Modern life can be stressful at the best of times, juggling all aspects of your life, be it a healthy social life, career, family, relationship, household chores, etc can be a tricky balancing act. Add a chronic illness to the mix and the things that were a minor chore before, can feel near impossible sometimes. Pain and poor health can lead to feelings of stress, frustration, low mood, fatigue to name a few. It can be hard to accept a new normal and it is important to have some ways of coping with the physical and emotional side effects.
Finding what works for YOU is important. Everyone is unique and what works for one may not be right for another so sometimes it involves trial and error to figure out the best coping strategies and comforts that suit you. The following suggestions are not to cure or treat your illness (you can read about my chosen treatment plan here) but have personally helped me cope with physical and emotional effects. I find having a protocol in place for when a flare up hits can help me from going into a spiral of panic about how bad it will be. If I know I have the few things that make me feel better at the ready, I don’t have to let those negative thoughts get hold. With a plan in action, I feel more in control of my situation. Feelings of hopelessness can creep in when it feels like your body won’t play ball and that can be overwhelming. When I know I am doing everything I can to help myself, that helps me relax and ride it out. The following tips are what I have found helpful in managing my Endometriosis and everyday life stress.
Heat is the number one thing that gives me comfort when I get my period or have Endometriosis pain in my abdomen or back. My hot water bottle is my first port of call when pain strikes when I’m at home. My other half often fills my hot water bottle when he notices I’m not feeling the best or when I’m heading to bed as it is the only thing that helps me when I can’t sleep. Microwaveable heat packs can be great too and ThermoDr have one with a waist band so you can wear it while going about your daily chores at home which I find handy. Single use heat packs like Thermacare or Cura-heat are great options for alleviating pain when you have to be out and about as you can wear them under your clothes. It doesn’t get rid of the pain as such but the sensation of heat provides another sensation to distract my body. It is important to avoid making hot water bottles or heat packs too hot and I advise getting a cover so as not to burn your skin.
I’m not a huge fan of taking painkillers so I try my hardest not to take them regularly but sometimes that is the only thing that will take the edge off. Let’s be honest, when your in pain the last thing you want is to be running out to the shop or chemist to refill that prescription, so I make sure I plan ahead and have painkillers put aside in the press, and an emergency stash in my handbag that I can take if things get too much. Knowing I have that back up plan helps me to keep calm if I feel pain kicking in when I am at work or at a social engagement.
I know some ladies follow anti inflammatory diets for their Endometriosis so by all means skip this or alter this one to suit you, but I like to keep a sweet treat in the kitchen for when I’m feeling poorly. It’s not going to cure you, but I do think it’s important to be kind to ourselves and if that bar of chocolate gives me a little pleasure on a bad day then you bet I’m going to eat it.
On the same theme as the last point.. treat yourself! Whether that’s booking yourself a hair appointment, a massage, or making a DIY face mask at home, taking a little time to pamper yourself can help make you feel a little more like yourself. For me it’s painting my nails, such a small thing, but it’s part of my weekly routine and regardless of whether I’m working or having a sofa day, its my little way of taking time to myself and making myself feel good.
Oh and cuddling my cats. If you have pets you will know how intuitive animals can be, my poor boyfriend doesn’t get a look in if I’m unwell as both cats will be sat on my tummy.
Pacing is a technique I was taught by a physio and its is one that I have found extremely successful when I do it, but admittedly the hardest to actually implement. From a young age we are taught to finish what we started and we get satisfaction from finishing a task. Pacing yourself is the opposite idea where you break up tasks up into smaller instalments and spread them out so as not to use all your energy at once. You can also alternate tasks that have different levels of physicality for example if you want to hoover the house; instead of doing the whole place in one go and doing your back in, you do the kitchen and living room, take a break or do a non physical task like answering your emails, and then do the bedrooms later on. I find it so hard to leave something half done or to return to something at a later stage so this is still taking some practice. I do think it makes a difference on the days I am feeling fatigued and it is worth it when I have energy to spend quality time with Nemanja in the evenings. Part of it has been letting go of the pressure to be perfect, because I’d rather be happy and have a messy kitchen than a pristine house and be grumpy and in pain. The same theory can be applied to much more than just housework, like if I know I have a super busy work week, it’s ok to skip the gym or change that dinner to the weekend instead. We can’t do it all, all of the time.
Natural therapies can be beneficial for everyone, my personal favourite being osteopathy. I have been seeing a lovely lady called Sabrina for a few years now and she helps me manage my back pain and muscle tension that I get as a result of my Endometriosis and systemic inflammation. This is a suggestion that does come with a price tag but for me it is worth every penny. Finding what works for you may take trying a few different therapies. I have tried the Alexander technique, acupuncture, physiotherapy and sports massage but always went back to osteopathy. That being said I had to see a few different practitioners until I found Sabrina who always leaves me feeling like I’m floating out of her office. I’d love to hear what natural or homeopathic therapies you love so comment below!
Your mental health just like your physical health needs looking after, so make sure you put aside some time to process your feelings regularly. We are all guilty of pushing ourselves to keep going and staying very busy without a break. Working hard is all well and good until we burn out. Giving yourself time to process your thoughts and feelings can be hugely underestimated in modern lifestyles. When we do have time off our natural reaction is to occupy our minds by watching that TV show you recorded, reading that book you started, or browsing instagram to see what people have been up to, and those are all totally normal habits for relaxing. The problem is, we rarely are left without distractions and therefore are seldom left with just our minds to occupy us. When you take time out to just be present with yourself you can allow those feelings you have bottled up to be felt, work through all that inner noise that keeps us awake at night, and think of solutions for problems that have been bugging you. Mindfulness is a commitment, I find it easiest to allocate time to it by having a bath as I often reach for the remote or my phone if I’m on the sofa or in bed. I light some candles, add some epsom salts and relax with my own thoughts for half an hour, and I get the added benefit of the heat too. There are some great apps like headspace that guide you through mindfulness or meditation if you are finding it hard to focus on you own.
And last but not least, talking. Being alone with your own thoughts is great, but sometimes we need to externalise our feelings too, and talking to a friend, family member, or therapist can really help lighten the load we often build up. For a long time my coping mechanism for my pain was hiding it. I thought that if I could act like I was ok and people didn’t realise, then I was coping well. The reality is I wasn’t ok and it just meant missing out on a lot of things or isolating myself for fear of having to admit I couldn’t keep up. Once I started sharing how I felt physically and emotionally, the people around me were able to understand me better but also to support me better too. I have also attended a support group meeting where I met other women going through the same thing which I found was a great emotional outlet. I brought my boyfriend along and he got a lot out of it too. Sometimes I forget that he isn’t a mind reader and has to guess how I’m feeling and how best to support me, so it was great to open up that dialogue and he gained a lot of insight hearing other peoples feelings too. Its worth seeing if there are any groups near you, or checking out an online forum, as sometimes being able to relate to others and them to you can be very cathartic.
My advice to absolutely everyone, illness or not, is to take time to focus on yourself and try out new things you think would help. If you have always admired your friends yoga habit or crafty hobby, give it a go yourself because that’s the only way you will figure out what works best for YOU. This year my goal is to try to be more active as I know exercise can be amazing for both physical and mental well being. I also have been trying out some artistic DIY projects for my wedding and have found it really therapeutic doing something creative. Just remember never to feel guilty because your not doing as much as someone else and to cut yourself some slack sometimes. My favourite quote sums it up perfectly;
‘Just because your path is different, it doesn’t mean you’re lost’
I would love to hear what your favourite coping mechanisms for dealing with stress or illness, so post below in the comments!
Until next time..
Note: I am not a medical professional and can not give medical advice. I am sharing my own personal health journey and what works for me. Please consult your doctor about any health issues you are experiencing and ask advice before embarking on any alternative therapies.