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06/Sep/2023

Let’s take advantage of the warmer days and and look at how we can sweep away the winter cobwebs and make ourselves sparkle this spring!

  • Unplug. We’re always connected these days, immersed in the news, social media, video chats, work/school, and phone calls. We’re never far away from a phone, tablet or computer – and we need to step away. Schedule time to put it all aside: perhaps after dinner, or for an hour during your day, or for your entire Sunday. Whatever works for you and your commitments. Just make sure you take some time away from the digital world, step outside and breathe in the fresh, sweet-smelling spring air.
  • Say no. We’re wired to want to please others, so we often find it difficult to say no. But that can make us become overwhelmed and stressed with the number of commitments we have. That’s why we need to look after ourselves and start saying no. The next time someone asks you to do something, give yourself a moment. Don’t answer immediately with an automatic ‘yes’. Ask yourself if this is something you want to do. Are you able to do it – physically and mentally? Do you have the time to do it? Will it bring you happiness? If you answered no to these questions, then you should say no to the request. You may disappoint some people, and they may be a little unhappy with you. But you need to be true to who you are and stand firm. And don’t feel the need to give detailed reasons for saying no. Saying no is really hard, but it will become easier.
  • Change your routine. Do you feel like you’re stuck in a rut? I know it feels like Groundhog Day at times! So look at your routine. What can you change? Take your work/school commitments out of the equation for now. Do you spend your evenings on the couch? Or weekends doing the same old things? Stop and really think about what you would actually ‘like’ to do with your free time. Go for a bike ride? Take up painting? Visit a new place each week? Find things that you enjoy, and fill you with anticipation and happiness, and do them. Now think about your work routine. There may not be things you can change about work – but why not put on your favourite outfit/earrings/shoes/lipstick – even if you’re working from home. Or use some new stationary or bit of tech. It’s amazing how these small changes give us a mental boost.
  • Focus on the basics – eat well, move, sleep – repeat. This time of the year we have access to amazing fresh produce that’s just crying out to be made into delicious salads and stir fries. The days are getting longer and warmer so we can get outside more for our exercise. We can shed the heavy blankets and adjust our sleep habits. There’s never been a better time than now to focus on these basics and make improvements if needed. And finally, make sure you’re staying hydrated by drinking enough water each day.
  • Surround yourself with positive, upbeat people. Positivity and happiness is contagious. These people will inspire you, make you feel good about yourself and the world in general. Too much contact with negative people (in person and via social media) does the opposite and makes the world a gloomy place. So seek out the happy, positive people and enjoy their company. And if you can, ditch the negative people.
  • Take some time out to relax. Try strategies like mindfulness, visualisation and guided imagery. Or read a book, listen to music, walk the dog, create something, play a computer game, have a bubble bath or massage. Whatever relaxes you. And make sure you do these things on a regular basis. They’re not an indulgence – they’re a necessity and vital to our overall happiness and wellbeing.
  • Let’s get serious – sugar, fats, alcohol and drugs. Many of us seek comfort in sugary and/or fatty foods more than we’d like. Or we’ve been using alcohol and/or drugs to make us feel better. Over time this becomes an unhealthy habit. So it’s time to get serious. Ask yourself if your intake of these things has changed or increased? If it has – what do you need to do to fix this? Can you decrease their use by yourself? Or do you need help from your family, doctor or other health professional? The sooner you acknowledge there’s a problem, the sooner you can deal with it.
  • Nurture your relationships. It’s easy to take the people around us for granted, but these people support and care for us day in and day out. They deserve focused time and attention from us. So sit down and talk with your kids about their day. Make time for a date night with your partner and cook a special meal to share together. Call or visit your parents and see how they’re really doing. Reminisce with your siblings about childhood antics and holidays. Our relationships are the glue that holds everything together for us – so put in the effort. You’ll all feel so much better for it.
  • Quit being so mean to yourself. You’re valued and loved. But sometimes we forget that. And the negative thoughts take over. “I’m fat”, “I’m hopeless”, “I’m lazy”, “I’m a burden”. If you wouldn’t say these things to another person, then why are you saying them to yourself? Ask yourself why you even think these things? And how can you reframe these thoughts? If, for example, you tell yourself you’re fat – are you actually overweight or are you comparing yourself to the unrealistic media image of how a person should look? And if you do know you need to lose weight, and want to make that happen, put those steps in motion. Talk with your doctor for some guidance and help. And congratulate yourself for taking action. And as you make these changes be kind to yourself along the journey. There will be stumbles, but that’s expected. You can pick yourself up and move on. Kindly.
  • Throw away the ‘should’s. This is similar to the negative self-talk…we need to stop should-ing ourselves to death. This often happens after we’ve been on social media and seen someone’s ‘amazing’ life. You start thinking “I should be better at X”, “I should be doing X”, “I should be earning X”, “I should look like X”. Remember that most people only put their best images on social media, so everyone’s life looks wonderful. But you’re just seeing the superficial, filtered person, not the whole, and they probably have just as many insecurities as the rest of us. Instead of thinking “I should…”, be grateful for who you are and what you have.
  • Be thankful and grateful. You exist! And yes, the world is a strange and sometimes frightening place at the moment, but you’re here to see it. People love and care for you. Focus on the people in your life and the things you’re grateful to have in your life. Celebrating these things – both big and small – reminds us why we’re here. To bring joy and happiness to those around us, and to make the world a better place.

(Originally written and published by Lisa Bywaters 2020).

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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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13/Jul/2023

Budget-friendly tips for staying warm this winter

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand
and for a talk beside the fire: it is time for home.” – Edith Sitwell.

I love this quote. It sounds like the perfect lazy Sunday, doesn’t it? 😊💚

Sadly winter is more than just lazy Sundays when you can stay at home, warm on the couch with a loved one. Reality means we need to eventually (and reluctantly) head out of our cosy homes and face the cold, wet winter. And when we’re at home, because of crazy energy prices and rising living costs, we have to make hard decisions about how to spend the household budget. Heating is one of the more significant costs in winter, so many people are forced to reduce it to save money.

For those of us with conditions like  fibromyalgialupusosteoarthritisrheumatoid arthritisback pain, scleroderma, and Raynauds’s phenomenon, this can be a painful problem. We often feel the cold more keenly with increased joint and muscle pain or lack of blood circulation to the extremities.

So, how can you stay warm and keep the costs down this winter? We’ve got some suggestions for you to try.

Dress for the weather.

Let’s start with the basics. You need to dress for the temperature and wear layers. It can sometimes feel cumbersome and bulky, but it’s one of our best defences against the cold. So put on the warm pants and jumper, embrace your inner Wiggle and wear a skivvy, pull on your thick socks and/or tights and appropriate footwear. If you’re still cold, consider adding thermals to your layers.

When you head outdoors, add more layers – including a coat, hat, gloves, and scarf. You can also buy a fantastic range of heated vests, socks, scarves, and gloves. They can be a little pricey, but they may be worth that initial outlay if you’re outdoors a lot. Check online or in-store at outdoor suppliers.

If you’re at home and still feeling the cold, grab a blanket for your legs as you sit at your desk or on the couch. You can use any warm blanket, doona or heated throw. Whatever you choose, just be careful you don’t trip on it when you get up.

“Winter’s my favourite…The best parts are the coats and sweaters.
Hugging all the warmth back in.” – Abby Slovin.

Shop around.

Don’t assume you’re on the best energy plans for your gas and electricity. Take some time to see if there’s a better deal. If you live in Victoria, visit Victorian Energy Compare. For all other parts of Australia, visit Energy Made Easy.

Deal with draughts.

When the wind’s howling outside, you know it’s trying to find a way indoors 💨. So cover the bottom of your door with a door snake or an old towel, or add some door seals. Pull your curtains and blinds over the windows at night and during miserable days to keep the warmth inside. If you have floorboards, consider putting down rugs (just be careful they don’t become a trip hazard).

If you can safely do so, close or cover air-conditioning vents, exhaust fans, and unused chimneys. However, it’s important to be aware that some gas appliances require a certain amount of ventilation or fresh air, or they can be unsafe. They should also be serviced every two years or sooner if you notice anything unusual. If in doubt, speak with a licenced gas fitter. Energy Safe Victoria has lots of useful info about heating your home with gas and what to look for when searching for a licenced gas fitter.

Sustainability Victoria also has helpful information on draught-proofing your home. You can also watch these handy DIY draught-proofing videos from the City of Port Phillip (Melbourne).

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot, and the wind blows cold:
when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.” – Charles Dickens.

Turn down the temperature.

While it’s tempting to crank the heat up, the most efficient temperature to set your heater to (if you can select the temp) is 18-20 degrees. While that may not sound particularly warm, we’re often outside during the warmer months wearing short sleeves when it’s 18-20 degrees. It’s just a matter of perspective.

And only heat the areas you’re using. If you can turn the heating off in unused parts of your home, do it. Shut the doors and use a draught stopper to prevent the warm air from the rest of the house from escaping into these areas. And turn the heating off when you go to bed or leave home.

Install heavy curtains.

Thick curtains made from heavyweight, tightly woven fabrics can prevent heat from escaping your home. For the best results, curtains should be fitted as close to the window frame as possible, extend below the sill and well over the sides of the window frame, and a pelmet fitted over the top. This acts to seal the window from the rest of the room and prevent heat loss. Curtains will also keep the hot air outside in summer.

Let the sun shine in.

Open your curtains and blinds on sunny days to let the sun shine on your windows. Even with a chilly wind, the sun will bring wonderful warmth into your home.

And remember to close them when the sun starts to go down. As someone who goes for walks when it’s dark in the early morning and evening, I’m always amazed by how many people have their windows uncovered. You can practically see the heat escaping through the glass. So close them to keep the warmth in and the gaze of the sticky-noses (like me) out 😉.

Cool down at night.

You sleep better when your body can cool down, so turn the heater off at night. It’s also safer to sleep with the heater off. You can remove the chill from your bed using a hot water bottle or an electric blanket. Just remember to turn your electric blanket off before sleeping.

Winter-proof your bed.

There’s nothing like slipping into a deliciously warm bed on a cold night, especially if there’s soft flannelette involved! So swap out your lighter, everyday bedding for heavier winter ones. And add layers – a top sheet (if you don’t already use one) and extra blankets. Finally, if you have floorboards in your bedroom, adding a rug under your bed can prevent draughts from making their way to your bed.

Get active.

When the weather allows, go for a brisk walk outdoors, wearing appropriate clothing, and you’ll warm up in no time. Save on pricey petrol and walk to the shop/school/post office instead of driving.

When you’re at home, exercise indoors using an online program, a DVD or an app. Play with the kids. Clean the house. Do anything that gets you moving, and you’ll feel warmer than if you sit in one place for hours.

However, if you’re having a flare or experiencing a lot of pain, be as active as you can within your limits. And use your heat packs to help relieve muscular pain.

Shorten your showers (if you can).

Many of us use our shower to warm up sore joints and muscles so we can get moving. However, hot water uses a lot of energy; even a few extra minutes will add to your bill. If you can, shorten the time you spend in the shower. Aim for four minutes or less. You can use a timer or sing your favourite song. Hunter Water has a great playlist of four-minute(ish) songs to get you inspired.

“There’s no half-singing in the shower;
you’re either a rock star or an opera diva.” – Josh Groban.

Give your heater some space.

Anything that blocks a heater will prevent the warm air from flowing around the room uninterrupted. So move clotheshorses and other obstructions away from the heat source.

Hot air rises, so if you have ceiling fans, flick the reverse or winter mode switch and turn the fan on low. This will pull the cooler air towards the ceiling and push the warmer air down to you.

And to stay safe, fire authorities say you should keep clothing and other fabrics at least one metre from your heater. Never place them on heaters.

Snuggle up.

Get comfy on the couch with your partner, kids, and pets. Grab a warm blanket or doona, share your body heat, and enjoy being together.

“People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.” – Anton Chekhov.

Use heat packs and hot water bottles.

If you’re feeling stiff and sore, heat packs or hot water bottles can provide temporary pain relief and help you get moving. But you need to be careful when using them.

If you’re using a heat pack or wheat bag, let it cool completely before you reheat it. Don’t sleep with your wheat bag or smother it behind you in your chair or bed. This can cause it to overheat and catch fire. Always carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions and never overheat them in the microwave.

If you’re using a hot water bottle, use hot water from the tap, not boiling water. Wrap it in a cloth or use a cover so it doesn’t come into contact with your skin.

Always examine your hot water bottles and heat packs before use, and toss them out if you notice signs of wear or damage. And always check their temperature before use to ensure they’re not too hot.

Warm up from the inside out.

Many delicious winter recipes bring comfort and warmth on the most miserable days. So crack open the cookbooks and get cooking! Or go online for inspiration for yummy, warming curries, soups and stews. We’ve got some great recipes to get you started! Can’t be bothered cooking? Simple. Grab a cup of hot chocolate, tea or coffee. It’ll warm your insides and your hands. Perfect! ☕🍵

“Winter blues are cured every time with a potato gratin paired with a roast chicken.” – Alexandra Guarnaschelli.

Choose energy-efficient heaters and hot water systems.

If you’re in the market for a new heater or hot water system, make sure you’re buying one that’s energy-efficient and best suits your needs. Read Canstar’s guide to energy-efficient heaters and Choice’s article on buying the best hot water system for more info.

Insulate.

Insulation keeps your home warm in winter and cool in summer by preventing heat from escaping or entering your home. This keeps your home at a more consistent temperature and reduces the need to crank up your heating or cooling.

If your home isn’t properly insulated, this is something you can do that’ll have long-term benefits. There’s a substantial upfront cost, but it may be an option for some households. Find out more about insulation, including the different types available and how to install it, from the Australian Government’s website, Your home.

Billing and payment help.

If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, Energy.gov.au also has some information about support for Australian households, including info on potential rebates that may be available.

We’ve also put together lots of info to help you if you’re struggling with financial stress.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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21/Jun/2023

It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through 2023 😮.

I don’t know about you, but after years of forced-slowness I’m finding life incredibly busy and fast! Catching up with friends and family, working in the office, weekend adventures, professional development, hobbies, looking after my health – it can be a bit overwhelming. And when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I feel more pain, fatigue and anxiety.

Which is a problem 😕.

But I know from experience that having someone tell me to just relax or breathe 😑 isn’t going to help at the time. Especially if I’m already feeling time-poor and stressed.
What I have found works is taking advantage of micro-moments for self-care. Small pockets of time when I can look after myself.

Using these small moments for ‘me time’ is much more achievable than trying to shoehorn 30 minutes of yoga into my crowded mornings or planning and cooking MasterChef-worthy dinners every night 👩🍳. Using these moments for small acts of self-care to do what I need has really helped. I’m finding improvements in my anxiety, sleep quality, and pain.

But don’t just take my word for it. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the “sustained adoption of quality, evidence-based self-care interventions can reduce mortality and morbidities and improve health and wellbeing”. (1)

You too can maximise these micro-moments and reap the benefits of regular self-care. They can be done anywhere, anytime, and won’t cost you a thing. Here are some of our ideas for embracing micro-moments.

Get physical.

We talk about exercise a lot, but it really is a great way to look after your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Small bursts of activity can be added to your existing exercise routine for fun and to mix things up 🏃🤸🚴. Or if you’re not exercising regularly, they can help ease you back into becoming more active.

Exercise is so adaptable. You can do it on your own or with others. You can take two minutes to stretch and move at your desk or dance in your lounge for an entire song. You can take a short walk in your local park, mow your front lawn (unless it’s enormous – in which case, mow a section), clean out a cupboard, or do a five-minute cardio blast. Whether it’s structured or incidental exercise, it all adds up. And as they’re micro-moments, they aren’t large blocks of time. So you’re more likely to fit them into your day, less likely to become fatigued or strain yourself, and still reap some of the benefits of being active. And you may have a tidy cupboard or freshly mown lawn at the end! 😉

Breathe.

I know, I know. At the start of this article, I said that when someone tells me to breathe, it doesn’t work. But that’s usually regarding a ‘just breathe, Lisa’ when someone cuts me off in traffic 😣.

Now I’m referring to focused and controlled breathing. It’s a simple and effective technique to relieve pain and stress that can be done anywhere and at any time. You can do it at home, at work, on a train, in a waiting room, or in your car in traffic 😉. It’s useful when you’re trying to sleep or waiting for your pain meds to kick in. We take breathing for granted and often forget how effectively it relieves stress and anxiety. So remember to breathe…

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

Use your senses.

I love this one 💜 and use it a lot. It’s where you use your five basic senses – touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste – to identify things in your current space that relate to those senses. You can find one thing per sense – for example, I can feel the warmth of my heat pack on my shoulder, I can see leaves falling outside my window, I can hear my cat running around the house like a lunatic🐈, I can taste my tea, and I can smell the orange oil in my candle.

Or you can try the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method. For example, 5 things you can hear, 4 things you can see, 3 things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. And mix up the senses and numbers of things you’re finding depending on your situation. For example, when eating lunch, switch it to 5 things you can taste, 4 things you can smell, etc. It’s a great way of focusing on what you’re doing at that time.

Do a body scan.

The body scan is a type of meditation where you mentally scan your body from head to toe, paying attention to how each part feels. It helps you relax, become more aware of your body, and brings a sense of calm to your mind. Check out our short body scan script to help you get started.

Use your imagination.

What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. Plus, you don’t want things to become stale and boring. So mix it up. Read a chapter of a book, make balloon animals, do some guided imagery, call a friend, plant a herb garden, knit, paint, sculpt, fly a kite, breathe deep of your first morning coffee… whatever makes you happy, relaxes you, brings you into the moment, and sharpens your attention. Do it.

Focus on the moment and savour the experience.

With such busy, active lives, we often miss some of the small joys and experiences. So slow down and focus. For example, when you’re eating an apple, savour the feeling of the first crunchy bite and the taste as the juices burst into your mouth. Or when you head outside for a walk, breathe in the cool, crisp smell of winter… what can you smell? When you’re catching up with a friend, really listen to what they’re saying and enjoy their company – remember it wasn’t so long ago that we couldn’t meet in person 😔. Focus on the moments and enjoy them.

“What day is it?” “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favourite day,” said Pooh
Piglet & Winnie the Pooh

Drink water.

When you’re busy, it’s easy to forget to hydrate. But it’s vital for our health and wellbeing. Water lubricates and cushions your joints, aids digestion, prevents constipation, keeps your temperature normal and helps maintain blood pressure. It carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells, flushes out toxins, and cushions the brain and spinal cord. It can also help prevent gout attacks, boost energy levels and fight fatigue. It’s practically magic! ✨ Make sure you grab your glass or water bottle and drink up throughout your day.

Go to the toilet.

I’m sure it’s not just me who gets caught up in work or another activity and thinks, “I’ll go to the loo as soon as I finish X, Y or Z”. But before you know it, you don’t just need to go, you really NEED to go 😶. And even though I’m pretty sure it’s a physical impossibility, I always have visions of Grandpa Simpson’s kidneys exploding from not going to the toilet. So please, just go to the toilet when your body tells you it’s time 😊.

Reflect.

When cleaning your teeth, think about your day. What are you looking forward to? What are two things you really want to achieve? What went well in your day? What two things are you thankful for? Take a small moment to reflect on your upcoming day or the day that’s been.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”
Charles M. Schulz

Leave your phone at home.

Relax!! I don’t mean all the time. (I had palpitations reading that too 😂😉)

Our phones are so much a part of our lives that it‘s hard to imagine not having them with us. But every now and then, leave your phone at home when you go outside. You won’t be distracted by the constant ring, dings, alerts and chirps it makes. And you can focus on the world and people around you.

Declutter.

Feel like you’ve got clutter and mess invading all of your spaces? Spend five minutes tidying one area and putting things back in their place. Do this once daily, and you’ll soon feel calmer and more relaxed. Don’t like cleaning? Pop on some music and do what you can in the space of one or two songs. Then stop cleaning, go do something else and enjoy the calm.

“Out of calmness comes clarity.”
Trevor Carss

Stretch.

Another one of my faves. Stretching is great for loosening up tight, stiff muscles and joints that have been in one position for long periods. I love stretching my arms above my head or arching my back when I’ve been sitting at my desk for some time and feeling stiff… bliss. It doesn’t take long, and it feels so good 😊

Versus Arthritis have some videos with various stretches for you to try. They’re a bit longer than a micro-moment but worth checking out. Watch them and find the ones that work for you. Or speak with a physio about stretches you can do daily to ease muscle tension and pain.

Hug someone.

Being able to touch or hug others reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and makes you feel good. And here’s a tip from me to you: don’t save your hugs for when you’re feeling down. Hug each other when you feel happy, excited, or just because it’s Wednesday 😍.

“A hug a day keeps the demons at bay.”
German Proverb

Plan a meal or two for your upcoming week.

Having an idea about what to cook during the week can be challenging and often stressful. But pre-planning a meal or two (or more if you’re able) can help immensely. Think about your week ahead – what are your time commitments and responsibilities? Do you have time to be creative and adventurous with your meal planning? Or do you need to keep it basic and simple? What do you have in the fridge, freezer and pantry? Once you’ve established all that, write down some meal ideas, pick up any extra ingredients you need, and you’re on your way!

Give yourself time.

Hands up if you’re often rushing from pillar to post, trying to get everything done in the shortest amount of time ✋✋✋. It can be hectic and exhausting.

When you can, build some extra time into your work commute and school drop-off/pick-up to allow for the inevitable traffic issues, lost schoolbooks, and forgotten lunches, so you can arrive at your destination as calmly as possible. Do the same at work – avoid back-to-back meetings when you can so you can catch your breath, write down your thoughts, drink water, have a snack, review your notes etc. This will make you more productive and less stressed.

Get changed.

Is there anything more wonderful at the end of a long day than getting changed out of your work clothes and getting into something relaxing and comfy? Especially now that winter is here? Whether it’s your favourite trackies, or the most relaxing of all, your oldest, softest pyjamas 😊, when you’re at home and in the cosiest clothes, all feels calm and right in the world.

Finally.

As with any changes to your habits and behaviours, you need to start small. Pick one of these ideas, or one of your own, and start adding it to your day. Just a micro-moment here and there. Over time you can add others and/or more time to the ones you’re doing.

Changing the way you do things takes time, patience and practice. But it’s worth persevering to reap the rewards of these small acts of self-care 💚.

Oh, one last thing.

It’s important to recognise that self-care can’t and won’t solve everything. Sometimes we need help – whether for an exercise program, mental health, housework, or whatever. This help may be from our family or friends, or it may be professional help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

Reference

(1) Self-care interventions for health, WHO, 2022.


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07/Dec/2022

Travelling can be an incredible adventure, but it can sometimes cause anxiety and stress if you have a chronic condition. When you’re out of your normal routine, it can be impossible to know how you’ll feel each day and how this may affect your trip.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your trip and have a fantastic time.

“I wish I had never gone travelling.” Said no one ever.

Plan your trip

Take time to plan your trip carefully. Being proactive before you go away allows you to plan around your condition rather than have your condition disrupt your trip. You know how your condition affects you – using this information when planning will put you in control.

Give yourself plenty of time to pack and complete any tasks or household chores you need to do well before the day you leave.

Rest up. Even though you may be going on a holiday for rest and relaxation, try and get some rest before you leave. That way, you’ll have more energy to do and see what you want when you arrive at your destination.

Make your itinerary realistic. When you’re on holiday, it’s tempting to pack as much as possible into every single day; however, this can often lead to increased pain and fatigue. Plan rest days or less active days and create an itinerary that’s flexible depending on how you feel each day. It’s better to do less and prevent flare-ups than do too much and end up unwell.

Minimise long journeys where possible. Living in Australia, we know long distances are a part of life, whether travelling overseas or within Australia. However, try to avoid packing your itinerary with long plane, train, car, or bus journeys if you can. Make a list of the key sights you want to see, plan your travel around them and be realistic. If you will be travelling for long periods, plan rest stops and consider layovers to make it more achievable.

If you’re travelling by plane or train, ask for an aisle seat and take strolls up and down the aisles. This’ll help reduce stiffness, and muscle and joint pain. You can also do leg and foot stretches and other gentle exercises while seated.

Consider informing the airline of your medical condition. With advance notice, the airline should be able to:

  • provide you with wheelchair assistance and early boarding, if necessary
  • have airline personnel carry your luggage for you and/or lift it into the overhead bin
  • accommodate you with special shuttles and elevator platforms for boarding.

Talk with the transport operators before you leave. Contact the companies before your journey to see what assistance and services they can provide. This goes for all planes, trains, coaches, ships, boats – basically any form of transport operated by someone else. Let them know if you require help and if you have any mobility aids. Have the specifications of your mobility aids handy in case they need this information. Doing this before you go means the operators can be ready for your arrival and save you any potential stress or inconvenience.

Booking accommodation. When choosing your accommodation, always consider walking distance to other services, the number of stairs and the availability and location of lifts. Make sure you can drop your luggage off at your hotel if you arrive early – you don’t want to carry heavy bags any longer than necessary! Consider booking accommodation with a heated pool or spa, so you can exercise or relax in warm water to loosen sore muscles and ease painful joints.

“Oh, the places you’ll go.” — Dr Seuss

Packing for your trip

Pack light. Packing can be one of the hardest parts of travelling – what to take, what to leave at home – so if in doubt, leave it out. Lifting heavy bags on and off trains, buses and through airports increases your risk of injury and fatigue. When you travel, you also end up carting your luggage around more than you may realise. So packing light is essential. Check out some of the travel websites, articles, and blogs if you need tips and advice on packing.

Use lightweight luggage if you have it. If you’re buying new luggage, think lightweight and durable. Look for luggage with good wheels and handles that allow for easy manoeuvrability. A suitcase you can push rather than pull places the load squarely in front of you and means you don’t have to twist your wrists. If you don’t own lightweight luggage, see if you can borrow some from your family or friends.

Don’t forget to pack any special equipment or aids that help make life more comfortable, such as:

  • supportive pillows
  • lightweight hot/cold packs
  • orthotics, splints or braces.

Consider wearing a mask and using hand sanitiser when you’re on planes, trains and other public transport. Although many of us have gotten out of this habit, COVID is still around. And nothing spoils a holiday faster than getting sick 🤒. Masking and sanitising are the best strategies to reduce your risk of this occurring.

Separate your medicine. Keep your medicine in separate pieces of luggage to ensure you don’t lose it all should a piece of luggage become lost or stolen. Only carry enough medicine that you need for your own personal use. Pack in your hand luggage any medicine you may need access to quickly so you can get to it when needed.

Organise your medicines. Being away from your usual routine can make it easy to forget to take your medicine/s at the appropriate time. If you take medicines every day, consider using a pillbox with separate compartments for each day (but keep the original packaging with you). More information on travelling overseas with medicine and medical devices can be found on the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.

Check size restrictions on luggage and mobility aids with your travel agent, airline or other transport operators.

“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.” Michael Palin

Medical preparation

Get advice well in advance. Ensure regular blood tests and doctor visits are done before you leave. Discuss any concerns you have about travelling with your doctor (e.g. whether you need to adjust your medicine schedule if travelling to a different time zone).

Talk with your doctor about vaccinations, especially if you’re going overseas. This protects your own health, but also some countries, airlines and cruise lines require proof of certain vaccinations before entering or boarding. The Smart Traveller website has more information about vaccinations and overseas travel. Note: Some vaccines should be avoided if you have an autoimmune condition or take medicines that suppress your immune system. Your doctor or rheumatologist can advise you on this.

Check that your medicines are legal and not restricted or banned where you’re going. You can do this by contacting the relevant consulate or embassy; a list is available on the Smart Traveller website. Carry a letter from your doctor listing your medicines, the dosage and what they’re for, as well as your doctor’s contact details. Keep medicines in their original packaging, or if you’re using a pillbox, keep the packaging with the pillbox.

For more information about medicines and travelling, read Travelling with medications: A guide by the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers.

Stock up. Make sure you have enough medicines (for your personal use) to last until you return home. You may not be able to get the same medicines elsewhere – especially if you’re overseas.

Store your biological medicines properly. If you’re taking biological medicines (biologics or biosimilars), they may need to be stored at a specific temperature in a special travel wallet. Seek advice from your rheumatologist and the pharmaceutical company about this. Check with your airline/s to see if they can assist you, for example, with ice for the travel wallet or placing your medicine in the aeroplane’s fridge.
Make sure your container is clearly labelled with your name and contact information, or attach your boarding pass. And make sure you don’t leave your medicine on the plane!

Don’t place your medicines in with your checked luggage. The baggage compartment gets extremely cold while the plane is in flight, and your medicine may freeze and be ruined.

Fridges away from home. Once you’re at your destination, you should be able to use the mini-fridge in your hotel room to store your biologics. You should check that the fridge is adjusted properly to a suitable temperature. Also, in some countries, the power in a hotel room turns off when you leave the room. Ask the hotel staff about this upon arrival.
Contact the pharmaceutical company that makes your biological meds before you travel. Most have a customer support line and are an excellent source of information on the correct storage of medicines.

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” Dalai Lama

Travel insurance

Know what you’re covered for. You can get travel insurance if you have a pre-existing condition such as arthritis, but it’s vital that you understand precisely what your coverage provides and whether it’s adequate for your needs. Different types of travel insurance will have different limitations on what’s covered, so shop around. A medical declaration form may be required in some instances. To learn more, check out our information on travel insurance for people with a chronic illness.

Coming home

Rest up. After your trip, take a day or so to unpack and rest before returning to your normal routine. Contact your healthcare team if you have to reschedule any medical appointments or have symptoms that need attention.

Extra tips and references

Look after yourself. Even though you’re travelling, you should continue to do the things that help you manage your condition and pain at home, such as regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and getting enough quality sleep. They’ll contribute to good physical and mental health and wellbeing and help you keep pain and fatigue in check.

Getting around airports. Websites for all Australian international airports and domestic terminals have accessibility information, as do the individual airlines. Check these out before you go.

Give yourself plenty of time to make flights and connections and deal with your luggage. That way, you’re not rushing, which leads to stress and anxiety. Rushing can also make you push yourself too hard and lead to increased pain and fatigue.

Choose your meals carefully. Most airport and rest stop food choices are high-fat, high-salt, highly processed foods that promote inflammation. Carry healthy snacks, drink plenty of water, and drink alcohol and caffeine in moderation.

Check out the blogs of other travellers with special needs. Stories of other people who’ve visited the places you want to go to and who have accessibility needs are often great resources to help you plan your journey.

Take it easy, and have a great time! Remember, your trip is meant to be fun. Travel can be associated with both physical and mental stress that can be magnified if you have a health condition that causes you pain. So when planning your trip, factor in a plan B – just in case your original plan needs to be altered to allow you time to rest or take it easy. For example, if you’d planned a walking tour of a place you’re visiting, look into alternatives such as hop-on/hop-off bus tours or riding a bike. Build enough flexibility into your holiday to allow for these alterations so that you’re relaxed and not stressed about staying on schedule.

By planning your trip carefully, being flexible with your schedule, and taking your condition into account, you can have a fantastic holiday.

So get out there and enjoy yourself!

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Jawaharial Nehru

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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31/Aug/2022

Are you like me and find supermarkets ridiculously cold? It doesn’t matter what season it is outside; inside a supermarket, it’s Arendelle, and Elsa has just turned everything into snow and ice ❄⛄.

This can be really uncomfortable, especially if you have a musculoskeletal condition. And if you have Raynaud’s phenomenon, it can make your extremities – especially your fingers – turn white and numb.

What is Raynaud’s phenomenon?

Apart from having a really cool name – it’s a phenomenon, for goodness sake! 🙃 – what is Raynaud’s??? First, it’s named after the French doctor who originally described it, Maurice Raynaud, and being French, it’s pronounced ‘ray-nose’ (with a silent D).

Raynaud’s phenomenon causes the blood vessels to the extremities, usually the fingers and toes, to constrict more than usual in response to cold temperatures or stress. When this happens, the blood flow is restricted, causing the extremities to become cold and turn white, then blue. When blood flow returns, the skin becomes red and returns to its normal colour.

Raynaud’s phenomenon can occur on its own – this is primary Raynaud’s phenomenon. Or it can occur alongside or ‘secondary’ to another disease or condition – this is secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Both primary and secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon episodes can last from a few minutes to hours.

Other parts of your body, such as the nose, lips and ears, can be affected too.

Fortunately, Raynaud’s phenomenon rarely causes permanent damage.

Maintaining a balance: vasoconstriction and vasodilation

Your body protects your internal organs (your core) by maintaining a stable core temperature – it’s not too hot, not too cold, but just right 🐻🐻🐻.

One of the many ways your body maintains this stable temperature is through vasoconstriction and vasodilation. This essentially means that your blood vessels (vaso) narrow (constrict) or widen (dilate) as needed.

In the cold, blood vessels constrict to reduce blood flow to your extremities, such as the fingers and toes. This keeps your core warm. In the heat, blood vessels dilate, and blood flow increases to your skin, moving the warm blood away from your core.

These processes help your core remain at a constant temperature, usually around 36-37°C.

For people with Raynaud’s phenomenon, for some unknown reason, blood vessels constrict, not to keep your core temperature stable but in response to cold, stress or emotional upset.

Blood vessels in your extremities narrow quickly, and your skin changes colour due to a lack of blood supply. During a Raynaud’s episode or attack, you may experience pins and needles, tingling and/or numbness in your fingers or toes. You might find it difficult to do things with your hands, as lack of blood can make them clumsy and stiff. And when the blood returns to the area, you may feel slight discomfort or stinging pain.

These changes occur in the extremities, most often the fingers. Circulation in the rest of the body is generally normal.

Primary Raynaud’s phenomenon

This is the most common form of Raynaud’s phenomenon. It’s also called Raynaud’s disease. Women, generally under 30, are more likely to develop primary Raynaud’s phenomenon than men. It can also run in families, so if you have a family member with primary Raynaud’s, you’re more at risk of developing it.

Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon

People living with conditions such as scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) and rheumatoid arthritis may develop secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon. This usually occurs later in life but can happen at any age, depending on the underlying cause.

Other risk factors for secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon include:

  • mechanical vibration – for example, using a power tool for extended periods
  • medicines – e.g. beta-blockers, some migraine or cancer drugs, amphetamines
  • smoking.

Diagnosing Raynaud’s phenomenon

Your doctor can determine if you have Raynaud’s by talking with you about your symptoms. It can be helpful to take a photo of your hands if you experience a Raynaud’s episode so you can show this to your doctor.

Although it’s generally not too difficult to diagnose Raynaud’s phenomenon, it can sometimes be hard to tell whether it’s primary or secondary Raynaud’s. Your doctor may use a range of methods to work this out, such as:

  • taking a complete medical history, including asking about family members who may have Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • a physical examination
  • blood tests
  • examining fingernail tissue with a microscope.

Living with Raynaud’s phenomenon

Most people with Raynaud’s phenomenon can manage it effectively with self-care and lifestyle changes. In some cases, medicines may be necessary.

Self-care

To prevent a Raynaud’s episode, the best thing you can do is to keep your body and extremities warm. Dress appropriately for the cold with gloves, thick socks and warm layers. It can be helpful to keep a spare pair of gloves or hand warmers in your car or bag that you can use if you’re caught out in a cold or stressful situation (e.g. a trip to the supermarket! 😱).

If you’re outside and your extremities start feeling cold and numb, go indoors and soak your fingers or toes in warm (not hot) water. Or you can warm them with a heater. Just be very careful of the heat – it’s easy to burn yourself when your skin is numb.

If you can’t go indoors, try these things to increase the circulation to your extremities:

  • Wiggle your fingers or toes.
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Make circles with your arms.
  • Massage your hands or feet.
  • Place your hands in your armpits. However, if you’re like me, your armpits aren’t always warm enough, and you may need to ‘borrow’ someone else’s warmth! Make sure it’s someone you’re close with – random strangers won’t appreciate your ice-cold fingers in their armpits! 😂
  • If a stressful situation triggers the attack, remove yourself from the situation, take some deep breaths and try to relax.

Medical care

Talk with your doctor if your Raynaud’s isn’t controlled by these simple measures. You may need to use medicines that widen your blood vessels and improve circulation.

For secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon, it’s also essential that the underlying condition (e.g. lupus) is treated effectively.

Tips for avoiding triggers

There’s no cure for Raynaud’s phenomenon, so avoiding things that trigger a Raynaud’s episode is key.

  • Avoid being out in the cold for long periods, especially if you’re not dressed warmly.
  • Make sure your whole body is kept warm, using several layers of clothing to trap body heat.
  • Keep your extremities warm with gloves, woollen socks, earmuffs and/or a beanie.
  • Use hand warmers. These small, often disposable products produce heat on demand and are helpful when gloves aren’t enough; you can buy them from supermarkets and chemists.
  • Remember, hand sanitisers often have a cooling effect, so when using them, be prepared to warm your hands quickly.
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes or drinking caffeinated drinks as nicotine and caffeine constrict blood vessels.
  • Review your medicines with your doctor; if they’re causing the problem, discuss possible alternatives.
  • Be aware that holding something cold, such as a can of drink, can trigger symptoms.
  • Learn to recognise and avoid stressful situations.
  • Keep a journal of when episodes or attacks happen, as this may help identify triggers.
  • Look after the skin on your hands and feet – with our frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitiser, it’s easy for our hands to become dry and cracked. Cracked skin is an opening for germs to get in and potentially cause an infection.
  • Exercise regularly to maintain blood flow and skin condition. Being active also has many other health benefits.

Complications

For most people, Raynaud’s phenomenon is uncomfortable and a nuisance but is basically harmless, with no lasting effects. However, in rare cases, loss of blood flow can permanently damage the tissue. This may lead to skin ulceration, tissue loss and scarring.

Talk with your doctor if you notice any changes in your symptoms.

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.

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23/Mar/2022

Written by Buffy Squires, with input from Mikayla O’Neill

Note: the names of the completion certificates vary across the country, e.g., VCE in Victoria and HSC in NSW. In this section, we refer to them all collectively as SSCE.

Wow! You’re heading into your final years of secondary school! Congratulations! It’s a really exciting time for you.

But perhaps you’ve heard from friends and others who’ve already gone through it, that it’s a lot of hard work. This may be making you a bit worried about how your body’s going to hold up. It’s ok to feel like this, but we’ve got plenty of tips and resources so that you can deal with the challenges and get on with your studies. And in doing so you can make your final years of secondary school as successful and enjoyable as possible.

Keep in mind that there are lots of different options for completing your SSCE. You may choose to do it over 3 years rather than 2 or do less subjects or an ungraded SSCE. It’s a matter of talking with your parents and your school and working out what works best for you.

All students should have the opportunity to sit their exams on as level a playing field as possible. This means that your arthritis or musculoskeletal condition shouldn’t put you at a disadvantage to your peers.

So, as exam time approaches, it’s important to remember that you may be eligible for special consideration. This could include extra time to do your exam, take breaks, use a keyboard instead of handwriting, access your medication, heat and cold packs and more. The process differs depending which state or territory you live in so check out the Curriculum and Assessment Authority links below for more information. Your school will help you with this, and they’ll lodge the application on your behalf.

Tip 1 – Start early

Special exam arrangements aren’t just for your final exams. If you live with a chronic condition (like arthritis), you can apply to have them in place right through your schooling to cover things like NAPLAN. But many students first apply for special exam arrangements as they approach their final school years.

Some students will be doing a final year subject in year 11, so if that’s you, you’ll want to start thinking about the process of applying for special consideration at the end of year 10. Speak with your rheumatologist about it, as they’ll have to write a letter supporting your need for special consideration. It might also be a good time to make an appointment with the hospital’s occupational therapist. They can do a writing assessment to see if you’d benefit from a laptop/keyboard and recommend other aids to help you. In the public hospital system, you might need to wait a few months, so again, start the process early!

Speak with the head of senior school or find out who is responsible for managing special exam arrangements in your school. Make sure they’re aware of your limitations and ask them for a list of anything they need you to provide.

Tip 2 – Have a support system in place

Make sure you have a support system in place at school. If you feel comfortable in doing so, it’s a great idea to talk openly with your teachers and the head of senior school so that they know your needs and limitations and are able to offer help around test or exam time. You may also want to have one particular teacher who’s your main “point of contact” so that, if you’re unwell or need to take time off school, you can deal with any issues through them.

After significant appointments it may be helpful to take into school a doctor’s letter or organise a quick meeting with teachers to keep them in the loop. You may also find that by keeping your teachers updated regularly, they’re better able to understand your condition. Then, when exam time comes around, you’ve already got that support system in place which makes it easier to organise the help you may need.

Tip 3 – Manage stress

Yes, it’s easier said than done, but if you put some plans in place and find some strategies that work for you, year 12 really doesn’t have to be that stressful. In a few years you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about! Check out our A-Z pain guide (link https://msk.org.au/pain-guide/) and the pain section of our website (link https://msk.org.au/kids-pain) for tips on dealing with pain. Find things you enjoy that make you feel great. It might be something active like a walk with a friend or a game of soccer, or perhaps you enjoy meditation, music, gaming or colouring in. Whatever it is, have some options you know work for you, and use them as soon as you feel the stress starting to build.

Tip 4 – Check, and check again

Once you’ve got the paperwork in place, check with your school to see if there’s anything else they need from you. If you haven’t had confirmation to say your special consideration has been approved, don’t be afraid to ask them to follow it up. The creaky gate gets the oil!

Things may change as you get closer to exams. Perhaps you have a flare-up and find that you can’t sit for long periods. Keep the lines of communication open with your contact person at school and make sure they know what’s going on. They can always make later applications for amendments to your plan – for example, a stand-up/sit-down desk to help manage back pain.

Got any tips you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you. Send them to buffy@msk.org.au

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State and territory resources


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19/Nov/2020

I’ve just taken a week off from work. I was struggling mentally and physically, so I decided it was important to take time to pause, reflect and reconnect.

But it was really tough to do.

I think part of my problem was I felt like I needed permission to feel how I was feeling and to take a break. It felt self-indulgent to feel sad when there are people in a ‘worse’ situation than I am; who are working so hard just to make ends meet; who are facing relationship issues. How dare I feel this way? I have a loving partner, a home, a job, and wonderful family and friends. I can now move around freely outside of my 25kms and enjoy the spring weather.

I have all of these things, so I felt selfish for feeling sad and for worrying those around me.

But while catching up with friends and family last week, I found I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

So for anyone out there who needs to hear this, it’s ok.

It’s ok to take a break or to rest. You’re not a machine. You need time to recover – physically and mentally – from the things that are affecting you. That way when you do return to what you were doing, you’ll feel refreshed and more able to deal with everything.

It’s ok to say no. We all want to please others, so saying no can be a challenge. But you need to weigh up all the things 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.

It’s ok to listen to your body. In fact it’s a necessity. Living with a chronic condition means that you need to be self-aware of how you’re feeling. If you’re tired, rest. If your back hurts, move. If you’re feeling sluggish, get some fresh air. Whatever your body is telling you, listen and take action.

It’s ok to be kind to yourself. Our inner critic can be really loud at times. If yours is giving you grief, ask yourself – would you say those things to someone you love? The answer is probably no. So quiet that inner voice by making a list of three things you like about yourself and stick it on the fridge or bathroom mirror. Remind yourself of these things regularly.

It’s ok not to be perfect. No one is, no matter how they appear on social media.

It’s ok to let go of the things that drain you. For me, that was the news. I was watching it constantly and getting more and more depressed by the state of the world, and how people treat each other. So now I read the news highlights, get more detail on the things that matter to me, and discard the rest. Think about the things that drain you (and this may include people) and if you can, let it go. Or at least limit your exposure to it.

It’s ok to put yourself first. Sometimes we need to make ourselves our top priority – whether that’s physically, mentally and/or emotionally. You’ll be more able to help others when you’ve taken time to look after yourself.

It’s ok to talk about mental health. In fact it’s really important that we do. The more we talk about mental health and how we’re feeling, the less stigma will surround it. Which will lead to more people opening up about their mental health and getting help when they need it.

It’s ok to not watch the news. Take time to unplug from the 24/7 news cycle and focus on the world around you – your family, friends and environment.

It’s ok to forgive yourself. This comes back to our inner critic. We often beat ourselves up for the smallest of mistakes. If you made a mistake – and ask yourself if you really did make a mistake or are you being super-critical of yourself – look at what you did, learn from it and then move on. Don’t keep thinking about it – it’ll only drive you crazy and make you unhappy.

It’s ok to have a messy house. Or to have a pile of laundry that needs folding. Or for the grass to need mowing. Or for pet hair to cover ever surface of your home. Sometimes things get a little untidy as we prioritise our health and wellbeing over a perfectly made bed, sparkling bathroom or fluffed-up cushions. And that’s ok.

It’s ok to not be ok and feel sad/angry/vulnerable. Your feelings are valid and they matter. However if you feel like these feelings are taking over, talk with someone. A trusted friend or family member, or a healthcare professional. While it’s ok to feel like this from time to time, you don’t want to feel like this all the time. And you don’t have to. There’s help available.

It’s ok to cry. We all have difficult days and crying can be an outlet when we feel sad, stressed, overwhelmed, scared, angry or in pain. So grab a box of tissues and let it out.

It’s ok to do more of the things that make you feel good. Love a massage? A walk on the beach? Sitting in your garden with a cup of tea and a book? Whatever it is that makes you feel good is not an indulgence, but a necessity to help you recharge your battery and make you a happier person.

It’s ok to put your phone down or away. We look at them too often anyway, so put it away for an hour, a day, a week. Be present and be mindful of the people and the world around you.

It’s ok to admit you’re struggling. And it’s ok to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re not a capable person. It just means that in this time and place, or for this task you need some help. And that’s fine. We all need help every now and then.

It’s ok to take your time. We don’t always have to be in a hurry. Make space to breathe and be still, meditate and be mindful.

It’s ok to not have all the answers. You’re not Google or Encyclopedia Brittanica. Saying ‘I don’t know’ is a valid and human thing to say.

It’s ok to put down your ‘to do’ list and be spontaneous. Lists can help us feel in control and organised, but sometimes it’s freeing to toss the list aside and just do something unexpected, just because you can.

So it’s really ok to sing, to dance, to walk barefoot in the park, to hug the stuffing out of your partner/kids/pets. We’re living through a global pandemic, which is affecting us in so many ways, so it’s important and very much ok to find the joy and welcome it with open arms.

And remember, it’s ok to be you.

Call our Help Line

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

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.

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19/Nov/2020

OMG, did you know there are only 36 days until Christmas?!!

It seems like Christmas 2019 was just a few weeks ago, now Christmas 2020 is looming! Yikes!!

Ok, breathe. It’s important we don’t panic. There are lots of things we can do to prepare for the festivities without too much pain. After the year we’ve had, we deserve a wonderful Christmas with those near and dear to us.

So here are our top tips so you can enjoy some festive fun:

Shopping

  • 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 tired and exhausted for hours/days after your trip. If your battery was already low before you tackled this, it’s may take some time to recharge and feel yourself again.
  • Once you get to the store, hygiene and physical distancing is key:
    • Wear your mask if you live in an area where they’re mandatory or recommended.
    • Use sanitiser on your hands and disinfectant wipes on the handles on your trolley/basket.
    • Keep a least 1.5 metres between yourself and others.
    • Don’t touch your face.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly when you get home.
  • 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.
  • Use a trolley or a shopping buggy, even if you’re only getting a few things. It will 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.
  • Shop online. We’ve learned through life in lockdown and iso 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 hit the big shopping centres to find unique gifts or fresh produce. Small, independent local stores often have most of what you need.
  • Be kind to others. Your fellow shopper isn’t the enemy. So be patient, give them space, and be tolerant. The staff at the store also deserve our kindness and empathy – they’ve been flat out all year trying to keep the shelves stocked so that we can get all the things we want or need.

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 2021 with massive Christmas bills.
  • Make your own gifts. Embrace your inner creative guru and bake, paint, draw, knit or sew your presents. Another option is to make some 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. Make 2020 – the year of the ‘new normal’ – the time to try it out, and save yourself time, stress and frustrating shopping expeditions. It’s particularly good if you have a lot of people to buy for.
  • Give gift cards and vouchers. They’re always a great idea for the person who’s hard to buy for, or the person who has everything. And you can get a lot of them online – without the hassle of changing out of your pjs or leaving the comfort of your couch. Some companies such as Private Health Funds offer discounts online when purchasing gift cards.
  • Give to charity. There are so many worthy causes around and many have been struggling during this incredibly tough year. So follow your heart and make a donation instead of buying gifts this year.
  • 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.

Decorating

  • Get the family involved. Put some Christmas music on and have fun with it. Decorating your tree, your home and garden for Christmas should be all about the joy of the festive season and being together.
  • Keep it simple. Remember what you put up you have to pack away after Christmas. So if that thought fills you with trepidation, choose the ‘less is more’ option.
  • Put decorations in easy reach on a table or bench so 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. So don’t be a Monica Geller (sorry, couldn’t resist a Friends reference).

Having people over

  • 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, avoid hugs (I know this is tough) 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 is epic!
  • Cook/bake things ahead of time. Many of the foods we enjoy for Christmas can be made days and sometimes weeks before the big day. That means you don’t have to work yourself into a cooking frenzy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And you’re more likely to enjoy yourself on the day.
  • 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.
  • 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 so you don’t run out of steam before the end.
  • 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.
  • Stay hydrated. Christmas is often hot in Australia, so it’s easy to become dehydrated, especially if you’re busy making sure everyone is having a good time. So keep the water flowing – for yourself and your guests.
  • 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.

Manage stress

  • Christmas and the holidays can be a stressful time, but it’s important that you manage your stress as best as you can or risk having a flare. So pull out your best stress management strategies and use them as often as you need to.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


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22/Oct/2020

And things you can do to manage

This blog was so full of info and strategies we had to split it into 2 parts. You can access part 1 here.

But here’s a recap: We know finding and keeping a job when you have a musculoskeletal condition like back painrheumatoid arthritisosteoarthritis and gout can be really tough.

Pain, fatigue, medication side effects and the unpredictability of your condition can all affect your ability to work.

The extent to which this happens will depend on things such as the condition you have, how severe it is, how well it’s being managed, and the type of work you do. Physically demanding work will be impacted by painful joints or restricted movements. And any work that requires you to focus and concentrate, especially for extended periods, will be affected by brain fog, pain, and lack of sleep.

The good news is there are things you can do to help manage these issues. We’ve listed a bunch of strategies here. This is part 2 of our 2 part blog.

Note: we understand that some of these strategies may not be possible for all workplaces or conditions. However the majority of them can be adapted in some way to suit your needs.

Manage your meds. Sometimes medications cause side effects like nausea, headaches, lightheadedness, and drowsiness. This can make it really hard to concentrate at work, and may in fact make it dangerous to perform some work duties such as driving or operating machinery. If you find that your medications are causing issues for you, talk with your doctor about possible alternatives you can use.

You may also need to have a review of your medications if you find your condition’s not under control or you need more help managing pain and other symptoms. Again, talk with your doctor about this.

Get a good night’s sleep. We all go through periods when sleep is elusive. Chronic pain and anxiety are just a couple of things that can affect our ability to get enough quality sleep. But sleep is important for good physical and mental health, and to give us the ‘get up and go’ we need to get to work and work productively. If you’re having issues sleeping, don’t just put up with it. There are lots of things you can do to get the sleep you need.

Take a break. Get up, move and clear your head. We all need to take breaks for our physical and mental wellbeing. So walk to the photocopier or around the block, do some simple stretches, step outside and do some deep breathing or visualisation. Whatever helps you manage your pain, fatigue, and brain fog, do it.

Dealing with time off work. We all need time off from time to time, but for many people with musculoskeletal conditions, it may happen more often than we’d like. Attending healthcare appointments during working hours or having a flare means you may go through your personal leave quite quickly. If this is a concern or problem for you, discuss your options with your healthcare team. Are you able to attend appointments via telehealth or outside of your usual working hours? An occupational therapist or physiotherapist may have some solutions for working during a flare and to reduce the pain and strain on your joints. And if you’ve disclosed your condition to your employer, discuss your concerns with them. Together you should be able to develop a plan to help you balance time off and the work duties you need to complete. One of the silver-linings of the COVID pandemic is that we’ve discovered that many jobs can be done productively from home. So working from home may be an option. As too are aids and equipment that protect your joints and save energy, or even changing the work you do at your workplace. Being proactive and knowing your rights is key to working well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing changes to your abilities and functioning. Unfortunately some musculoskeletal conditions will change a person’s ability to do specific tasks. For example, someone with back pain may find sitting for long periods impossible. Or a person with arthritis in their hands may find repetitive work such as typing extremely painful. Talking with an occupational therapist or physiotherapist can help you find potential solutions to these issues. Whether it’s finding new ways to do work tasks, using special equipment and aids to support you and protect your joints, or managing your pain while at work, they’ll tailor a solution to your specific needs.

These are just some of the things you can do to manage your condition and continue to work. Feel free to share the things you do to help you manage at work with a musculoskeletal condition. We’d love to hear from you!

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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.

Making the invisible visible

Read the report based on our 2020 National Consumer Survey – Making the invisible visible – in which 66% of people said that their ability to work had been impacted by their condition/s.

Watch our webinar

Watch the recording of our webinar from March 2021, as Jessica Dawson-Field, Employment Associate, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, takes us through employment law – rights and entitlements.

More to Explore

JobsAccess
Australian Government
JobAccess is the national hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers. It provides:

  • a wide range of info and services to help people with disability find and keep jobs, get promoted to better jobs, upgrade or expand their workplace skills
  • advice on modifying your work area, talking about your disability, training for your co-workers, negotiating flexible work arrangements and returning to work
  • the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) which gives financial help to eligible people with disability and mental health conditions and employers to buy work related modifications, equipment, Auslan services and workplace assistance and support services.
  • and much more.

Work Assist
Australian Government
Work Assist can help you stay in work if you risk losing your job through illness, injury or disability.

I have a job and arthritis: Now what?
Arthritis Society Canada

Fatigue
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK)

Sleep and pain
painHEALTH 

Managing flares
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) 


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21/Oct/2020

Or how to manage fatigue

We all get tired. We overdo things and feel physically exhausted. It happens to us all. Usually after a night or two of good quality sleep the tiredness goes away and we’re back to our old selves.

But fatigue is different.

It’s an almost overwhelming physical and/or mental tiredness. And it usually takes more than a night’s sleep to resolve. It generally requires multiple strategies, working together, to help you get it under control.

Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition struggle with fatigue. It may be caused by a chronic lack of sleep, your medications, depression, your actual condition (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia) or just the very fact that you live with persistent pain.

Fatigue can make everyday activities difficult, and can get in the way of you doing the things you enjoy. The good news is there are many things you can do to manage fatigue and get on with life.

Exercise and being active. While this may sound like the last thing you should do when you’re feeling fatigued, exercise can actually boost your energy levels, help you sleep better, improve your mood, and it can help you manage your pain. If you’re starting an exercise program, start slowly, listen to your body and seek advice from qualified professionals. Gradually increase the amount and intensity of activity over time.

Take time out for you. Relaxation – both physical and mental – can help you manage your fatigue. I’m not just talking about finishing work and plonking down in front of the TV – though that may be one way you relax and wind down. I’m specifically referring to the deliberate letting go of the tension in your muscles and mind. There are so many ways to relax including deep breathing, visualisation, gardening, progressive muscle relaxation, listening to music, guided imagery, reading a book, taking a warm bubble bath, meditating, going for a walk. Choose whatever works for you. Now set aside a specific time every day to relax – and choose a time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted or distracted. Put it in your calendar – as you would any other important event – and practise, practise, practise. Surprisingly it takes time to become really good at relaxing, but it’s totally worth the effort. By using relaxation techniques, you can reduce stress and anxiety (which can make you feel fatigued), and feel more energised.

Eat a well-balanced diet. A healthy diet gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to work properly, helps you maintain a healthy weight, protects you against other health conditions and is vital for a healthy immune system. Make sure you drink enough water, and try and limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume.

And take a note out of the Scout’s handbook and ‘be prepared’. Consider making some healthy meals that you can freeze for the days when you’re not feeling so hot. You’ll then have some healthy options you can quickly plate up to ensure you’re eating well without having to use a lot of energy.

Get a good night’s sleep. Good quality sleep makes such a difference when you live with pain and fatigue. It can sometimes be difficult to achieve, but there are many things you can do to sleep well, that will decrease your fatigue and make you feel human again. Check out our blog on painsomnia for more info and tips.

Pace yourself. It’s an easy trap to fall into. On the days you feel great you do as much as possible – you push on and on and overdo it. Other days you avoid doing stuff because fatigue has sapped away all of your energy. By pacing yourself you can do the things you want to do by finding the right balance between rest and activity. Some tips for pacing yourself: plan your day, prioritise your activities (not everything is super important or has to be done immediately), break your jobs into smaller tasks, alternate physical jobs with less active ones, and ask for help if you need it.

Write lists and create habits. When you’re fatigued, remembering what you need at the shops, where you left your keys, if you’ve taken your meds or what your name is, can be a challenge. And when you’re constantly forgetting stuff, it can make you stress and worry about all the things you can’t remember. Meh – it’s a terrible cycle. So write it down. Write down the things you need at the supermarket as soon as you think of it –a notepad on the fridge is a really easy way to do this. Create habits around your everyday tasks – for example always put your keys in a bowl by the door or straight into your bag, put your meds in a pill organiser.

Be kind to yourself. Managing fatigue and developing new ways to pace yourself is a challenge. Like any new behaviour it takes time, effort and lots of practice. So be kind to yourself and be patient. You’ll get there. It may take some time, and there may be some stumbles along the way, but you will become an expert at listening to your body, pacing yourself and managing fatigue.

Talk with your doctor. Sometimes fatigue may be caused by medications you’re taking to manage your musculoskeletal condition. If you think your medications are the issue, talk with your doctor about alternatives that may be available.

Fatigue may also be caused by another health condition – including anaemia (not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body), diabetes, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia and being overweight. If you’re not having any success getting your fatigue under control, your doctor may suggest looking into other potential causes.

So that’s fatigue…it can be difficult to live with, but there are lots of ways you can learn to manage it.

Tell us how you manage. We’d love to hear your top tips for dealing with fatigue.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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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