Tag Archives: stress

12Nov/17
Overcome stress and pain to live well

The worried world and what we can do

Overcome stress and pain to live well

A recent article by Oliver Burkeman entitled ‘Anxiety bites. How to keep calm when world events are freaking you out’ highlighted the impact of Brexit and Trump upon people’s life perspectives. He states that levels of anxiety and being troubled have gone up, quoting the American Psychological Association as finding 57% of those surveyed to feel stressed by the political climate. There has also been a rise on the UK. We are, it seems, as a society, worrying about life and the future. Are we in a worried world?

We can argue that anxiety, like all perceptions, are inferred states as we try to make sense of the possible and most likely causes of the sensory information. After all, we are a bag of chemicals, and depending upon where they are and what they are doing, our brain has to make a best guess as to what they could mean based upon what we already know (priors). It is interesting that the ‘feeling’, the ‘what it is like’ of anxiety is similar to excitement. The key is the interpretation and what you tell yourself: I am excited or I am anxious. Try it.

Burkeman raises some good points. He mentions the contagion of anxiety as we are tacitly capable of sharing our emotions with others whereby both you and I feel anxious together despite being distinct organisms. Consider how quickly the atmosphere changes in an office or the mood of a football crowd. We are supposed to do something about the problems we perceive, but what should that action be? A feeling of outrage, powerlessness, isolation, and despair can prevail when we become over-focused on problems. This is some protective biology at play that results in us drifting into that state and maintaining it by continuing to attend to certain thought patterns. Burkeman also picks up on the notion of fear, with one of the therapists he interviewed mentioning the deep rooted and basic fear in life that stems from childhood. Without the safety of reliable parents, a child is destined to fend for herself, making the world appear to be a very dangerous place. Of course this can be hugely amplified if suffering or having suffered abuse when the protect systems are deeply provoked and remain active.

This is a serious issue. We have progressed remarkably as a species and the momentum is building, yet we appear to be falling behind when it comes to the so-called mental health. Regular readers and followers will know that I have an issue with this term, which I feel implies a dualist approach to the human experience. Experience is embodied (Varela et al. 2017). Everything we think and do is embodied, meaning that suffering depression and anxiety, the common and increasing problems previously identified, emerge in the bodily self. Where do you feel anxious? Most people will say in their stomach or chest.

Consistently being in a state of protect has health consequences as our resources divert towards defence rather than nourishment. This in turn raises the chance that the person will suffer a plethora of conditions, including those of an inflammatory and auto-immune nature. In my view a serious consideration for society (and policy makers), this is likely one of the reasons for the uptick in chronic pain, remembering that pain is also a mode of defence inferred from the existing circumstances.

what can we do?

This all seems a bit grim as we quickly forget the possibilities in life and the beauty that we are surrounded by in nature and human beings. So what can we do? Certainly knowing what we can control and focusing upon this rather than what we cannot control is a good start point together with a picture of what we actually want. This is the basic model of success. In terms of chronic pain, this is the first step we take when addressing the problem(s) before coming up with the principles to follow in order to achieve wins and overcome pain.

Here are a few simple tips, beginning with the creation of inner calm. Why is this so important? Because it gives us a perspective, making contact with our reality, allowing us to see things for what they are instead of being caught up in emotions that are the fabric of thoughts past and future. We learn to sense that inner calm, a feeling in the body akin to a deep peace and knowing. I would argue that this is a natural state, and one we can learn to access routinely each day, through the day, as well as when we need to be calm, clear and to see things as they really are. Biologically speaking, when we know and live this calmness, we are in parasympathetic mode, the branch of the autonomic nervous system that nourishes us.

Two simple ways to create inner calm: (1) take 3 breaths and slowly breathe out, paying attention to the breathe all the way in and all the way out. (2) take 10 breaths, following your breathing from the entry into your nose or mouth into your body and then letting go naturally, not trying to control or change your breathing at all. Note how you feel.

Further practices that can be integrated and implelemented into daily living include the practice of gratitude (Mccullough et al. 2002) and acts of generosity or kindness (Layous et al. 2014). Both are now known to be distinctly healthy and easily practiced each day, much like learning a musical instrument. We are not only considering the healthy effects, but also buffering against life’s challenges and the approach that the person takes to life–how do you do life? Possibility our problem?

Two easy ways to practice gratitude and generosity: (1) each day write down 5 things that you are grateful for in your life. (2) choosing to do something for someone else, including people you do not know, such as giving up your seat or letting someone go first. There are many opportunities through the day, however we must be aware and take note of how we feel, noticing the positive emotions as they arise. The more we notice, the more we notice, establishing the build and broaden effect (Kok et al. 2013).

Despite the world events and those closer to us in our days to day lives, it is our perception that is key–my own unique interpretation. As Shakespeare wrote: ‘there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’. These words highlight the importance of how you choose to approach life and the situations within your life. The practice of daily skills such as those outlined above are simple habits we can create to develop our thinking and our style of ‘doing’ life. Like other habits they become part of what we do with greater and greater ease, building our wellness that does not simple happen without effort and persistence.


The skills of being well are an intrical part of The Pain Coach Programme that is not only about overcoming pain, but living well, the best you can.

 

24Jul/17

Improve staff fitness

Improve staff fitness

Call to improve staff fitness by the Chief Executive of Public Health England, Duncan Selbie

To improve staff fitness is a great idea all round. According to The Observer yesterday, the cost of staff sickness is £29 billion a year. Denis Campbell reports upon Duncan Selbie’s call for companies to encourage healthy practices. Imagine freeing up some of that cash for education, including educating the next generation to look after themselves. We may laud ‘great results’ in A*’s and A’s but at what cost? We continue to see the figures for mental health rising in kids? I would rather my kid had a D, had tried his best and was all-round healthy. What use is an A if you are suffering depression?

“To improve staff fitness is a great idea all round”

The main target for this message seems to be small and medium sized businesses. Naturally this draws responses about the costs and limited opportunities within such firms compared to bigger companies. However, this problem can easily be solved by creating guidelines and providing support ~ see below for some ideas. It would be well worth the investment.

We can look at the trend in big businesses of building gyms on-site, having physiotherapy and doctors available, bringing sandwiches to the desk and even a neck massage while your pour over your spreadsheets. However, you could also argue that this merely keeps people at their desk or in the workplace for longer, often in the very environment that is causing most of the problems!

“The skills of wellbeing easily weave into the day”

There are a vast number of different options for healthy practices and skills of wellbeing. Teaching people such practices each day, I am very familiar working with individuals who have decided to create new patterns (habits) to supersede existing patterns that cause pain and suffering. Most people I see have chronic pain together with varying degrees of anxiety, depression and other persisting ills (e.g. migraine, headache, IBS, pelvic pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue). Usually this is accompanied by perfectionism (expectations are never met resulting in ‘I am not good enough’ and consequential stress) and self-criticism to a unhealthy degree.

Many people spend their lives in protect mode. Occasionally they experience care-giving mode, but not often. Biologically these people are likely to be ‘inflamed’ much of the time, which explains many of the common complaints in the modern world for which medicine has no answer. The endless search for a medical explanation leads down a slope of decreasing expectations and hope. In essence, like chronic pain, this is not actually a medical problem. Once any sinister pathology has been excluded, the biomedical model offers nothing here as the problem is embedded in society; i.e. it is a public health issue.

To address a public health issue, we need society’s thinking to change. For thinking to change, existing beliefs must be shaken as we update our understanding. Understand Pain is a purpose led enterprise that works to change society’s thinking about pain. In the same way we can build upon the strengths in society with regards to being active. The ‘already active’ can become champions, spreading the right messages about the healthy practices that they have adopted. These people are living examples of the benefit.

“Staff fitness benefits business and society”

Staff fitness

Turning this on its head as I like to do, let’s think about living well and meaningfully. In other words, what can we do and what can we focus on? What positive action can we take as individuals and society? This is not just about small and medium sized businesses creating opportunity for healthy practices. Businesses must collaborate with staff who they themselves need to be motivated to live well. We all have this responsibility to ourselves, our families and society.

There is too much knowledge to sit back now, we all have a role to play, not just the business owners. However, if owners and executives take the right steps and lead from the front, they will inspire action. Do we have good enough leaders to do this and recognise the benefits for the business itself and society as a whole? That’s another question!

What could we do at our place?

Consider how staff will engage with the business and colleagues when the right environment and ethos exists. What are the company values? This is a great opportunity for small and medium sized businesses to engage deeply with its people. Even if this means re-writing the values in an effort to keep growing.

  • Create a space for exercise
  • Create a space for meditation
  • Link with local teachers: yoga, Pilates etc. ~ also an opportunity for staff to bond by doing something together
  • Encourage meetings that are mobile ~ where can we go? Let’s walk and talk
  • Encourage conversation over email/text ~ walk to that person’s desk
  • Compulsory lunch break away from the desk
  • Education programme for the skills of wellbeing

Using your imagination, you will be able to come up with some great ideas for your place. Your people are your greatest resource. Looking after them means looking after your business.


If you would like to know more about healthy practices and skills of wellbeing, please contact us. See what we can do for you as an individual and a business

Individual coaching and workshops ~ t. 07518 445493
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
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

23Oct/16

Is mindfulness for everyone?

MindfulnessWalk into a bookshop and you cannot help but notice the ever-increasing number of books about mindfulness filling the shelves, which begs the question, is mindfulness for everyone?

In my opinion, mindfulness is a practice that everyone could choose to incorporate into their lives, however, not everyone will wish to make that choice. It is also the case that the route to mindful practice can be different for different people. For example, sitting or lying and being mindful or meditating can be result in greater suffering in some circumstances and hence that person needs something else at that time. An individual suffering PTSD for instance, could discover that mindful practice leads to a greater state of stress and anxiety. There are several possible reasons for this, including whether they have been instructed in the right way about what mindfulness really is and how we go about the practice. With so many people offering mindfulness at the moment, it can be difficult to know who best to listen to or follow.

Starting any new practice is a challenge and requires dedication and perseverance. In so doing, one learns and realises that each moment there is an opportunity to get better at what you are doing. As Ajahn Brahm says, ‘there’s no such thing as a bad meditation’ — we can always take something from the practice, and the fact that you have practiced has created a learning opportunity. Sometimes the practice results in a great feeling of serenity as the inner dialogue quietens, and sometimes the voice chunters away. Good? Bad? It is what you think it is!

Mindfulness is simply about being aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations as they pass by, which they always do. The realisation of impermanence is an important one as moments continuously flow. Noticing what you are thinking and feeling without judgement means that you begin to see things for what they are and the causes of your, and other’s suffering. This insight is invaluable for our health. One is tempted to say emotional health but this would suggest some kind of separation between body and mind. There can be no separation between body and mind as we are a whole person living experiences that are unified of cognition, perception and action. The practices of mindfulness provide a way of ‘doing’ this, although really when being mindful, we are not actually doing anything other than being aware, using our attention. To add compassion to this means that you have the intention to be kind to others and yourself with all the accompanying health benefits from positive social interactions and kindness to self.

Mindfulness is a practice with several straightforward methods (below), which is why it is accessible to all. However, actual practicing is the challenge as we have so many existing habits of thought. Our minds do wander and are filled with chaotic thoughts that inform feelings, emotions, actions and perceptions, yet all of these dimensions inform each other. This complexity defines the challenge and how one day we can quieten down the inner chat and another day it seems to make no difference. Remembering that it is not the thought or series of thoughts that is the issue, instead it is recognising that this is the content of the mind, which is not me per se. I am not the contents of my mind, and being able to realise that is hugely empowering.

Two common practices are mindful breathing and mindful walking, both if which are accessible at any moment to most. Paying attention to what arises in this moment is at the essence of the practice that develops one’s ability to focus, choose what to attend to, to reappraise a thought pattern, see things for what they are, realise that anger or another emotion is present yet you can remain focused on your intention. Keeping a focus on your intention is a great skill demonstrated at a time when an argument ensues. Instead of emotional reactions with hurtful words, maintaining a course for the intention that is usually a kind action towards another, you listen deeply and understand the other party, allowing for effective communication towards a resolution. Be able to see the reasons for the other person’s actions provides great opportunity for transforming the situation. This would be a good example of using mindfulness and compassion, the two differing.

Returning to the primary question, I believe that mindful practices can be integrated practically into people’s day to day living if the person makes the choice to do so. Potentially, this is the case for anyone. However, each person needs good instruction and guidance, in essence to become their own coach to transform their inner dialogue to one of kindness and compassion toward self and others. Mindfulness creates the awareness within which this can happen through attention training (mindfulness is about attention whereas compassion is my motivation or intention ~ there’s a difference). Some will need other ways into the regular practice by using breathing and movement, some will need different explanations to be guided and supported, but the the aim is always to develop ways to reduce suffering.

RS

Mindfulness practice is a part of the Pain Coach Programme for overcoming pain | contact us by email: [email protected] or call us 07518 445493

11Jul/15

Pain and the perfectionist

By LordEfan | https://flic.kr/p/kUfKKZ

By LordEfan | https://flic.kr/p/kUfKKZ

Pain and the perfectionist could be a title of a book in which the character suffers on-going pain, seeking to conquer himself using his perfectionist traits. I know of no such book, but I do know that a significant number of people who I see with chronic pain are perfectionists.

Like most things though, it is how you look at it that makes the difference. Most traits that we exhibit have a benefit and a purpose in our lives in one quarter but can be problematic in other arenas. Perfectionism is no different.

Whilst being a perfectionist would be highly adaptable when studying the detail of a document, arranging a bouquet or organising an event, when this spills over into being hard upon oneself, it can push the individual too far. Compassion must start with the self — being kind to yourself. It is all too common that people are self-critical, either overtly or more frequently via the inner dialogue. Continually telling yourself that you are not good enough or that you will never achieve is the exact opposite of believing in yourself. If there is one characteristic that is vital in overcoming pain, it is the belief that you can do it.

The sense of never being quite good enough is a safety mechanism of sorts. On the flip side it may drive the individual to practice or work harder, and this is acceptable if it does not cause angst and on-going stress that is incongruent with health and a feeling of wellness. Chronic stress is a significant issue in the modern world, having a huge role in many of the common problems that we see today — e.g. functional pain syndromes such as IBS, headache, migraine, functional abdominal complaints. Chronic stress causes the body to set itself in an inflammatory state, and there is a constant preparedness for action to fight or run away from a wild animal. Except there is no wild animal, just our thoughts and interpretations. These we can learn to observe rather than become embroiled within with techniques such as mindfulness.

Perfectionism is a strength that we can foster as part of the programme of overcoming pain. I base my treatment and training programmes upon your strengths as these are what we use in life to succeed, and succeed you will by nurturing these within an action plan that takes you back to a meaningful life. It is easy to say don’t be too hard on yourself, yet difficult to master. But it is possible to harness the strength of perfectionism and use it to overcome your pain.

For information about the Pain Coach Programme to overcome chronic pain, call 07518 445493. The Pain Coach Programme is also a learning programme for clinicians who want to develop their skills, either 1:1 mentoring or in small groups. Call us for details or email [email protected]

 

16Apr/15

Mindfulness is a great skill

Mindfulness is a great skill to learn at any age. To be mindful simply means to be aware of what is happening right now and without judgement–notice how you judge your thoughts and how that makes you feel.

Everything that we are aware of is our own, unique interpretation that emerges from our belief system. We appraise our thoughts, our actions, others, and the environment around us. This appraisal evokes an emotional and bodily response in many cases, even if it is just a shrug of the shoulders. It is important to clarify that emotions, body responses, thoughts and actions are all part of one and the same; i.e. the whole person. Sadly, much of the thinking, particularly in health, remains Cartesian and separates mind and body. This is despite reams of research papers and common sense telling us otherwise. What does your tummy do when you think about giving the presentation tomorrow? Your body reacts in response to the thought, and that reaction involves the nervous system, the motor system, the brain, the immune system etc etc….WHOLE PERSON.

So, if the appraisal or our perception guides how we respond, then we have a buffer between any give situation or thought and what happens next. We have a choice — ‘the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another’ said the great philosopher William James. Shakespeare had insight: ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’.

Mindfulness is the skill that allows you to observe thoughts and interpretations rather than become embroiled, living out thinking that is felt in the body as emotions and tensions. You notice with quiet curiosity how your body is responding, lifting the veil of suffering.  We have that choice, but most don’t realise, operating on automatic overdrive leading to repeated stress physiology that affects every body system.

A stress response is designed to protect us from the dangers of wild animals. The same responses kick in to a threatening thought–the most dangerous things we face are our own thoughts and interpretations: a shadow after watching a horror film is threatening because of the way you think about it and create a story of a murderer lurking behind the tree. Actually, it’s a cat but that story does not feature. What stories do you tell yourself to create fear? How useful is fear? Not very.

Fear triggers further negative thinking, and that gets us nowhere. Respect and understanding create opportunities to learn and grow. Much better.

How are you mindful? If you look on the bookshelves, tome after tome sits there awaiting your mind. It seems that everyone has something to say on the matter. The reality is that mindful practice is simple. Practice is a habit that needs to be grooved. You must fail and fail and fail again. That is how we learn. And when you think you are good, fail again to get better. Learn to love failing because then you are getting better!

Start being mindful by noticing what is happening now. Where are you? What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Take a breath and observe it. The rise and fall of your chest and tummy. It’s a wonderful feeling to sit still. Especially in this crazy, high speed world with demands pouring in digitally and otherwise. Simply recall that whatever comes your way, it is your perception that counts. You are in charge of that perception. Make a choice. Create calm so that your body systems can do their job and slip out of protect mode and into health mode. On-going stress accounts for and contributes to most of the modern day ills–chronic pain, infertility, headaches, chronic inflammation, IBS etc etc. To think effectively about stress we need to look at it as a societal, cultural, physiological, personal phenomena.

So, I thought I would write a book about it as well. A very short one. Coming soon.

Mindfulness practice is part of the Pain Coach programme; a complete strategy to overcome chronic pain | t. 07518 445493

02Apr/15

My tips for healthy revision

Easter holidays are here! Bunnies, chocolate eggs, Easter bonnets, spring and…..revision. Chatting to my younger patients, they all tell me that this holiday will be dominated by revision. So it is not so much a holiday but instead, 2-3 weeks of homework. Perhaps Easter Sunday will be a day off.

This appears to be the way of school life in the modern world. The demands increase, the pressures increase, the stress and anxiety increase, and the pains increase. Is this right? 1:5 children reporting chronic pain. Chronic pain is the number one global health burden and depression is at number two — and frequently they come as a pair.

Body systems are on alert. They are working hard for survival instead of orchestrating the biology of health. In adults we used to call the effects ‘burn out’. These systems that protect us can only function at that level for a finite period of time.

Of course there is nothing wrong with hard, conscientious work. But, we need to regularly put the heavy bags down and take a break.

If you or your kids are entering the revision season, here are some handy tips for them to reduce the risk of ill-health, persisting stress responses, and flare-ups of existing aches and pains. We not only need to be physically fit, we also need to be emotionally fit. The two are not exclusive but instead come together to form the whole person. The whole person is not in isolation to their environment, beliefs or what has been before. Dwelling on negative events in the past and anticipating an unpleasant future both create suffering, until you realise that both are in our minds. The problem is that we play these out in our body, e.g. tension, pain, anxiety. It is not the situation that is important, but rather how we respond.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Shakespeare (Hamlet)

My Tips for Healthy Revision

  1. Make a timetable that incorporates your best time of day for learning, chunks of 40 minutes, exercise, movement.
  2. Motion is lotion: change your posture every 15-20 minutes; stand up and move around every 40 minutes
  3. Take 3 breaths every 20-30 minutes (when you breathe out, muscle tension naturally relaxes, which you will notice if you pay attention). The breaths can be slightly deeper than normal. Of course you can do this for longer and more often if you wish. Focusing on breathing anchors you to the present moment which means that you are putting down the heavy bags of ‘past’ and ‘future’. The bonus is clarity of thought and hence performance, memory and learning can improve as you become more efficient.
  4. Exercise before you start working; e.g. a walk, a jog. And a little more later as well; 20-30 minutes is good.
  5. Test yourself on the material you are learning — many people tell me that they copy their notes out again and again. You will have a nice pile of notes, but how much do you know?

** BONUS tip 1: set up the right environment — your desk space, the lighting, odours (don’t under-estimate the effects of smell; e.g./ use an infuser for a fresh ambience).

** BONUS tip 2: dress for work and sit for work — this will put you in the right mindset. We respond to our body language as much as our body language communicates how we are feeling. Keep moving (motion is lotion) but concentrate and engage more by sitting up.

** BONUS tip 3: make sure you have enough sleep — minimum 8 hours, and if you are tired, have a power nap between 1pm and 3pm for 20-30 minutes. You need to refresh and renew and you need sleep to learn.

Pain CoachFor more information about Pain Coach programmes and wellbeing programmes for health and performance, call us today 07518 445493

20Mar/15

Pain and trauma 

Pain and trauma — The smell of freshly mown grass would be enough to trigger feelings of panic and pain in Clive. He didn’t know that this normally innocuous odour was a cue for protection and re-ignition of memories of a car accident that occurred several years before. This is a classic example of the co-existence of pain and trauma.

Equally in others the cue could be a piece of music, a particular place, a person or a taste. We are multisensory and at the time of a trauma, the context creates a multisensory (molecular) memory that has high emotional valency due to the unpleasantness of the situation. At the time of an incident we may cope but afterwards there can be a trauma response that is when the coping fails and the person becomes ridden with anxiety. The physical dimension of anxiety commonly manifests as tension, discomfort, feelings of unease and pain that can gradually become increasingly widespread. Initially localised to where an injury may have been sustained, often it does not take long for the sensitivity to increase and the pain map widen.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a relatively well known term and describes how a person continues to experience  the trauma despite that fact that it has passed. They continue to replay the tape and suffer the consequences: pain, tension, anxiety. The simple fact is that when we think about something, if we are embroiled with that thought, we live it out through our entire self: that is the physical feeling, the emotions and the thoughts all emerging as the one experience. The different dimensions are not in isolation to each other but rather integrated into the reality of that moment.

The problem appears to lie with the attempts to numb and avoid the trauma whilst repeatedly re-experiencing the event. This struggle causes great suffering whilst the body pain continues and often amplifies, vigilance to bodily sensations increase and other symptoms can begin to emerge: digestive problems, abdominal pain, headaches, disrupted sleep and concentration.

In essence the body is in protect and survive mode. All resources are being diverted to survival and hence the motor system is on alert ready to fight an opponent/wild animal or to run away (muscle tension, overactive muscles), the immune system is primed for healing initially but then drops off, digestion falters and vigilance is high for threat. With continuous feelings of anxiety, it seems like all life presents to you is dangerous.

Pain associated with PTSD is a good example of the need to think about the whole person and all the inter-related dimensions of pain: physical, emotional and cognitive. It is always about the individual as much as the condition, and the environment in which they reside. For pain to get better, the person must get better.  There are a number of newer approaches based on top-down mechanisms (brain focused), however my belief is that we have an embodied mind. In other words, our (physical) bodies are as much the experience as the thought itself and therefore we must consider this in any treatment programme. Promising techniques may exist in reprogramming memories or learning how to re-interpret thoughts, but where do we feel the sensations? In the body.

Example programme

Foundation:

  • understand pain and symptoms—the biology of pain and stress, what influences pain and stress, what triggers pain and stress, how thoughts and feelings are part of the pain experience, other influences such as tiredness, the environment, beliefs, gender and prior experiences. Setting the scene with modern pain science reduces fear and anxiety as the patient starts to see all the opportunities for change.
  • re-training body sense and normal movement that is commonly affected in pain and PTSD.
  • learn skills to ease muscles tension and over-activity, how to switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic to create the conditions for change, easing out of survival and into well-being in both thought and action.
  • create the vision of where the patient wants to be and plan how that will happen
  • check patient’s language (verbal, body and the ‘internal voice’) and change if necessary

From the foundation the above skills are developed alongside motivation and resilience training, focused attention training for clarity of thought. The patient must be able to problem solve moment to moment and use their skills and techniques independently whilst being fully supported and progressed along, always Molina at moving forward. There may be a need to plan a return to work, return to sports or increasing other limited activities gradually.

Clearly any programme must be individualised and monitored closely alongside treatment given for the purposes of pain relief. I commonly use my hands to desensitise and reduce pain, often teaching the patient how to do this themselves or how to involve their partner.  The notion that hands on therapy does not have a role in dealing with pain is wrong in my view. We need touch for normal healthy development and it plays an important social role. Judicious use of touch therapies can help to develop trust between care giver and recipient and change the processing of signals from the body, also having a top-down effect when explained.

We are complex, pain is complex, pain relief is complex; however this creates many opportunities for change. And our role is to facilitate change, to focus on our own natural ability to create health and wellbeing. We must acknowledge and validate pain, teach patients about their pain but then we must focus on moving on, so the less attention on pain the better. Let’s think about what we can do — the CAN mentality and start changing the largest global health burden. Because we can.

Pain CoachContact us for details about the treatment, training and coaching programmes for pain sufferers and for clinicians wanting to become a Pain Coach (small group training and 1:1 mentoring): call 07518 445493