Finding that all your old aches and pains are resurfacing whilst you’re in lockdown? Back won’t stop aching? Feeling that old stiffness in your neck and shoulders? Why have these things come back to haunt you?
You’re not alone. Many people are finding that problems they can usually deal with and keep under control are back with a vengeance in these unusual times. Of course, for many people, the daily routine of life has changed. The idea of kicking off the day with a spin class or a few lengths of the pool feels like remnants of a bygone era. We’re largely stuck at home with just the laptop for company, and not even the prospect of a commute to get us moving.
So is it this change in routine that’s causing the problem? Lack of the usual exercise sessions will undoubtedly play a part, but it’s not the whole story. As I’ve talked about before (chronic pain), pain is a complicated and multifactorial experience. Our bodies are more than mere machines that need to be run and oiled for good health. Take Joe and Henry, for example. They both suffer with mild arthritis and get backache from time to time. Joe knows that if he keeps up with his stretches, gets a cardio workout regularly, gets enough rest, eats well and drinks plenty of water, he can mostly keep his aches at bay. During lockdown, he’s continuing to work from his home study, he’s tweaked his workout so he can do it in the garden, he’s getting his fresh, healthy food delivered to the door.
Henry also usually keeps his aches under control with exercise and self-management. During lockdown, however, he’s been furloughed and is stuck at home, his wife has been made redundant and their three children are all trying to keep up with their schoolwork on their only computer. One of their children has health problems, and Henry fears going out in case he brings coronavirus home. He’s worried about money, struggling to sleep at night, and spends the day feeling exhausted, which he can’t understand as he’s not busy with his usual work. He can’t drum up the enthusiasm to maintain a regular exercise routine. He has backache most of the time now, and feels anxious about it.
As I’m sure you can imagine, although lack of exercise is probably not helping Henry’s pain, the stress and anxiety he’s feeling will be a huge contributor to how he feels about it. We only have a finite “pool” of coping ability. Henry’s pool has been largely drained by stress, and Henry’s left without the wherewithal to cope with his back pain too.
You may be familiar with the “biopsychosocial” model. It describes the idea that a person’s experience is affected by their “bio” or physical being; their “psych” or mind, emotions and beliefs; and their “social” situation – their relationships, work life, and social support. When any one of these areas is negatively affected, it has an adverse impact on our wellbeing.
Bad stuff happens, though. We all have tough times, problems we can’t necessarily change, and our wellbeing can take a knock. Right now, that’s true for more people than ever before. But if we can’t change this situation, what can we do about it? How do we get our sense of equilibrium back?
Think about that “pool” of resources again. It’s fed by things that play a positive role in our biopsychosocial selves. When we go through a period of circumstances that have a negative impact, and drain the pool, we can try to balance out that impact by increasing those things that fill our pool. That means we have more ability to manage the increased demand on our coping resources.
How do we go about it? Well, it depends what’s important to you, and what you have available. What can you increase to balance your “coping pool” losses? Do you need more “bio” input? Exercise, you might think, falls squarely in the “bio” domain – it improves our physical wellness and performance. Consider its marvellous added benefits, though! What an aid to low mental affect, negative thinking, sluggishness. How about your “social” domain? Social distancing is the perfect time for “virtual” social nearness, whether online or by post, whether regular friends or long-lost ones.
Here are my three top tips!….
- Acceptance – some things you can’t change. That’s ok. A mental battle that you can’t win is an exhausting, negative spiral. Acceptance doesn’t mean defeat or resignation, but it puts you in a place you can move on from. Everyone has bad times, no point in making it harder for yourself.
Accept the things
you can’t change
- Pleasure – seek it out. Look for it in the small, everyday things. Take a moment to notice. For me, these moments most often come in nature, solitude and coffee. For you it might be music, chats, your woolly socks, your purring cat. Tiny bursts of positivity can really add up to fill your coping pool.
- Sleep – sleep, sleep, sleep! For some it comes easy, for others it’s elusive. Chase it down. Court it. Sneak up on it. Get a good bout of sweaty exercise into your day to make your body want to sleep. Don’t check your emails last thing. Turn your phone off. Have a lavender-essence warm bath, and a milky or oaty snack. It may not work straight away, but keep at it. It’ll be worth it.
Ok, I know I said three things, but here’s an extra one, thrown in for free….!
- Quit that negative talk! Out loud, or in your head! How we frame things to ourselves, even bad things, is how we’re teaching ourselves to think. Turn those messages around. It may not change our reality, but it does change our experience. It’s oft-cited in the world of parenting; “talk to your child positively, and they will learn to be positive”. Parent yourself, kindly.
Oh, and the last one.
- See your osteopath. They’re focusing on how to safely welcome you back in these strange coronaviral times. When they’ve figured it out, make the most of them.