Christmas top tips to thrive rather than survive!
Getting the best of Christmas ~ here are some top tips if you’re suffering pain so that you can maximise your enjoyment and create some great memories!
“get the best of you
Christmas is not an easy time for everyone. There are numerous challenges that include preparing a lunch, buying and wrapping gifts and seeing relatives. Add a layer of persistent pain, and these and other challenges are somewhat amplified. Having a plan helps you to organise your part in the festive season, allowing you to enjoy the time in the best possible way.
How are you framing the Christmas period?
The inner dialogue or script we are running has an enormous impact on how we have that very experience. If I keep telling myself that it will be tough, or tiring, or painful, then it usually is and more so. In essence we are feeding the prediction plus our choice of behaviour will enact those thoughts. So, write a positive script that is rich with all that you want. This does not necessarily mean that it turns out exactly this way, but it will be much better than if we anticipate the worst. What we focus upon we get more of!
My Christmas will be ______________. Fill in the blank and keep focusing on this picture and how you can go about doing your best to achieve it. This is the basic model of success used by anyone who has achieved results, including you! Clarify the picture of what you want and then decide upon the principles to follow to do your best to get there.
Make a plan
For each day of the festive period make a plan. You will need to prioritise your activities and create space for ‘refresh and renew’ time. To prioritise you can make a list of all the things you want to do. Then categorise them A-C (A the most important), before numbering 1, 2, 3, 4 etc (1 the most important).
Your plan is flexible, meaning that if it does not turn out exactly as you wished, you can accept the changes. It is useful to have a set of principles to follow, which allow for flexibility within the plan. Here are some examples;
- Knowing that wherever you are, you can create calm by using breathing or imagery, either because you are aware of a more intense emotional state or just because you wish to plug in and recharge.
- Motion is lotion is a way of nourishing yourself with simple movements that you know are safe, despite how they may feel at the time. Pain and stiffness are both need states that we perceive in order to choose an action that will satisfy the need. This is much like hunger and thirst.
- Refresh and renew time is when you deeply relax, engage in something pleasurable, have a conversation, listen to music, look at a scene with awe, practice gratitude.
Write your plan out so that you are much more likely to commit. You may like to share your plan with someone as a further way of cementing your intended actions.
Motion is lotion
Movement is fundamental for our health as it is the way we nourish our body and our brain (the two are not separate–we are whole). Movement is part of the way we are and the way we represent ourselves to the world. Consider how you can recognise a friend from far away by the way that they walk.
Motion is lotion is the consistent practice of moving, little and often through the day. Stiffness is a common bedfellow of pain due to the guarding (overactive) muscles that become tense and tight. The feeling of stiffness is inferred as a way to make us move, much like pain is an inferred (whole person) state to make us protect ourselves and meet the impending need.
Repeated simple movements that are tolerable or feel good will build the evidence that we are actually safe. This momentum creates a new back story that informs the next moment in such a way as to drive easier and easier movements. This is a practice and must be used through the day, every day. As a guide, when sedentary, change position every 15 minutes, and stand up every 30 minutes. Part of your planning (see above) will be how you can integrate movement into your day.
Be aware of what is happening right now
Being ‘in the moment’ is not just a phrase. There is no rehearsal for life; this is it. ‘Life is long if you know how to use it’ is Seneca’s classic title. Using our time wisely maximises the opportunities we have presented to us each day, together with an openness to experience. The beginner’s mind illustrates this well, whereby we maintain a wonder about our perception of the world that unfolds each moment, much like a small child walking into a grotto, experiencing the impact of the lights and aromas of Christmas.
Mindful practice is about being present, aware and open to all experiences without judgement. Noticing emotions, feelings, thoughts and sensations as they come and as they go is at the heart of the practice, however they appear. Quickly we can become familiar with the impermanent nature of things, so no matter what you are feeling right now, it will pass. We can easily integrate mindfulness into our day with a simple ‘formal’ practice of 10-15 minutes together with moment to moment awareness through the day. The latter is achieved by paying attention to a few breaths, which bring you to the present moment rather than dwelling and embodying the past or an anticipated future.
A further practice is to notice positive feelings and emotions through the day as they arise. ‘What we focus on, we get more of’, is a phrase I repeat to clients, as they train themselves to build awareness of all perceptions, in particular those that feel good. The broaden and build effect of noticing positive emotions has been well studied by Barbara Fredrickson, and it only takes a short period of practice for the impact to grow. Good feelings can often be subtle and pass by quickly, whereas negative emotions often hit us hard and linger for long periods. Paying attention to each moment as often as you can, permits the awareness of the positive in its many forms, building your wellness and ability to notice more. There will be plenty of good feelings to notice if you choose to create a positive approach to Christmas, pay attention and address your ever changing needs (see below).
Meeting your needs
We can strongly argue that feelings arising in the body are the conscious emergence of need states. I feel thirsty, I feel hungry, I have an itch, are all common examples. Pain and stiffness are also need states that motivate us to take action to meet the need, perhaps more urgently that some of the others.
When we feel thirst, this is a user-friendly representation of complex biology (sub-personal), which we only need consider as a percept to address by drinking. Pain can be considered in the same light to a degree. The variance comes from the desire to know why we are in pain. Is it something really dangerous? Clinicians must do their best to answer this question for the person.
Much of the suffering comes not from the pain itself, but the way in which the person interprets and thinks about the pain. This is why understanding pain is so important, and why many people feel immediate relief on knowing the answer. If you consider that pain is based upon the perception of threat, understanding pain is a way to reduce this threat together with knowing what can be done.
On feeling thirsty, we drink until the feeling appears to pass. On feeling pain, we must keep using our practices to create the conditions of ‘safety’ until we start to sense an easing, which will come. This may be repetition for a good period of time along with consistent practices we are using to get better overall. We must also address the reasons why, if we know, the state may have arisen. For example, a situation that is perceive as stressful, tiredness, anxiety, different or new movements, or a change of environment to name but a few. Pain is embodied and embedded in the context of your life, hence all factors need attention and new approaches engaged where existing ones fail.
An example to illustrate: I have neck pain sitting at my desk. I must move and stretch to nourish, and keep doing so until there is a sense of relief (this may need to be consistent through the day). I must also address the reasons why it could be painful. For example, I have sat here for a long time repeating the same posture and movement, I am feeling anxious about this piece of work or a forthcoming meeting, my mind is wandering, I am tired. Without considering all influences as well as the actual perception, there is not adequate reason for your body systems that protect you to shift gears. We actively shift gears with new thinking and new actions.
Here I have outlined some simple practices and approaches that you can decide to adopt for not only the Christmas period, but in a way to overcome your pain. The Pain Coach Programme is a practical approach to living life and building wellness as a buffer to the challenges that arise for each person. We can choose our style of ‘doing life’, and this has a significant impact upon whether we reach our potential or not. The Programme is about getting the best of you, or peak performance in different areas of your life. Each day presents a range of opportunities. Which will you engage with?
Here’s an equation:
(My current physical ability – my tolerance) + my approach = what I achieve
“How can I be the best me, and enjoy the process?
** Please note that these practices should not replace your existing treatment or therapy programme. You should always check with your healthcare professional if unsure.