduce anxiety, fear, depression, pain-related distress and blood pressure. And it’s an easy, cost-effective and enjoyable way to get some relief from your pain.

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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18/Nov/2021

Ever notice how much governments love acronyms?? Unfortunately, this article is full of them, but we’ll explain what they mean and try to clear up the murky area of chronic disease management (CDM) plans, formerly called Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) plans.

Note: The primary sources for this article is the Australian Government, Department of Health’s chronic disease management resources. Unfortunately this information has not been updated since 2014. Please treat this as general information only, and discuss your specific needs with your GP.

What are CDM plans?

In a nutshell, these plans are a proactive way for you and your general practitioner (GP) to manage your chronic, complex or terminal medical condition/s. The Department of Health defines a chronic condition as ‘one that has been (or is likely to be) present for six months or longer’.

Chronic musculoskeletal conditions fit under this definition.

These plans are prepared by a GP to help eligible people manage their condition/s. The plans set goals to help people manage and hopefully improve their health and wellbeing.

There are two types of CDM plans:

  • GP Management Plans (GPMP) and
  • Team Care Arrangements (TCAs).

GP Management Plans (GPMP)

A GPMP can help people with musculoskeletal conditions by providing an organised approach to their care. It’s a plan that you’ve worked out with your GP that:

  • identifies your health and care needs
  • sets out the services to be provided by your GP
  • lists any other health care and community services you may need
  • lists the actions you can take to help manage your condition.

For example, if you have osteoarthritis in your knees that’s causing you lots of pain, and you’re no longer able to comfortably play tennis or go bushwalking, you and your doctor might decide that losing some weight will improve this situation. However, rather than just agreeing that weight loss is a good idea, a GPMP is an action plan that sets out your clear aims and objectives.

Once this plan has been developed, you should receive a copy to take with you.

Team Care Arrangements (TCAs)

If you need help from other healthcare providers to achieve your goals, your GP may also suggest a TCA.

TCA’s include 5 visits per calendar year to other health care providers. These 5 visits can be to one healthcare provider or spread between several providers.

On the first of January you become eligible for 5 new visits. You’ll need to see your GP about this.

You should also receive a copy of this plan.

Eligibility

This is one of the areas that’s a little complicated, so if you think you might be eligible, it’s best to speak with your GP directly. When you call to make an appointment, let the receptionist know that you’d like to discuss a chronic disease management plan. You’ll need a longer appointment for this.

The Department of Health states that while there’s ‘no list of eligible conditions…these items are designed for patients who require a structured approach and to enable GPs to plan and coordinate the care of patients with complex conditions requiring ongoing care from a multidisciplinary care team. Your GP will determine whether a plan is appropriate for you’. (1)

Costs

Also a tricky area. If a healthcare provider (e.g. dietitian) accepts the Medicare benefit as full payment for the service, you’ll be bulk billed and there’ll be no out-of-pocket costs. However if they don’t, you’ll have to pay the difference between the fee charged and the Medicare rebate. This is often called the ‘gap’.

When you’re making an appointment, be sure to ask what your out-of-pocket costs will be. If the cost isn’t something you can afford, discuss your options with your doctor.

Reviewing your plan

Your plan will need to be reviewed regularly. These reviews allow you to see how much progress you’ve made. If you’re meeting your goals – e.g. losing weight, increasing your fitness – that’s great. If you’re not getting there or having difficulties, a review will allow you to discuss this with your GP and work on solutions or adjust your goals.

Help!

It can seem overwhelming, but your GP and the practice nurse are there to support you on this journey.

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

Reference

(1) Chronic Disease Management Patient Information, Australian Government, Department of Health, 2014.


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18/Nov/2021

Written by Rachel Lea

During the 32 years of living the life of a Lupus Warrior, I’ve come to liken the feeling of battling lupus to the principles of the board game Snakes and Ladders. When the dice rolls, you take the number of steps forward that the dice dictates. Literally one step at a time. When you’re feeling well, and your lupus is under control, you may even land on a ladder and climb up the board a little bit further. When that’s happening, you feel truly happy, as you’re able to maintain a sense of balance and stability. It just feels good.

But then the game can change without warning, and the dice can roll towards a snake. When you hit a snake, it boldly raises its head and hisses at you. Taunting you. Because you know what’s coming. You’ve suffered another setback, another lupus flare. And so you begin to slide. You slide all the way down the back of that slippery snake, sometimes to the bottom of the board. That soaring happiness dissipates as you realise you have to begin the game all over again, and fight your way back up to the top of the board. This is how the game of lupus is played each day. Over and over and over again. At some point, you’ll always fall back down. Why? Because lupus always wins.

So the never-ending tweaking of medication takes place, whether it be increased steroids or methotrexate. This’ll require months and months of tapering back to the dose at which I was originally controlling my lupus. Before that flare took me down. My symptoms of extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain, fevers, migraine-like headaches, mouth ulcers and hair loss are being treated by these medicines. It’s draining. And bloody frustrating! Particularly when I felt I was managing my lupus and overall health really well, and then, boom!

After thirty-two years of experiencing such flares, I’ve grown to realise that the only way to fight back is to simply let go. Let go of everything. Place myself in a protective bubble and focus on me. Hope that the drugs kick in quickly and move with the pain and discomfort the best way I can. I’ve grown to learn that it takes strength to surrender and put trust and faith in the universe. That even when I’m struggling like this, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. I know this because when I’ve been too stoic, trying to rise above the pain and fatigue, the resulting flare has been longer and more challenging to overcome.

I grew to learn very early into my diagnosis the benefits of being very gentle and kind to myself. If that means having a teary and a good sook, so be it. If that means I’m in bed for days or even weeks, I’ve no choice but to give in. If it means I’m back on the higher doses of medications, with all of the nasty side effects that come with them, then that’s just the way it is. I just have to roll with it as best I can. I need to let go so I can get back on the game board again and keep rolling the dice.

I’m a kinder, more considerate and less judgmental person because of lupus. I’m more patient and adaptable when faced with new challenges. I’ve recognised that being able to persevere and be resilient in the face of uncertainty is a gift. Self-acceptance cultivates much inner peace, but when my acceptance of life with lupus is tested, I’ve learned to respect what this disease is and what it can do. If I wage a war against myself and push through without enough rest and respite, I’ll be causing more inflammation, more damage, and undo all the good I’m trying to nurture within my body. And that’s no good for me in the short or long-term. I’m managing a disease without a cure, one that’s unlikely to leave me anytime soon.

Not being well enough to continue my beloved vocation of working as a VCE secondary school teacher, I’m currently on another journey of personal growth and acceptance. In addition to having lupus, I’ve also been battling fibromyalgia for 8 years. As I became sicker, teaching became more challenging than usual, even when working part-time hours. I was also working within a combative, negative work environment. I was constantly asking myself, ‘how can I keep moving forward, finding hope and purpose as a chronically ill person in a toxic work environment like this?’ One where people strongly resisted the opportunity to invest more time and effort into creating greater goodwill and positive change that everyone could benefit from. How long could I endure the frustration of working like this and be in the best health possible? And ultimately, the question which intrigued me the most, ‘how do other people, like me, who have invisible chronic illnesses, cope in stressful, challenging workplaces? How do they find their way in the world when their pain is invisible to those around them? ’

With too many lupus flares to bounce back from and a working environment that wasn’t likely to improve, I resigned from my teaching job. It’s been a very isolating, extremely lonely and sad time for me. However, over time I’ve been able to reflect on the challenges of having lupus and working in a difficult work environment. This has resulted in my book ‘Lupus = Lift Up, Persevere, Use Strength’.

I’ve written my book in 3 parts. The first part, ‘Lift Up’, examines the 3 long years it took to diagnose my lupus. I was symptomatic at age 14 and diagnosed at 16. I describe the social, emotional and physical impacts of being ill as a teenager, its effects on my parents and family, and the stress of misdiagnosis and experimental treatment along the way. In part 2, ‘Persevere’, I discuss the struggles of having lupus while finishing school, university and the fear of entering the workplace as a secondary school teacher with a chronic illness. In the final part, ‘Use Strength’, I share the challenges of life in the workplace with an invisible illness and how I’ve tried to maintain hope and perspective.

It’s my greatest hope that my book can offer companionship and unity to fellow Lupus Warriors, chronic illness fighters, their carers and loved ones. I also hope to generate greater understanding and awareness of lupus, and cultivate more compassion and empathy for the challenges of living with a chronic illness. In all of the teachings that having lupus continues to bring, I know I must keep putting into practice what I’ve learned in being able to surrender and embrace the unknown with more courage, grace and acceptance.

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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15/Jul/2021

It’s dry July, and with all promos on the radio and socials, you may be thinking about your own relationship with alcohol (or is that just me? ?).

We’re a country that loves a drink. Wine with dinner, beer at the footy, cocktails at the local bar with friends.

But what if your drinking is getting a little out of hand? What if you’re having too much of a good thing??

It may be time to take a break while you assess your relationship with booze.

What’s a safe amount of alcohol to drink?

The Australian Alcohol Guidelines recommend that ‘to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol’.

The guidelines also recommend that children under 18 and pregnant or breastfeeding women don’t drink alcohol.

It’s important to note that consuming alcohol within the recommendations of these guidelines will reduce your risk, but there’s still a risk. Read the government’s info ‘How much alcohol is safe to drink’ to find out more.

How does alcohol affect your health?

There are many ways that regular alcohol consumption can negatively affect your health.

It can interact with your meds – including commonly used medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g. ibuprofen) and disease-modifying drugs (e.g. methotrexate), causing problems such as ulcers, bleeding in the stomach and liver damage. Be aware of the risks, and always read the labels and consumer medicine information for all your medications about side effects and interactions. Talk with your doctor/pharmacist for more information about alcohol and your musculoskeletal or pain meds, as well as any other medications you take.

It increases the risk of a gout attack. If you have gout, drinking too much alcohol, especially beer, can increase your risk of a painful attack.

It affects your sleep. Getting sufficient quality sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. However, people with musculoskeletal conditions often struggle with sleep issues – getting to sleep, staying asleep and feeling fatigued when they wake up. So while the idea of a nightcap to help you wind down and relax in the evening may sound like a good idea, alcohol will actually affect the quality of your sleep. Even if you sleep through the night, you’ll likely wake up feeling unrefreshed and foggy. To find out more about the relationship between alcohol and sleep, read this article from the Sleep Foundation.

It increases your risk of developing cancers and other serious diseases – this includes heart disease, cirrhosis (or scarring) of the liver, diabetes, mental health issues, stroke and high blood pressure. For more info, read ‘What are the effects of alcohol’.

It increases your risk of getting injured. If you’ve been drinking, especially if you’ve become tipsy or drunk, you’re more likely to injure yourself. When you become drunk, you lose your balance and coordination, increasing the risk of falling. You’re also more likely to engage in risky behaviours, such as driving, putting yourself and others at risk.

It can affect your mental health. Many people often turn to alcohol to relax after a stressful day or if they’re feeling a bit down. And it may provide a very temporary boost to their mood, but it doesn’t last. In the long run, drinking can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. It can also make it harder to deal with stress.

Benefits of putting a pause on the plonk

Whether you decide to reduce your alcohol intake, have a few alcohol-free days each week, or go without alcohol for a month or longer, you’ll immediately see some benefits. These benefits will be greater the longer you go without alcohol but will include:

Weight loss. If you’ve been struggling to lose weight, cutting your alcohol intake will definitely help. Alcohol is high in kilojoules, which provide no nutritional value. It can also make you feel hungry and may lead to choosing unhealthy foods to fill the hunger (hello 2am greasy kebabs smothered in garlic sauce ?).

Improved sleep. As mentioned earlier, alcohol interferes with the quality of your sleep.

No hangover. A pounding head and nausea are the price we pay for a night of overindulgence. As are the recriminations and the ‘never agains’ ?. Reducing/stopping your alcohol intake will take care of this. And just think of all the things you can enjoy on a Sunday morning without the morning after hangover!

You’ll save money. On the nights out at the pub/bar (wow, cocktails, cha-ching), on the cab/Uber ride home, or on the alcohol you buy to drink at home. It all adds up – to stacks of cash! Use the money you’d typically spend on grog and treat yourself to something special – like a massage, a new outfit or gold class movie tickets.

More meaningful time with family and friends. It’s amazing what you learn about each other when you take the time to listen and interact without alcohol getting in the way. Try doing different things together instead of sitting around drinking or hitting the pub – for example, going for a walk in the local park or bushlands, having a gaming marathon or making yummy mocktails.

Better performance at work. Waking up with a hangover or sleeping poorly because you’ve been drinking affects your ability to perform at your best at work.

Tips to help you reduce the hooch

Make a plan. Once you’ve decided you’re going to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink (or stop drinking entirely), you need a plan of attack. It can be tough going, especially if drinking has become a habit or an addiction.

Consider the following questions, and write down your answers. Put them somewhere prominent so you can refer to them when you need support or encouragement.

  • Why do you want to reduce or quit alcohol?
    Is it for health reasons? The impact it’s having on your personal relationships or work? Why is it important to you that you reduce or stop?
  • What are your limits?
    Are you quitting alcohol entirely or reducing the amount you drink? Choose a limit for how much you’ll drink, but make sure it’s within the safe drinking guidelines. And include some alcohol-free days each week.
  • What are your triggers?
    Why do you drink? And when? Do you always have a glass of wine while preparing dinner? Or have beers with your mates when you knock off work? Do you drink to help manage your anxiety? Or your pain? What makes you pour a drink or head to the pub?
  • What are your strategies to deal with these triggers?
    For example, if you always drink a glass of wine while preparing dinner, swap it for herbal tea or soda water with a slice of lime or lemon. If you always drink with mates after work, let them know you’re trying to reduce or quit drinking, and stick to non-alcoholic drinks, or suggest you all do something else together. If you drink to deal with anxiety or pain, it’s essential to know that alcohol can actually make it more difficult to manage anxiety and can make your pain worse, so finding healthier ways to manage your pain or anxiety will be better for you in the long run.
  • Who’ll support you?
    It can be challenging to quit or reduce alcohol alone. Tell your family and friends what you’re doing. They can encourage you and may even join you. Talk with your doctor and get information and advice to help you achieve your goal. If you’ve been using alcohol to manage your pain, discuss alternative pain management strategies. The same goes if you’re drinking to manage anxiety or depression.

Get professional help. Many people can help you if you want to reduce or quit alcohol. Your doctor is a great person to start with as they know you and your health conditions. There are also many support organisations to help you. DrinkWise has a range of resources to give you the facts about drinking and its impacts on you. They also have a comprehensive list of organisations that can help you. Check out their website for details.

Know a standard drink size. It’s very easy to drink too much if you don’t know what a standard drink is – whether it’s beer, wine or spirits. Read the ‘Standard drinks guide‘ to find out about drink sizes and see if you’re drinking standard drinks. The answer may surprise you.

Remove temptations. Don’t have alcohol out in the open, or remove it from your house altogether. If it’s not within easy reach, you’re more likely to stick to your goal.

Drink slowly. Sip your drink and actually enjoy the flavours. Take a break between alcoholic beverages and drink mineral water or a mocktail instead.

Finish your glass before you top it up. It’s hard to keep track of how many drinks you’ve had if it’s topped up before you’ve finished drinking.

Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine. Any food in the stomach will slow the rate at which alcohol is absorbed.

Get adventurous with low/no alcohol drinks. There’s such an enormous range available to try now, from wine to beers and mocktails (that are more than just soda water and fruit ?). There’s a big world of delicious low and no alcohol drinks for you to enjoy.

Avoid people who aren’t supportive of your efforts. Sometimes people just don’t get it – the reason you want to give up or reduce your alcohol intake. They may have the ability to derail your goals, so avoid people that don’t support what you’re trying to do.

Give yourself a break. Quitting or reducing alcohol can be difficult. If you stumble and drink more than you’d planned, just brush yourself off and learn from that misstep. Don’t throw your hard work away over one mistake.

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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