Dear Grace Q & A: How do I keep my spirits up long term, when living with emotional and physical pain?
I really hear how difficult it is to cope emotionally when you are hurting for a long time and I hope these 5 points help you manage the pain and still find some peace:
1. Build Resilience
Resilience supports us to cope with uncertainty. Resilience is something we can choose to build.
The factors which make up resilience have been identified by psychologists. We can learn resilience as surely as we can learn how to use Instagram or make a cup of tea.
According to the psychologist, Susan Kobasa, there are three main elements that resilient people possess: challenge, commitment, and control.
She further explains, you can develop resilience in several ways:
If you can create an accessible, sustainable exercise routine and work on the quality of your sleep it will give you more resources to handle stress.
The stronger you feel, the easier it is for you to overcome challenges.
Connect to your community, so that you have a support network to fall back on.
Focus on setting specific and achievable personal goals, and work on building your self-confidence.
Identify as a survivor, be proud of what you are doing and of overcoming challenges.
2. Develop a Supportive Daily Practice
Pick what you are drawn to from here, and don’t be afraid to explore something new…. these options are just the beginning.
* Journaling – in journalling you take a book, a pad, a dictaphone and pour your emotions into it. You don’t have to chronicle your life, just write what comes, keep the pencil moving and if you get stuck write like you are writing a letter to a friend.
* Relaxation – this has many forms and The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook has most of them.
* Meditations – again a huge topic but life changing. If you want somewhere to begin, Deepak Chopra and Oprah’s 21 Day Meditation Challenge is on now – I’m taking part, come and join us.
* Energy work – everything from Reiki to energy clearing comes under this, but learning to be able to give yourself an energy treatment can be marvellously beneficial in so many situations. Begin by looking at your options and contacting the professional body like the UK Reiki Federation.
* Grounding yourself – going outside can sometimes shift things amazingly. Make a practice of spending time outdoors, can you go for a walk or wheelchair ride, volunteer to walk a dog at a local sanctuary or grow a garden?
* Art therapy – can express your emotions, store them, process them and invite deep healing.
* Support groups – solidarity can help us feel like we fit in and are not alone. Find people who fit you and learn and grow together.
* Aromatherapy – using essences of flowers and herbs, aromatherapy is a very powerful way to effect change on our emotions and all of our healing selves.
* Gratitude list – a gratitude practice can be revolutionary and shift your whole way of thinking. Begin with writing down three things every day you are grateful for. I bet that by the third month you are filling pages with gratitudes and feeling happier too.
* Healing Box Self-Care Kit – Healing Boxes CIC grew from here. It’s a box, a little like the emotional support box below, that you store your tools in. If you want us to build you a box to take on your healing journey Healing Boxes CIC can do just that, so click here.
* Exercise – everything from dancing, tai chi, running and swimming goes here. Why not explore your options and pick something new, there are exercises available for all. For example, if you are bed bound, Feldenkrais might be perfect for you.
* EFT – have you tried emotional freedom technique? Why not give it a go and see if it works for you?
* Mindfulness – I recommend Breathworks CIC for all your mindfulness study. You can find their classes here.
3. Be Heard, Be Seen, Get Help and Support
You don’t have to do this alone.
I founded the Wellness Trailblazers’ Cafe as a support space built around belief in ourselves and our possibilities, not delineated by the diagnoses with which we’ve been labelled.
To create community and connection to other women who believe it’s possible to live well with health and life challenges.
Who are willing to explore that journey alongside each other, as we explore our new selves and blaze our own trails.
And if you’ve read this blog for a while, you will know I’m a big proponent of counselling and therapy.
I’m so grateful there are people out there whose whole job it is to help me.
People say they don’t go to therapy because of the money, I believe there will be a way to get you the help you need.
I have seen therapists in two countries and six counties. Sometimes they were free and sometimes they were for reduced rates but when we needed help we always found a way.
Call around, ask about subsidised counselling, get on the waiting list at your local MIND, call clinics and ask if there are any students working at reduced rates, enquire about sliding scales, offer barter.
We can make it work.
4. Release the Pressure to Be in High Spirits
When I was diagnosed, I was desperate for a cure, to be well and happy again. I searched and searched. The 4am Google searches were epic, clicking page after page (after page after page!)… what if the next one held the secret? What if? What if? I tried every healing modality there was. And when none of them worked, I dove into a sea of denial like there was treasure at the bottom.
But that didn’t do the trick either. My husband and I began actively looking to the people around us to see how they coped with debilitating illness. Many of them simply re-shaped themselves around their sickness. They quickly gave up what they couldn’t do and carried on – perhaps feeling emptier inside for having lost, what they felt, were integral aspects of what defined them – but accepting that, and moving on nonetheless. I tried that for a while. But it never fully meshed with me, or my personality. I couldn’t sacrifice who I was, just to move forward.
I decided I could keep being me, imperfectly perfect me, with all of the quirks and love and life, and move forward at the same time. I would take an active role and find a way.
Guess what? I did it. And it wasn’t nearly so impossible as you might think.
I started small. Case in point: I wouldn’t wear a blanket over my legs in the wheelchair (far too unstylish!) Solution? I crusaded for attractive accessibility equipment (which came to be) and soon, with the fire lit, I began truly forging my healing path.
I quit seeing myself as ‘just a sick chick’ and made the conscious decision to turn Trail Blazer. That moment was one of profound acceptance. Allowing the realisation to sink deep into my (healing!) bones:
I unpacked my own prejudices and avoidance and began to build my practice of living. Not as an ill statistic, but as a Trailblazer: a healing, powerful woman with a whole lot to offer the world.
How do we allow healing to fuel our lives? It starts with you.
Begin with what you like. It may be difficult to uncover it from under your pain and the demands of others. It may have changed since you were diagnosed, or last took stock. You are not the same person you were. And that’s ok. You’ve been through the phoenix fire of diagnosis, life crisis, grief or ageing. You have come through it, and that is a great place to start.
When we experience a trauma or life-shift it can feel like our lives are burning up around us, like everything we knew and relied on is turning to ash. In the Trail Blazers’ movement, we learn to become the phoenixes, even more burnished and beautiful than we were before our struggles.
To become that phoenix, to rise up anew, you must begin. Start by noticing what you enjoy. Steaming baths? Radio comedy? A new pencil case? Singing with abandon? Drinking green juice? We pay attention to what makes us feel strong. And paying attention, planning from this acute place of awareness, makes a significant, positive impact in our ability to course correct and plot out our (healthy!) future.
You don’t have to live inside an unquestioned cage of perfection. Make that cognisant shift to unlock the door. And then, do it. With enthusiasm. With hope.
Start there and know, your Trailblazing journey has begun.
5. Name the Feelings
Please know that spirits falling and lifting is a perfectly natural occurrence. It’s uncomfortable, difficult and painful maybe but natural.
What can do you to cope with the ups and downs to make them less scary or trying?
I hope you find what works for you.
How do you cope with low spirits? Let me know in the comments!
P.S You might also like Dear Grace Q & A: How do I explain that my chronic illness and life aren’t a tragedy? and Dear Grace Q & A: 7 steps to your business come back after chronic illness. Read all the Dear Grace columns here.