All posts by richmondstace

05May/17

Exams, stress and pain tips

Exams, stress and pain tips
Exams, stress and pain tips

Exam exhaustion | Felix Neumann

Exams, stress and pain tips ~ It is that time of year again when kids are preparing for their exams. With the emphasis on high grades reflecting success, the pressure on youth has increased. There is the sense that if they do not achieve all those ‘A’ grades, then somehow they are a failure. What a terribly damaging way to go about it, and indeed one of the major influences upon kids health. Levels of pain, anxiety and depression are on the rise. Social media also has a part to play, not the channels themselves per se but the way in which it is used and relied upon as a source of temporary reward ~ ‘likes’ etc. We can and must change this as a society.

One of the most respected and successful sports coaches of all time, John Wooden, made the key point that each person should be focusing upon what they can control and to do their very best. If your attentions are on doing your very best, you will be successful, for you. If you thinking drifts towards the grade ‘you must’ achieve, then your focus is not on doing your best, it is on the grade. Re-focus on doing your very best: maximum effort. Besides, if you are focusing on and doing your best, there is no worry or anxiety because you are doing. Those feelings only appear when we are thinking about being somewhere else, whilst embodying the feelings and hence suffering. That somewhere else is the past or future, and neither exist.

We can realise that this is not necessary as we learn to make other choices. Ask yourself: How am I choosing to feel? Could you choose to think about the situation in another way and feel better or good? Yes you can. Try it and see!

Read hereJohn Wooden ~ Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court
Choice

You could choose to think about something in life you face as a problem, that it is difficult, perhaps impossible or that your efforts are doomed to failure. How are you likely to feel? Or, you could choose to view the situation as a challenge, an opportunity to learn something and seek to find and practice ways to overcome the challenge. How would this feel? Very different. We feel better when we have understanding and a plan that we action because we are actually doing, and this includes writing a new inner dialogue or script. How are you pre-empting or expecting things to go? How often do they actually turn out that way? Well if so, why not water the seeds of positivity rather than anticipate the worst outcome or a miserable outcome? Re-frame your thinking that is always embodied, i.e. we experience our thoughts with our whole self including our bodies — where do you feel the feelings that you label as anxiety? They are remarkably similar to the feelings of excitement but which label are you choosing? Choose another and see what happens.

Here are some exercises from Mike Pegg on Positive Scripting: click here
The inner dialogue

What are you telling yourself? Are you listening? The two are different. You cannot stop thoughts popping in but you can choose what you do with them. The practice of mindfulness is a way of achieving this as you are aware and open to the different thoughts, feelings and emotions as they pass through rather than become embroiled.

Self-confidence relies upon the inner dialogue. No matter what you have achieved before, what you are telling yourself and listening to now is what determines your confidence. Create a positive script about what you can do and what you can control: my own thoughts, my own actions, where I focus, doing my best.

Developing insight into your own mind creates the opportunity to choose your direction. We are always changing, but which way do you want to go?

Some great reading on how to communicate with yourself and others: Thich Nhat Hanh
Movement and posturing

Movement and exercise are healthy. During periods of revision we need to move to nourish the body but also our thinking — the two are NOT separate but parts of you. Changing position, using some exercises, walking, jogging and other activities punctuated through the day help to keep the focus. Some exercise in the morning before starting, changing posture and position every 30 minutes or so and having a good break every 45-60 minutes can help to keep a certain freshness and concentration.

This is about performance and to perform we need to focus in the present moment. Refresh and renew then, are key ingredients.

Recharging and sleep

You need good sleep patterns for healthy functioning. Make sure you have a routine that you stick to through the exam period. Many important healthy activities occur during sleep, including a kind of physiological cleaning in the brain. When this does not happen we can feel groggy and moody the next day.

If you are tired, focus on mantras such as ‘I need energy’ rather than ‘I am tired’. We notice what is on our agenda and therefore by telling yourself that you need energy, you’ll be orientated towards this as a goal: regular healthy snacks, fresh air, movement, mindful practice, periods of relaxation.

Through the day we need to plug in. Refreshing yourself allows you to focus well for bursts of time.

Pain and stress are body (whole person) states due to a perceived threat

People come to see me because thus far they have not been able to recover from their pain problem. This is inherently stressful, which adds to the biological and behavioural mix resulting in on-going states of protect.

~ pain and injury are poorly related and are definitely not the same

Pain is about protection and not a precise guide for tissue health or state. This is the common misunderstanding that leads to ineffective treatments. Pain and injury are not well related and they are definitely not the same. Pain is a unique perception emerging in the person and belonging to the person. This is one of many we experience but it is a dominant feeling, as it should be, to motivate action in line with getting better.

Persistent pain involves many adaptations that include those in the brain (emotional, reward and emotional centres in particular), the way we perceive the world and ourselves, the way we make decisions, behave and the way we act. The world appears to be far more dangerous than it really is and the rating of threat is applied in normal circumstances, just in case. For example, sitting is not dangerous yet it is often associated with back pain. The body systems in weighing up the evidence and based on prior experience, deem sitting in a chair to be actually or potentially dangerous. It is the result of the weight of this evidence that manifests as pain in the area of the body deemed to need protection and awareness.

Overcoming pain is about changing this weighting of evidence by taking new actions (habits) based upon new thinking (understand your pain), beliefs and expectations.

During exam times there is usually a change in routine. More sitting, less exercise, and potentially more stress depending upon how the individual views the situation. For optimising performance, this must be addressed whether there is pre-existing pain or not.

It is common for pain to increase during times of stress and pressure. This is not because the tissue state changes greatly but instead the perception of threat is raised and hence protection more likely. We can also tend to anticipate certain relationships. For example: ‘sitting will hurt’, which can become a predominant thought pattern unless we work to create a new way forward. We are always changing, it is a matter of which way you choose to go.

Simple practices during exam times can make a significant difference. Starting with understanding your pain, you can choose to use the strategies mentioned previously that include regular movement, appropriate exercise, practicing a positive script, refreshing & renewing, together with mindful practices (that actually enable many of the others), deep relaxation, imagery and visualisation. Making a plan of which to use and when through the revision and exam timetable can make all the difference.

Pain Coach and Wellness Coach ~ to overcome life’s challenges, live well and perform

For appointments or enquires about Pain Coach Mentoring and speaking events, call Jo on 07518 445493
02May/17

Dystonia and the stretch

Dystonia and the stretch

One Day Closer
https://flic.kr/p/dH5H6h

You may think that I am talking about stretching as in stretching a muscle as this is often given as an exercise in dystonia. In fact, I am referring to the point in time when there is an opportunity to stretch oneself and go a little longer without botulinum toxin injections.

Injections are often given at 3 monthly intervals. The effects often begin to be felt at 10-12 days and then there is a period of better control (less spasm, torsion etc) before the pulls and tremors start to appear again. This last phase, and they are not distinct, instead on a time continuum like every other moment, is when the person starts to feel something. They then focus in upon the sensation, toying with the meaning by thinking about it, looking at it, becoming increasingly aware until finally the next injection date arrives and the circle begins again. Although it is not really a circle because each day, each moment is utterly unique.

A modern approach that we take is to use the period of relative quiescence to be proactive by following a training programme. The programme involves actively creating a new way forward with sensorimotor exercises and other practices that addresses the non-motor factors that hugely influence how we move. These include attentional bias, emotional state, environment, context and past experience. There are many more. Without comprehensively addressing the person, their life, the condition and how these interface as a lived experience, it is likely that the 12 week cycle will continue. We can do better.

When we move we are fulfilling a prediction that has already been made, mainly by the brain, based on what we know and what has happened before. From this you can probably see how the pattern continues until you start making new predictions. That is the programme: new thinking, new understanding, new expectations, new exercises, new practices, all of which create the conditions for a change in a desired direction. We are always changing, but which way do you want to go? You have a choice.

~ how am I choosing to feel right now?

We always have a choice in how we think about things ultimately. Initially we may have the habitual thought, but with practice we can write a new script. And that script influences how we move.

Movement is part of who we are and what we do. We need movement to survive. Losing the precision and awareness of body sense are key observable features of dystonia and we can practice exercises to improve both. By investing time and effort, and doing your absolute best, you can forge a better experience when you can concentrate on living, being healthy and happy, and when you face one of life’s challenges, you do so with resilience, clear thinking and determination.

The stretch comes when those first feelings begin. You continue to use your practices, keeping a focus on your desired outcome and being inspired by successes you have noted down along with way. You stretch yourself so that you go just a bit further, gapping out the time between injections. Not so much that you suffer greatly, instead feeling a sense of achievement and that you are heading in the right direction.

This is an approach not just for dystonia but also for pain and other challenges in life. We seem to have a tendency to try to avoid unpleasant feelings and situations, which makes sense. The problem is that we cannot avoid them and so developing a way to see an opportunity to learn and grow makes it a challenge to be overcome, an experience to transform.

You can when you think you can.

Pain Coach & Dystonia Coach Programmes to overcome challenges: call us to start your programme 07518 445493 or email [email protected]

 

01May/17

High Performance Sport Knowledge Exchange 2017

High Performance Sport Knowledge Exchange 2017

~ some comments following a really engaging day when I was delighted to be asked to speak at the High Performance Sport Knowledge Exchange 2017 held at the Sport Ireland Institute last week.

I was fortunate to share the speaking platform with Dr Brian Cunniffe, Performance Lead from The English Institute of Sport, and Jason Cowman, Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Irish Rugby Football Union.

It was a great day of discussion amongst people involved with optimising performance, both their own and athletes ~ S&C coaches, elite performance coaches, physiotherapists, support staff, doctors, military personnel and more. I say ‘their own’ because the success of an athlete or sportsperson is intimately related to the way in which the coaching and support staff operate. We are all seeking to do our very best, every day.

Here is a brief summary of some of the points that were raised and talked about in relation to my talk and Q&A. Some great questions were asked.

~ Make each day a masterpiece ~ John Wooden

Despite the talks appearing to be very different, there were in fact some common themes. The emphasis was upon how the team can best function to deliver results, considering communication, facing challenges, developing relationships and trust, and creating a team that delivers. At the heart of this of course, are people with differing backgrounds, views, beliefs, experiences, knowledge, cultures and professions. Everyone has strengths and something to bring to the table, which is where the potency arises once these are clarified.

** As you read and take note, consider that these skills of performing and well-being are as relevant to the coach, physio, doctor, support staff as to the athlete.

Language & the inner dialogue

Language is powerful ~ the language we choose to use with others as well as the language we use to ourselves, the inner dialogue or script. Certainly in my talk and in the Pain Coach day on Tuesday I put an emphasis on developing skilful use of our inner dialogue. So much of what we experience and how we experience it comes from what we are telling ourselves. Realising this and harnessing the potential from running a positive script is hugely empowering. This is a skill that a performance coach, a strength and conditioning coach and a physiotherapist (anyone actually!) can foster and nurture in themselves and those they work with, the athletes and colleagues. Here are a couple of great questions to self that allow you to calibrate and make a new choice:

How am I choosing to feel? How am I choosing to think?

What you are telling yourself right now impacts upon your emotional state and quality of life. Which seeds are you watering? The ones that foster positivity, understanding, compassion, openness and patience or the ones that harness anger, frustration, impatience, and resistance? Developing one’s awareness of the workings of the mind and how thoughts are embodied creates a great opportunity to live increasingly well. This includes the ability to focus and hence perform. There is only this moment in which to focus and perform, whereas the inner dialogue can tend to take us off into the past or future. Of course this will happen but there is a difference between the drift away from the now with awareness and on autopilot. We do not have to be slaves to the wanderings of the mind. Simple attentional training and mindful practices help to develop this skill. We know that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, so this kind of training is a key skill.

Super-teams

Super-teams can be created to nurture the abilities of the athletes. One of the problems of chronic pain is that people can fall in the cracks between different disciplines. This need not happen with a super team in place that has a clear vision of success that has been clarified and stated. This is known by all team members who have identified their strengths, their reason and purpose and their individual roles. Communication is effective, regular and uninhibited. Strengths are developed and areas of improvement identified and worked upon with a complete focus upon growth together. Naturally this includes the athlete ~ there is no separation between team and athlete, athlete and team. Regular meeting and clarification maintains momentum. The team is steered by a leader who is prepared to truly lead and inspire action by exhibiting courage, authenticity and compassion. This takes time but is of course worth the effort in terms of outcomes.

The problem of pain & pain in sport

Pain is a huge global health burden. Pain costs society because of investigations and treatments, many of which are unnecessary or ineffective, and loss of productivity. The suffering for individuals is immeasurable and of course those close by also suffer the consequences.

The existence of such a significant problem in society means that this is a public health concern of major proportions. Without new thinking this will likely worsen. Arguably we are seeing this in the younger generation as they grow in a world that validates materialism, unhealthy communication (e.g. social media), thinking that the individual supersedes everything (i.e. selfishness), success based on ‘A’ grades or income and pressures to conform to practices that do not nourish self-compassion. 1 in 5 children suffer chronic pain and the statistics on mental health are horrific. I do not use that word by mistake.

I do not believe that the term mental health does justice to the reality that the ‘mental’ condition is embodied, which is why in most cases chronic pain and depression or mood changes come hand in hand. Thoughts are embodied, which is why practices that develop healthy use of the inner dialogue are vital. 

This problem reaching across society means that it does exist in sport. One of the challenges is to differentiate between the pain of being an athlete, the pain of a new injury (expected and understood) and the persistent pain that is due to a range of biological and behavioural factors. This will need athletes and coaches to learn about pain and communicate together with the athlete to establish what is happening and what needs to be done. The super-team vision will include these scenarios in the planning.

~ pain and injury are poorly related

There is no single clinician or therapist for pain. This is a problem and indeed perhaps part of the wider problem (the misunderstanding of pain in society), as the person suffering receives many different ideas about the possible causes and suggested solutions. This is the reason for Pain Coach, which is a blend of the latest understanding of pain together with known coaching methods that work to maximise learning and potential. The over-arching aim of the Pain Coach Programme is to change the way society thinks about and hence addresses pain. And there are exciting times ahead on the basis that we need to be talking about and enacting overcoming pain, not just managing and coping.

#upandrun

In relation to sportspeople, we can focus upon an understanding of pain that works for performance coaches, S&C coaches, clinicians as well as the athlete himself/herself. Working together to understand will be key and there is no reason why workshops cannot be run with the super-team that includes all these people. In fact, everyone needs to understand pain ~ the reason for UP | understand pain.

Chronic pain in sport is a blight upon the careers of many. Open discussion and an open forum for athletes to talk and express their fears is important as this provides an opportunity to face the problem, or rather the challenge, learn and overcome. Only by facing our challenges can we truly surmount them and move on. Distracting, avoiding and circumnavigating do no good in the long-term. I acknowledge that there is a place for a ‘patch up’ before an event if need be, but thereafter the challenge must be addressed. Again, the super-team creates the environment and context for this to happen.

Communicating

Language and the content of the inner dialogue has been mentioned but what about delivery: Who? When? How? And there’s the vital part, active or deep listening. Only through listening deeply can we truly hear what is being said. Paying the fullest attention (there’s the practice of paying attention again!) to this moment and what the other person is saying creates a trusting bond and an opportunity to gain insight. This insight delivers all you need to know right now. Sometimes just listening is all that is needed right now. The gifts of ‘you’ and time are two of the most valuable in life. This is easily practiced both at work and at home and soon enough you find yourself to be proficient and increasingly effective.

Some good questions for self:

~ after a training session, who speaks first? Who does the most talking? Who has the key information? 

Summary

There was much more discussed through the day and in the Pain Coach day on the Wednesday before. Hopefully this has provoked some new thinking and realisation. The beginner’s mind is open to possibility and opportunity. We are designed to change and grow as each moment passes. It is a matter of choosing which direction, which begins with realising that we have a choice. The awareness of choice is empowering and exciting but comes with responsibility.

All of us in the room have great jobs that we are passionate about and feel inspired to perform each day. We have meaning and purpose. This drives us to be successful because we always strive to be the best that we can be. That is exciting and fulfilling.

Choose to feel excited.

RS

For further information about Pain Coach training and mentoring, please do get in touch: [email protected]

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05Apr/17

5 ways a partner can help you

Chronic pain can be the source of huge strain upon a relationship. Partners and other people close to the suffering individual can be at a loss as to what they can do to help. Sometimes their assistance is welcomed and other times not. It can be confusing and stressful. There are many ways that a partner can help and some will be individual to those involved. Here are 5 ways a partner can help you:

Be an extra pair of ears and eyes

During consultations with specialists or therapists, it can be useful for a partner to come along. Beforehand you can decide upon their role. The possibilities include:

  • listening and note taking
  • offering observations about what has been happening
  • watching and learning exercises so that they can provide feedback at home
  • just being there for moral support

Sometimes having someone else in the room, even a loved one, can be distracting depending upon what is being practiced. So do discuss this with your clinician for the best outcome.

Understand pain

When your partner understands pain they will be able to further empathise and act through compassion rather than fear and worry. We do respond and are influenced by the people we are close to, meaning that if they have a working knowledge of pain they will better provide support and encouragement.

Pain can and does vary as each pain experience is as unique as each unfolding moment. Knowing that pain is related to perception of threat rather than tissue damage or injury, along with some of the main influences (e.g. emotional state, context, tiredness) helps to navigate a way forward. To overcome pain the person learns to coach themselves, making best choices in line with their picture of success. Sometimes we need help or someone to listen to us whilst making these choices.



A hug

Touch is healthy, especially from a loved one. Someone recently told me about how a hug from her children relieved her pain. Why? The release of oxytocin for a starter. The feelings of compassion and love can cut through all other emotions and feelings, which is why the development of self-compassion is one of the key skills of well-being.

Sometimes a hug can be painful of course, depending on where you feel your pain. If this is the case, then simple touch somewhere else is enough. Seek to notice the good feelings that emerge in you: what do they feel like? Where do you feel them? Concentrate on them. And if you are not with that person, just imagine a hug or a loving touch. This triggers similar activity, just like when you think about that beautiful scene in nature, your body systems respond as if you are there ~ our thinking is embodied.

Practice the skills of well-being together

A good example is metta or loving kindness meditation that cultivates self-compassion. It is best to gain instruction 1:1 to start with and then use a recording as a prompt until you are familiar with the practice. Group practice is also good when the collective or community creates a soothing atmosphere in which to practice.

At home, practice metta with your partner. Doing it together, you form a bond as you spend meaningful time together. You can also practice the exercises together. These are nourishing and healthy movements with the purpose of restoring confidence as well as layering in good experiences of activity to overcome pain.

Spend time together doing something meaningful

We are designed to connect. The chemicals we release and experience as that feel-good factor, do so when we have meaningful interactions. Pain all too often appears to limit choice and our tolerance for activity. However, on thinking about what we CAN do rather than what we cannot, we begin to build and broaden the effects of choosing positive action.

Positive action is all about focusing on what we can do: e.g./ I can go for a coffee with a friend for half an hour to gain the benefits of connecting, moving, a change of scene etc. and I will concentrate on these benefits. Make some plans, working within your current tolerance level, knowing that you are safe to do so, and follow them through by keeping yourself pointed towards the picture of success*. You can then gradually build your tolerance by pushing a little with increasing confidence.

There are many other ways that a partner can be involved. The key is to communicate openly and make plans together ~ here is a great insight into communication by Thich Nhat Hanh.


* Clarifying your picture of success gives you a direction and the opportunity to check in and ask yourself: am I heading in that direction or am I being distracted?

Please note: Whilst the practices above can appear to be straightforward, you should always discuss your approaches with your healthcare professional

04Apr/17

Not long now

Not long now ~ with only a few weeks away before the London Marathon, I must admit that I am getting rather excited. It has been very worthwhile putting in all the miles with the aim of really enjoying the day.



One more long run to do this weekend and then I will be tailing off as advised by my team of trainers and co-runners. Yesterday a friend asked me about these 20+ milers and how you keep going. I never imagined that I would ever be running for 3-4 hours, and certainly never thought I would be popping out for a ‘quick 10 miles’. I have found that the time passes quickly once I get going but really focusing on what is going on around me, looking up, coaching myself to remain relaxed and feel inspired by the encouragement I receive.

Anyhow, the really important bit is raising money and awareness of two key projects tackling the number one global health burden: pain. The charity CRPS UK and the social enterprise UP | understand pain both envision a world of people understanding their own potential to live well and to overcome their pain.

THE PROBLEM OF PAIN

The costs of chronic pain to individuals and society are vast. Loss of earnings, loss of productivity, the expense of treatments that often don’t work and above all the immense suffering. This need not be the case if society really understood pain. By understanding pain, individuals would know where to put their efforts to get better from the outset of a pain problem, whatever the cause, and healthcare would deliver effective care.

The thinking on pain still largely resides in out-dated models. This means that individuals become reliant upon passive treatments, are subjected to endless unnecessary investigations and are exposed to the wrong messages about pain that keep expectations low and purport fears and worries that only increase suffering.

“Pain is poorly related to injury, tissue health, structures in the body, biomechanics or pathology

Our journey to understand pain began when two remarkable men created pain medicine. Pat Wall and Ron Melzack changed the landscape forever and have inspired a generation of scientists and clinicians to ask questions about pain and discover the answers: what is pain? What is pain for? What can we do about pain?

Our knowledge about pain has increased enormously but there is a long way to go before our current understanding is practiced day to day in society. This gap is a significant societal issue, and one that UP will bridge with the forthcoming education programmes and an online resource that is this very website. The UP site will be re-launched this year, packed with information that people can use to understand pain.

WE HAVE AMAZING POTENTIAL

Humans are incredible. We are designed to change, adapt and learn, so tapping into our natural resources is one of the most potent and enabling things we can do. Consider all the achievements of mankind, which largely boil down to a clear picture of success, an ability to focus upon a plan of action, taking action and learning along the way when facing challenges. Together with a dose of determination, courage and belief, we can achieve by always being the best that we can be: ‘I will be the best me today’ is not a bad mantra to have!

The challenge of pain is no different. The programmes that UP will run for people in pain and for clinicians are all based on how we can be successful, how we can chose the positive route, how we can achieve our best. This is by focusing on what we do well, how we do it and how we can do more of this whilst acknowledging and seeking to improve in other areas.

So this in my mind drives my desire to do my best in training and on the day on 23rd April. Having said that, I will be pleased to see some familiar faces in the crowd on the way round! Or even faces I don’t know who want to support our causes. Pain affects so many people across the globe for so many reasons. Together we can change this by changing the way society thinks about pain and our expectations. Let’s expect to do well and live well.

Please support us here by donating whatever you can and join us for a quiz night before the run on Thursday 20th April in Surbiton — see here.

Thanks!!

27Mar/17

Charity quiz night

Charity Quiz Night

On Thursday 20th April we are having a charity quiz night at Wags N Tails in Surbiton to raise money for CRPS UK and UP | understand painclick here for the event link — please come along and support us! 

Richmond is running the London Marathon this year to support CRPS UK and UP — please donate here

Chronic pain is the number one global health burden

Chronic pain costs us the most of all the health problems that exist. One only has to think of all the conditions that are painful and consider the expenditure on investigations and treatment. This is in addition to the loss of productivity. Some 20% of the population suffers chronic pain, including 1:5 children, which begins to provide insight into the immeasurable suffering. People from all corners of society are struggling to understand why they are in pain, do not know what they can do and feel isolated as their plight continues. This does not need to be the case.

UP | understand pain

At UP, we have a vision of a world where people understand pain and know what they can do to live well. This begins with changing the way society thinks about pain, truly understanding the facts, in which case they would know that there is a way forward. We are constantly changing and learning meaning that we have the resources and the potential to get better. People need to know how.

UP is to be re-launched this year as a social enterprise that will deliver the latest knowledge about pain and how it can be applied. The know-how is vital as are the skills of well-being and self-coaching. The programmes will be delivered to people suffering pain and to healthcare professionals who work with people in pain. This includes trainees who are the new generation of clinicians and therapists. We also plan to take our message to the policy makers to create changes ‘top down’.

CRPS UK

The CRPS UK charity supports people who have been diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS — sometimes called RSD) and their families. The most recent diagnostic guide is the Budapest Criteria.

CRPS is poorly recognised and understood. This means that diagnosis and the right treatment can be delayed, resulting in on-going suffering. The pain of CRPS can be unimaginable with the impact upon the person’s life being enormous.

We can and must do better with CRPS and all pain conditions. The right messages early on and the right actions taken by both the individual and clinicians will make a huge difference.

The work being done by both CRPS UK and UP will be instrumental in the forthcoming changes that must happen in society. Pain is a public health issue of the utmost importance — the costs and the suffering. Pain must be addressed in this way, which is what we are doing at UP. This massive problem affects us all and we can do so much to transform the issue.

Please support our work by coming to the charity quiz on Thursday 20th April or donate here.

 

15Mar/17

Values mismatch

Listening to peoples’ stories for over 20 years, one picks up on the important themes that consistently arise. These are the areas that need addressing as part of a full programme to overcome chronic pain. One such theme is the values mismatch.

Values mismatch

Put simply, a values mismatch is when our deepest held beliefs about ourselves and the world are at odds with the value system in which you find yourself. Arguably the most common context for a values mismatch is when the individual’s values do not fit with those of the workplace. A further example can be when a person’s values evolve so that a difference exists between the new values and those held by the family or close network.

As an illustration, trust is the value at odds. With trust being of inherent importance to the person, when the work environment is driven by high levels of competitiveness, the so-called dog eat dog culture, underhand methods can be rife and accepted by the company. This fear based approach causes great suffering. Continuously looking over one’s shoulder is unhealthy and unsustainable. For the person who holds the value of trust to be dear, this can drive a more consistent state of protect. Further to this is the impact upon health and the sense of well-being.

Values mismatch and suffering

The mismatch can affect us deeply as we either try to fit in or somehow rebel against the culture. Both require effort. Add this to the energy cost of being in a sustained state of survival, and one can begin to see how health can be affected. How many people who suffer burnout would tell you that they hated their work? Scratch beneath the surface and you usually discover that it started well. With time they became ground down by the demands, the attitudes and behaviours. We are not separate from the environment, nor the other people who we are surrounded by, and hence the ‘toxic’ place affects our health. Even just thinking about the place or certain people there cause a feeling of discomfort or anxiety.

When we are in survive mode for sustained periods of time it potentially affects many body systems. The systems that protect us are looking out for danger and the feel of our body and self is just that. We feel on edge, uncomfortable, tense, anxious and this tells us that threats are about. They may or may not be, yet this is what we feel. Our body is saying there is danger when in fact there is no actual threat. The systems work on a just in case basis. With protect state ‘on’ consistently, everything appears to be dangerous. Now, every little prompt or cue stokes the fire: watching the news, reading social media, the look someone gives you etc. How you consciously interpret these things and how your body systems alert you has changed.

“Our body is saying that there is danger when there is no actual threat. This is a habit that can change

The common manifestations in terms of health include chronic pain, fibromyalgia, fatigue, poor sleep, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, migraines, struggling to recover from an illness or injury, jaw pain, anxiety, depression, poor concentration and memory, feelings of isolation and despair, and a great deal of suffering.

This does not need to continue. You can change course by understanding why this has happened, addressing the reasons and creating a new way forward. We are designed to learn and change, and with a new moments continuously unfolding, we have enormous potential to succeed with the right thinking and right actions. Writing down our values helps to clarify what is important to us. From there we can see how any mismatch maybe affecting us. Then we can seek to understand how we can best go about achieving alignment with our values. This would form part of a programme of training, coaching and treatment so that you can achieve your best by focusing on your strengths.

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Pain Coach Programme to achieve your best | t. 07518 445493

 

 

 

13Mar/17

3 ways to ease suffering

We all suffer. Suffering is part of living and so is unavoidable. There are many reasons for suffering and they are unique to that person and the way that they view life. The Oxford Dictionary defines suffering as “The state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”. We are all subject to these states regardless of age, gender, culture or class. In fact, we could say that humanity is connected by the universal experience of suffering. Bearing this in mind and essentially normalising suffering as part of life, it would be prudent to develop some skills that allow us to face suffering, transform, learn about, and ease it. Here are 3 ways to ease suffering.

These are simple practices for everyone that can be integrated into day to day life. Moment to moment awareness creates the opportunity to practice healthy habits resulting in living well.

Acceptance

Accepting what is happening right now dissolves any resistance. Resistance results in suffering because we are not happy with how we are or where we are or what we have. This is a common cause of discomfort and resistance can certainly drive tension and pain in the body. Accepting is NOT giving up. Instead it is actively being open to what exists now as a lived experience, allowing it to transform as it always does with each passing moment. Acceptance allows us to move forward in a chosen direction whereas resistance does not.

Mindful practice

There are simple mindful practices that give us insight into the way we think and feel, help us to be acceptant, allow us to let go of unhelpful thoughts and to be open to experiences as they unfold. By the very nature of these practices, a sense of well being emerges as we fully engage with the joys of life as well as think clearly about how to surmount the inevitable challenges we face. Here are a few examples:

  • take 4-5 slightly deeper breaths at regular intervals during the day, being fully aware of the ‘in’ and ‘out’
  • pay full attention to what you are doing, whatever that happens to be
  • formal practice of mindfulness meditation ~ this is best done with a coach or instructor to start, or in a group
Practicing gratitude

There are great benefits of practicing gratitude as a skill of well-being. Next time you are feeling glum, in pain, feeling anxious, try thinking about something you are grateful for. This does not need to be anything momentous, instead something more day to day such as the clothes on your back, the sun in the sky or a text from a friend. It needs to have some kind of meaning to you. Practicing gratitude can change the way we relate to an issue of concern. We release some important and healthy chemicals by actively generating the feeling (the feeling is underpinned by those chemicals as best we know), which creates the conditions for more clarity. Clarity of thought means we can focus on the thinking/actions that can result in face a challenge successfully.

The Pain Coach Programme to overcome pain and to live well | t. 07518 445493

08Mar/17

Find peace

In a sense I think that we are all trying to find peace. We week to find peace within ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves — the two are entwined.

We often hear the word peace nowadays. This is because peace is a state we strive for globally in the face of threats that are often purported in the media. There are fewer who seek the polar opposite; people who appear to welcome violence, war and other destructive states. This can only be because of wrong perceptions of the world resulting in wrong thinking and wrong actions.

In terms of chronic pain, perhaps we can say that we strive for a state of peace. This is an idea that came from a conversation with a learned friend some months ago. It was based upon thinking about the ‘opposite’ of pain, which cannot simply be pain free. When we are pain free, we are not thinking ‘I am pain free’, instead just acting, thinking and perceiving as a blended trio within each moment. To find peace seems to be a good place to start overcoming pain.

What is a state of peace?

By definition, peace means ‘quiet, tranquility, mental calm, serenity; a state of friendliness’ (Oxford Dictionary). Consider how we feel and think when in pain. We are suffering, fighting, surviving, emotionally turbulent, living the storm of physical sensations and the turmoil of the thoughts and feelings about these sensations. The former appears to be a good place to be in comparison. There is however, one issue, and that is the effect of resistance to what is happening right now.

Resistance itself causes great suffering. Not wanting to be here, instead wanting to be there. Not wanting to look like this, instead wanting to look like that, are two common examples. This is being non-acceptant and fighting the present moment. But it does not necessarily seem natural to do anything else other than resist. Why would you not want to feel better? Look better? etc etc.

This is an issue of desire and the grip that it can have upon us that causes suffering. The problem is that if you are strongly focusing upon how you want to be and resisting how you are or what you have, you are missing the opportunity that exists now. This is in the form of acceptance, which is simply acknowledging and being open to what is happening right now without resistance. Accepting what is happening right now relieves the suffering and allows us to take the right actions to find peace. These actions can only happen now because now is the only real moment. Thinking about what you might do or what you did only exist in your (embodied) thoughts. Concrete action can only be in this moment.

By being present we can find peace. This emerges from simple practices such as mindful breathing and mindful activities that mean you are present, aware, open, insightful and accepting in a compassionate way.

Where is peace?

There is only one place that we can find peace. That is within ourselves. I recall a pertinent moment a few years ago when a friend said to me ‘I hope you find peace’. It is something we appear to look for, yet we don’t need to look because it is right here. We simply need to create the conditions for peace to emerge and be felt. Does this mean no pain? No, not necessarily. Can you feel pain and be at peace? Yes, absolutely. And in this state, the pain transforms and our suffering eases. So, when we find peace that was already there, just overladen with our day to day fears and worries, the pain rents less and less space. Then we can concentrate our efforts on living well, which is the way to overcome pain.

How can I be present and find peace?

Everything that ‘happens’ does so now, in this moment. It is called being present and we can be fully aware, attending to this moment to gain all the rewards. To be present we can start with a few simple practices:

1. Take our attention to our breathing, even just 4-5 breaths, and do this regularly through the day ~ set a reminder

2. Fully attend to what we are doing, whatever that may be. ‘An unhappy mind is a wandering mind’ was a recent study title. We are happier when we are attending to what we are doing in this moment.

You may also choose to regularly practice mindfulness and other meditations such as metta, or loving kindness meditation. The formal practice each day develops our ability to accept, let go, be open, be tolerant, gain insight into our own and others’ thinking. In so doing, in the wake of the practice comes a sense of peace and calm that deepens in time. There are well described healthy benefits of regular mindfulness practices yet it is important that we practice for the sake of practice and not to ‘become’ something else. This is a challenge but you will recall that trying to be someone else or be somewhere else creates resistance. By far the best way to begin practice is with a teacher but there are some excellent apps and videos aplenty on you tube; for example Thich Nhat Hanh, The Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard, Ajahn Brahm, Jon Kabat Zinn.

Pain and peace

Pain is as complex as any other lived experience. It involves the whole person, their biology, their consciousness, their past experiences and their genetics to name but a few factors — it is complex! Equally as complex is pain relief that involves all the same factors. Where we feel pain is not where pain is ‘generated’, instead this is where there exists a perceived threat.

Regular readers of modern pain science literature will know that pain is related to being threatened or potentially threatened, acting in the name of survival. The location of the pain is really a projection of all the biology involved with protecting us, emerging in a specific place where we are compelled to attend. If there is actually an injury there it seems to make sense. Often in cases of chronic pain there is no obvious injury or pathology. This is because pain and injury are poorly related. Despite this, the pain felt is the pain felt. Pain cannot be seen so we must listen to the person as it is the individual who feels the pain.

“Pain and injury are poorly related

Existing under a state of threat results in a range of thoughts and behaviours that can be combatant in nature. Consider what we have said about peace. To find peace we must be acceptant, open and demonstrate compassion towards ourselves and others. If we ‘fight’ the pain, we are only fighting ourselves. Creating a sense of peace allows us to choose to focus on the actions (e.g./ exercises, re-framing our thinking to reduce fear, socialising, practicing mindfulness, gradually becoming more active, and many more) that create the conditions for living well.

Overcoming pain is an active task. The person needs guidance, motivation and support but the to begin with the basics to sustainably move in the desired direction. This includes a working knowledge about (your) pain with skills and practices to use day to day, moment to moment. The new knowledge about pain creates a sense of safety rather than threat, peace if you like. This clarity that emerges from understanding pain means that the person can truly focus on what they need to do to get better. This starts with thinking like the healthy person who is living well: ‘what would they think and do here?’ you can ask yourself, before doing exactly that, albeit with certain limitations at the start. These limitations can and will be worked upon: ‘can I?’ turns to ‘I can’ and ‘will I?’ turns to ‘I will.

From a place of peace and clarity come right perceptions about oneself and the world. To find peace is to find it in oneself. It is there and may need uncovering. When you do, the world looks to be a different place. One that is far less threatening and one in which to thrive and to live a meaningful life.

The Pain Coach Programme to address suffering by learning to live well | t. 07518 445493
05Mar/17

Mindfulness in brief and 5 easy practices

Mindfulness in brief and 5 easy practices ~ there are many books and articles available on the topic of mindfulness so I thought I would write a brief summary. Just to add to the existing and vast literature….

This is how Thich Nhat Hanh answers the question ‘What is mindfulness?’ in his book for children ‘Is nothing something?’:

“Mindfulness is energy. This energy helps us enjoy what is happening right now. Mindful energy can bring us a lot of joy. It helps us suffer less and learnt from our suffering. A good way to get some mindful energy is to close your eyes and breath easily. Just pay attention to your breath. If you can enjoy your in-breath and out-breath, you are creating mindful energy.”

Simple.

“Mindfulness is energy ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

To practice mindfulness you do NOT have to do any of the following:

  • Become religious or change religions ~ mindful practice is not about being religious.
  • Wear an outfit.
  • Pay money.
  • Change anything about yourself.
  • Go to a special place

In other words, anyone can practice, wherever they find themselves and gain the benefits of being mindful, although one of the key points about being mindful is that you are not actually ‘doing’ anything.

Being mindful means you are aware of what is happening right now, accepting what is happening right now, accepting who you are and how you feel and what you are thinking right now, without judgement. This observation and experience of what it is like to be you creates insight into you and the world, seeing reality and seeing things for what they are rather that being judged or clouded by unskillful thinking. Instead of striving to be somewhere else or someone else, we accept who we are and cultivate compassion towards ourselves and others. Both are very important skills for being healthy.

We can simply practice mindfulness by paying attention to our (normal) breathing, which means that we are present in this moment. Much suffering comes from either dwelling or repeating the past, or from anticipating a future that is not pleasant. Some of the thoughts can stem form being hard on ourselves, telling ourselves that we are not good enough or worthy of happiness and health. This is wrong thinking and mindfulness allows us to see this and let go.

Further suffering comes from wanting to be somewhere else whilst not accepting where one is now. Similarly with material goods: wanting something but not being grateful of satisfied with what you have now. It comes down to the same thing really, that is accepting yourself and current circumstances with compassion. Acceptance is certainly not giving in, instead seeing things for what they really are and letting go of resistance. Letting go of resistance immediately eases suffering.

Of course you can download an app or buy a book, but by far the best is to be instructed by someone who knows the practice. The group dynamic is often a good start point, gaining the benefit of practicing together. Questions inevitably arise and it is important that these be answered so that you understand what you are doing and why. Having said that, here are some simple practices to start right now.

Mindfulness in brief and 5 easy practices ~

1. Set a reminder, and every few hours stop and pay attention to 4-5 breaths. This brings you to the present moment, allowing you to realise the effects of thoughts; and they are just thoughts. How do they differ from reality and what is actually happening right now?

2. Ask yourself how you are choosing to think right now?

3. Name the emotion you are feeling.

4. Pay full attention to what you are doing, whatever that happens to be.

5. Check in to your body and see what is going on — tension? warmth? comfort? etc etc. Notice the ‘what it is like’ and the thoughts that you have about the experience — the two are different and there is great value in knowing the difference.

~ mindfulness practices are part of the Pain Coach Programme developing insight, calm and compassion to create the conditions for recovery and living well.
Pain Coach Programme to overcome chronic pain t. 07518 445493