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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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24/Jun/2021

Tips for preparing meals with less stress

There are some days when the thought of preparing and cooking a meal is so overwhelming. You’re tired, you’re in pain, and it seems like too much effort. Curling up on the couch and ordering a pizza delivery seems like a much better option! However, one of the best things you can do to look after yourself when you have a chronic condition is to eat healthfully. Sadly (for me at least), that means having the local pizza joint ? on speed dial isn’t ideal.

But there are things you can do to make cooking easier and less hassle when you’re not feeling your best. Here are our top tips:

Plan your weekly meals

It’s not a particularly exciting thing to do, but making a plan for your coming week is really helpful. It ensures that you have all the ingredients you need, and it stops you from wasting money on the things you don’t. And if a case of brain fog hits when you’re standing in front of the fridge, your meal plan will sort you out. Check out The Spruce Eats top meal planning apps for 2021.

Shop online

This pandemic has really made online shopping easier and more efficient (hello new shoes ?). But as far as groceries go, it’s never been easier to order online and get exactly what you need delivered to your door. Or you can organise to click and collect, without having to leave your car. Perfect on a chilly winter’s day.

Give yourself a break

Not every meal has to be Masterchef worthy, using exotic ingredients and involving many steps. It just has to be tasty and healthy. Have a few recipes up your sleeve that you know you can cook with minimal effort or fuss and with the ingredients you have at home.

Organise your kitchen

Ensure the things you use regularly are within easy reach – that goes for ingredients and cooking utensils. And move the things you only use occasionally out of your way (e.g. lower cabinets, cupboard in the garage, sideboard). Don’t place heavy items on high shelves – it’s very easy to drop these things – especially if you’re tired. Use a kitchen trolley on wheels to move heavy pots from the bench to the cooktop or move meals from the kitchen to the dining area or lounge.

Take a load off

Keep a stool nearby so you can sit while you prepare your meals.

Clean as you go…or get others to do it for you

There’s nothing worse than cooking a lovely meal, relaxing while you eat it, then looking over to see a stack of dishes taunting you. So clean up the bulk of the mess as you go. Load the dishwasher, soak the stubborn pots and pans, and wipe down the benches. Or better still – rope in your partner/kids/housemates to help you. And it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up with each other.

Frozen fruit and vegies are great time savers, packed with nutrients

You can buy them at the supermarket, or prepare your own. Find out how you can freeze fruit, vegies, bread and herbs in this article by Good Food.

Get prepped!

Food prepping has taken over the internet, and there are endless articles, apps, videos and blogs to help you. You can prep your meals days in advance, then all you need to do is pull the pre-chopped, washed and/or cooked ingredients out of the fridge or freezer to throw together a meal in no time. Frugal and Thriving has a great guide to meal prepping.

Batch cook

When you’re feeling inspired and you have the time and energy, put on some music or a podcast, and cook batches of food to freeze. Then it’s just a matter of reheating and eating. Perfect! Check out My Foodbook for some practical tips to help you when it comes to batch cooking.

One pot wonders

Save yourself lots of mess and dirty dishes by cooking your meal in one pot. There are many books and websites with tasty recipes you can try that only require one pot (or pan). Borrow some cookbooks from your local library or fall down the rabbit hole of Pinterest for lots of inspiration. Here’s Taste’s 21 healthier one pot recipes. They all look delicious and very hearty, but I think I’m going to have to try the pumpkin, silverbeet and mushroom bake this weekend! Yum.

Go, go gadget!

Use kitchen gadgets and other aids to save energy, protect your joints and make things much easier when cooking. Things like electric can openers, jar openers, tap turners and thick-handled knives can be lifesavers. We have a small range of products available from our online shop.

Make it a social occasion

Cooking doesn’t have to be a solitary event if you have other people in the house. So get them involved. It’s an excellent way for kids to learn about cooking and becoming self-sufficient. But it’s also an opportunity to spend time together and share the load.

Slow it down with a slow cooker

Prepare your evening meal earlier in the day when you have more energy. Pop all your ingredients in a slow cooker and let it do its thing while you work, rest, read a book or put your feet up. Hours later, you’ll have a flavoursome pot of goodness to enjoy. Check out these slow cooker recipes from The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Take breaks

Sometimes we push ourselves just so we can get a task or chore done, but we can end up pushing ourselves past our limits. Sigh – we’ve all been there and paid the price. So whether you’re making the evening meal or you’re prepping for the week ahead, take a break (or two) to stretch, get some air, drink some water, and just move around. Standing in one place for a long period is not conducive to happy, pain-free joints. So take a break.

Drink water

When we’re in the middle of a task and focused, we often forget to drink enough water. Don’t allow yourself to become dehydrated – have a glass of water nearby and drink regularly.

Cleaning up

We’ve already mentioned cleaning as you go and using only one pot, but there are other things you can do to make cleaning easier, such as:

  • use non-stick foil or baking paper to line your trays, as well as roasting bags; they’ll lessen the mess on your trays – which means less scrubbing
  • if you have a dishwasher, load it as you finish with dishes and cooking utensils
  • soak dirty pots and pans before you start scrubbing to loosen any baked-on gunk
  • clean up spills immediately
  • put ingredients away as soon as you’re done with them
  • keep a bowl nearby for scraps and rubbish, or bring the kitchen bin closer to where you’re working.

Call the pizza joint ?

Sometimes take away food is the option that’s best for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as it isn’t a regular thing. Takeaway foods are generally high in salt, sugar and/or fats and don’t give us all the nutrients we need in a balanced diet. Read the Dietitians Association of Australia’s takeaway food tips for more info.

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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03/Jun/2021

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” ― Bob Marley

This morning I was sitting at my computer in my makeshift home office, looking out at the bleak Melbourne weather and contemplating a week of a whole lot of nothing. Yep, at the time of writing Victoria was entering a seven-day circuit breaker lockdown.

I could hear the radio in the next room and noticed the station had brought back the Lockdown Countdown. This is a daily uplifting ‘blast from the past’ song to help us get through the latest lockdown. It’s not the bright pop of Tay-tay or Bieber, but ‘OMG, I LOVE THIS SONG, crank the volume and sing at the top of your lungs’ music. A new song is played each day. Today’s song was Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’. 

And I realised I was smiling as I went through my emails, and I was singing aloud.

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 our mood, help us focus, get motivated and even ease our pain.

So let’s take a closer look at the power of music. And of course, this is a blatant opportunity to listen to great music and watch videos – all in the interests of research of course. ?

Everybody hurts (R.E.M): Music and pain

Numerous research studies have confirmed what many of us have long believed – listening to music or creating music can ease our pain. However we don’t really understand exactly how it works. We do know that listening to music releases dopamine, a chemical made in the brain. It’s often called the ‘feel-good hormone’ and is released when we experience something pleasurable, such as food, exercise, sex and music.

Music also distracts us. It has the power to shift our focus from our pain to something else, such as singing, humming, dancing, or remembering the first time we heard a piece of music. Depending on the level of our pain, music may be enough on its own to help distract us, or used with other pain management strategies such as exercise, medication, heat and cold packs, or massage to get through the worst of our pain.

But at the end of the day, it’s a pleasurable, low/no cost, treatment for pain.

I’m so tired (Kasabian): Music and sleep

Many of us struggle with getting a good night’s sleep – whether it’s falling asleep, staying asleep and/or getting enough quality sleep to wake up refreshed. https://msk.org.au/sleep/ Anxiety, pain, stress and an overactive mind can all have an effect on how well we sleep.

If this sounds familiar, try listening to some music.

We know it works – we’ve used lullabies for millennia to help put babies to sleep.

Listening to music as you fall asleep can slow your breathing and calm your mind. Adding music to your nightly routine can help you sleep better and reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep. It can also distract you from your pain, and counteract any outside noises that may interrupt your sleep, such as traffic or noisy neighbours.

Choose music that you enjoy and find soothing – nothing too fast or upbeat! – and create your own sleep playlist. Or there are many ready-made sleep playlists you can try on streaming apps such as Spotify or Apple Music.

Fake happy (Paramore): Music, stress and anxiety

Anxiety and depression are common in people living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. The good news is that many treatment options can help you reduce their impact on your life. One of these treatments is music.

Listening to music can lower blood pressure and slow down the heart rate – both of which are heightened in times of stress and anxiety. Music can also make us cry – which is sometimes the outlet we need to deal with strong feelings.

To get the most out of the music, take the time to ‘actively listen’ to it. Put away all of your usual distractions (e.g. phone) and focus on the music – the lyrics, the tempo, the instruments and how it makes you feel.

Again, it’s important to choose music that makes you relax and is soothing to you. This is obviously a subjective thing – we all have different tastes in music and what we consider relaxing. Such as Garth on the commercial for health insurance de-stressing to heavy metal – which isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’.

Whatever music you choose, be mindful while listening to it, and it has the power to help you find your calm during stressful and anxious times.

Dance monkey (Tones and I): Music and exercise

It never fails. When you’re out for a stroll and some fast-paced music comes through your earbuds, your steps sync to the tempo of the music and you start walking faster. For me this morning, it was some Run DMC and Aerosmith action with ‘Walk this way’.

So music can help us increase the intensity of our exercise. It also motivates us to move. Listening to music with a great beat, that lifts our mood, is often all we need to encourage us to exercise and be more active. It makes you want to dance around the lounge, walk around the park, do some yoga or head to the gym.

Having a good playlist will also distract you. If you’re finding it hard to get in the exercise zone, uplifting tunes will help you get there by giving you something else to focus on.

Happy working song (Enchanted): Music and everyday activities

As with exercise, music can help make our everyday, mundane and sometimes stressful activities easier. Stuck in traffic? Put on some relaxing music. Cleaning the shower? Put on some fun, one-hit wonders. Preparing dinner for the starving hordes? Put on something that makes you feel creative and calm. This is the beauty of music – whatever the genre – there’s something for all tastes, occasions and feelings

ME! (Taylor Swift): Music and our sense of self

Our musical preferences are a big part of who we are. We’re all unique when it comes to what we listen to and when – what music soothes us, energises us, makes us emotional, transports us back in time. It’s magical. And unique to every person.

Count on me (Bruno Mars): Music connects us with others

Music also connects us with others. Think about the earliest time we encounter music – a parent singing a lullaby to their child. Apart from helping the baby fall asleep, it’s an important bonding time between parent and child.

Now think about attending church, a sporting event, or a concert. The shared moments when everyone sings a hymn, an anthem or a song can unify people from all walks of life, even if it’s for a short period.

Music also provides an opportunity to make new friends over a shared love of a particular band, style of music or artist. And with most of us having access to the internet and social media, these friendships are no longer confined to our own suburbs, states or even countries. Why is this important? Because being connected with others is vital for good physical and mental wellbeing. Social connections can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and improve our immune systems.

Happy (Pharrell): Music and emotions

Listening to music releases dopamine – which is one of the ‘feel good’ chemicals. This boosts your mood and makes you feel more optimistic. So playing upbeat, happy music first thing in the morning can help set you up for the day. Especially if you’re feeling a bit down or the morning news is too depressing to deal with.

On the flip side, listening to sad music can also be healthy. It can help you process feelings of sadness or other ‘negative’ feelings, by reflecting on them or crying. By doing so, you’re able to deal with them, rather than bottling them up.

Make a playlist for all occasions

Music is such a powerful tool we can use in many situations, and for many health benefits. So just like making a mixed tape for the person you had a crazy, mad crush on as a teenager, make yourself a bunch of mixed tapes. Well not literally, those things are impossible to find! But make yourself a series of playlists that you can use to exercise, boost your mood, help you sleep or manage your pain. Have them ready to go so all you have to do when you need them is to press a button.

Or check out the playlists online and find some that suit your tastes and needs.

And pump up the volume! 

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

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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03/Jun/2021

As people, we’re complex, multi-faceted and messy. And just as exercise, pain management, medications, and eating well are essential for good health, so too are the more nebulous aspects of wellbeing – happiness, satisfaction, comfort, social connections, a sense of purpose. When you’re managing your health, it’s important that we don’t neglect these other aspects of life.

So let’s look at some of the other things you can do to look after yourself when you live with a painful musculoskeletal condition.

Accept your pain

Acknowledging that your condition causes you persistent pain is an important step to managing it more effectively. You’re putting your energy into finding positive and practical ways to deal with it, rather than ignoring it or hoping it’ll just go away.

And research shows that people who worked on accepting pain reported lower pain intensity and better function than others.

Sounds so simple, right? Well, not always. It can be challenging to accept pain may be a constant in your life. It can be frustrating, and it may be a struggle at times. You may also go through periods where your pain does dominate your thinking and makes you anxious or sad.

That’s okay. Accept that this can happen. It’s completely normal when living with persistent pain to have these ups and downs.

Speaking with someone – a friend or family member, your GP, a pain specialist, a mental health therapist – can help you work through this so you can get back on track.
Writing it all down in a journal or pain diary is another option. The important thing is to keep working on it.

Stay connected

Living with persistent pain can be a lonely experience. Fear of aggravating their pain can sometimes stop people from doing the things they’ve always enjoyed – catching up with friends, playing sport and socialising. No longer having these connections can lead to people becoming isolated.

We’re now recognising that loneliness can cause a whole range of health issues – from depression to poorer cardiovascular health. In fact, research suggests it may pose a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity. When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, feeling lonely can make you feel upset and distressed, which can increase pain and muscle tension. Any increased muscle tension has the potential to aggravate existing pain.

So how can you deal with loneliness?

  • Get in contact with friends and family. Catch up with them. Call them on the phone. Connect with them via social media. Just reach out and make the connection. Start small and gradually build up the amount of contact you have.
  • Join a walking group. As you know, exercise is an effective way to manage pain. So why not join a local walking group? You’ll meet people, and get some exercise as well. Contact your local neighbourhood house or search online for a group near you.
  • Adopt a pet. Pets are a wonderful comfort. They’re cute, they’re fun, they don’t judge you if you decide to stay in your pajamas all day. Having a pet has many health benefits, including decreasing cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reducing stress, improving your mood and importantly – reduced feelings of loneliness.
  • Join a knitting group/book club/art class/family history short course…whatever takes your fancy. Explore a new hobby or interest, and meet new people at the same time. Visit your local council website for details of what’s on in your area.
  • Join a support group. They bring together people with similar experiences in a supportive environment. Musculoskeletal Australia has many support groups that meet in person and online. Find a group today.
  • Volunteer. There are many opportunities to do volunteer work in Australia. Think of a cause near and dear to your heart – and explore local charities or organisations that need help. You’ll meet other people, make friends and connections, and support a cause that’s important to you. Check out the GoVolunteer website for volunteer opportunities.
  • Get help. If you feel like loneliness has become a big issue for you, and that the thought of doing any of these things is overwhelming, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for support. And don’t forget there are services that can provide you with support when you need it, no matter the time of day.
    • Lifeline Australia (13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention)
    • beyondblue (1300 224 636 for 24 hour support).

Listen to your favourite tunes

There’s plenty of evidence to support the use of music for managing pain. It’s been shown to reduce anxiety, fear, depression, pain-related distress and blood pressure. We also know that when we listen to our preferred style of music, there’s a positive effect on pain tolerance and perception, anxiety and feelings of control over pain. It’s not exactly clear how or why music can have such an effect on pain, but we do know that enjoyable music triggers the release of dopamine, which is a ‘feel-good’ hormone. Or it may be that music distracts your mind from focusing on your pain. Whatever the reason, it’s an easy, cost-effective way to get some relief from your pain. So create a special ‘pain playlist’, and load up your phone or music player of choice with your favourite tunes. And check out our recent blog on the power of music.

Create a care package

Anyone who lives with a musculoskeletal condition knows how unpredictable they can be. You can be managing really well and doing all the right things when suddenly a flare hits. Something you can do to look after yourself at this time is to open a care package.

It’s a simple act of self-care that can provide a much-needed boost to your mood.

When you’re feeling healthy and pain-free, gather together the things that make you happy and give you comfort when you’re feeling down or unwell. Put them together in a box or a basket so that you can access them easily when pain strikes.

While it won’t make pain miraculously go away, it can provide a distraction and give your spirits a lift.

What you put in your care package it entirely up to you. It may be a guilty pleasure magazine that you enjoy reading every now and again, or some of your favourite quality chocolate, your pain playlist, photos from a wonderful holiday, mementos from your childhood…or all/none of the above. Whatever you put in there is purely for you. So get creative!

Remain working as long as you can

Working is good for our health and wellbeing – it gives us confidence, builds self-esteem, makes us happy and shapes our identity.

Working has many other benefits, including financial security, meeting and interacting with other people, learning new skills and challenging yourself. Ensuring you can stay in the workforce for as long as you want/need is vital for many reasons – including managing your health.

However there are times when your condition may interfere with your work.

The good news is there are many things you can do to help you stay at work, such as pain management techniques (e.g. mindfulness), medication, modifying your workspace, using aids and equipment (e.g. modified mouse and keyboard, lumbar supports) and having some flexibility with the hours worked. Talk with your doctor and an occupational therapist for information and advice about staying in the workforce. And consider talking with your employer about potential modifications to your workspace and/or role that may help when your condition flares.

Be in the moment

Mindfulness meditation focuses your mind on the present moment. It trains your mind to be alert and pay attention to the thoughts and the sensations you feel and accept them without judgement.

Regularly practising mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve mood, relieve stress, improve sleep, improve mental health and reduce pain.

The beauty of mindfulness is that you can do it walking, standing, sitting or even lying down. And the more you do it, the more benefits you’ll experience. The practice of mindfulness also translates to being more mindful in your everyday life.

To practise mindfulness meditation you can join a class, listen to a CD, learn a script from a book or play an online video or DVD. There are many different techniques. Here are just a few:

  • body scan – a simple technique to give you a taste of mindfulness meditation is a body scan. It helps you become aware of your body in the present moment.
  • focusing on your breath – pay attention to the way air moves in and out of your nose or mouth, and how it feels.
  • mantra meditation – involves chanting inaudibly or very softly to yourself a word or phrase that resonates with you.
  • sound meditation – focus your attention on a sound. This can be music or your surroundings (e.g. the wind in the trees, the sound of rain on your roof).
  • movement meditation – this is usually done as walking meditation, but you can practise it while moving in any way; for example tai chi and yoga are forms of moving meditation. Try and do this out in nature for maximum effect.

When you start meditating, be realistic. It involves regular practise and patience. Start with five minutes a day and gradually increase to 10 minutes and then more over a period of weeks and months.

Obviously the more often and the longer you do it, the more benefit you’ll get. However, even five minutes a day will be beneficial. You’ll notice changes in your consciousness very quickly as well as reduced pain, improved sleep, acceptance of situations, improved sense of wellbeing and better physical and social functioning.

“To ensure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life.” – William Londen

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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self-care.jpg
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.

More to explore




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

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