No matter what you’re going through, be it depression, a chronic condition, or just a rough patch in your life, it’s important to give your mind and body a break now and then. A friend of mine, who is a Reiki practitioner, was over to do a session with me this past week. She told me that I needed to laugh more. I think this is true for all of us. As she said, as so many have said, “laughter is the best medicine.”
I think that laughter is a powerful form of distraction, the most powerful in fact. There are other ways to take a brief vacation from mental and biological negativity, however. Here’s are some things to try:
- Laugh. It’s not always as simple as just laughing. I get that. But what are some things that make you laugh? Silly movies? Ridiculous cat pictures? Baby animals? People falling down? Do you have a friend who always makes you smile? You used to laugh, and you need to do it more. Laughing hurts less than crying.
- Get creative. I learned to play the ukulele after I became disabled. It’s something I can do with my hands that doesn’t require thinking. I can play happy things or sad things. The point is that, while I’m playing, I’m not thinking about how much I hurt. I also draw and embroider. If you have a condition that limits your fine motor skills, there is always finger painting. I’m serious. Get messy! Make something! I shared the story of a woman I met at the Jefferson Headache Center who makes rubber band bracelets on a loom. She can only manage the energy to work on one for 15 minutes, but that’s enough time to finish. At the end, she’s happy to have a new bracelet. I have friends who are talented crafters, photographers, performers, and musicians… and all of them struggle with something.
- Learn something. Sometimes it’s hard to feel passionate about anything at all when you lack hope about the future. However, I bet there’s something you’ve always been curious about. Depening upon the severity of your condition and the level of your daily function, your ability to spend time with friends or dedicate a lot of energy to projects may be limited. But your mind still works, and it’s aching to be used and kept spry. From puzzles to out an out research on a topic to free online courses to actually enrolling in an online university… there are many ways to pursue knowledge and keep your brain in shape. Do you love science? History? Philosophy? Embrace your hunger for knowledge and force the spark for learning. The more you look into a topic, the more you might find you want to know. Not only will this give you something to talk about other than your condition (which is just a fact of life when you have anything with the word “chronic” in front of it), it will make you feel good about yourself.
- Netflix/Podcast binge. Yes, I said it.Binge. I know that studies have shown that a binge on shows can lead to negative emotional whatever. Fine. But you know what a binge does for me? It passes the hours upon hours that I spend in bed where I am absolutely unable to do anything other than just be in bed in pain. I can’t even look at the television, but I can listen to it. And if the light bothers me too much, podcasts are a beautiful thing. I spend hours alone while my family is at work and school. Having human voices around is nice. I can’t be productive, but I can listen to/watch things that interest me or comfort me. I can learn, I can laugh, I can feel uplifted… all from the comfort of my fetal position.
- Listen to music. Bob Marley said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” I choose to take that in a lot of ways. Music is soothing, there’s no doubt about it. Your favourite tunes can elicit all kinds of memories. Actively creating music by playing an instrument or singing, and listening to music are both equally as restorative. You don’t have to listen to light, fluffy music. If you’re angry about what you’re going through, you might feel better if you listen to some angry music. Get it out. It’s okay to feel what you feel. You have every right to be upset about what’s happening to your mind and body. This list isn’t about sugar-coating your condition. It’s about distracting you.
- Do stuff with friends. This is a tricky one. Friends can be a double-edged sword. Your good friends who understand what you’re going through will treat you like a human being and not like a fragile doll. Everyone else might be weird around you and that might be unpleasant. Chronic conditions really show you who will stick by you, and you’ve lost people and made new friends a long the way. My husband and I have worked hard to construct a social life that brings the party to us yet allows me to rest and slip away if I need to. We have people over to our house, we ask friends to help with the set-up and clean-up. We make them potluck events so we aren’t doing a lot of the work. I have friends over for show marathons and silly sleep overs. I wear my pajamas because it’s my damned house. My friends are cool with this. They get it. My friends understand that I can’t always drive. We do ridiculous, silly things. It’s all about finding the right people to spend time with.
- Get physical. I don’t mean exercise. You should do that too. I mean touch someone, or have them touch you. Massage, caresses, tickling, even intimate touch can be a great distraction. It doesn’t have to be sexual. As much as I hate to admit it, when I’m having a horrible pain day, it’s pretty awesome when my dog licks my feet. I frequently ask my husband to touch my back lightly. Simply being touched on a part of my body that doesn’t hurt is a great distraction. When I’m home alone, I use a soft ball to apply pressure to sore points on my back. Tennis balls work too. Heating pads and ice packs help draw my attention away from my pain. It’s all about pulling my attention elsewhere.
- Meditation and breathing exercises. If you live with chronic pain or depression and you aren’t already meditating or practicing controlled breathing on a regular basis, now is the time to start! Introducing calmness into your world is important for your mental and physical health. I’m not going to try to pitch it to you. I’m just going to tell you that I meditate and I use breathing exercises and they help me immensely. I think they could be good for you and you should give them a shot. That’s just my opinion. Here are some great resources to try if you need some help:
- Three Breathing Exercizes (Including the 4 7 8)
- Getting Started with Meditation from Mindful.org
- Guided Meditations from Self-Compassion.org