Chronic Illness · Chronic Pain · Mayo Clinic · Mental Health · Personal · Recovery

25 of the Most Important Concepts I Learned at Mayo Clinic’s Pain Rehabilitation Center

Numbers that are bolded represent concepts that I plan to dedicate full posts to in the future.

  1. Spend more time thinking about what you’re grateful for than how much pain you’re in.
  2. If you have sleep troubles (as many people with chronic pain and symptoms do), follow good sleep hygiene practices. These will end up being more effective than sleep medications in the long run. A few of the most important ones: 8.5 hours of sleep is plenty. Avoid naps, but if you must, limit to a half hour. Don’t do anything in your bed besides sleep and intimacy. Keep a consistent schedule (within an hour).

  3. At the beginning of each week, write out a somewhat specific, very realistic daily schedule (in pencil because it’s a work in progress) and stick to it, no matter how you’re feeling that day. Write out everything, including the little things like showering and doing chores, because it’s all too easy to forget to practice the practical side of self-care. 
  4. Surround yourself with people who will push you forward toward your goals. Spend a bit of time educating them about how to be there for you and the new life you’re trying to create. It’ll be especially important to talk about how you hope to think about your pain as little as possible. This means that it’ll be important for them to stop asking you about it. Let them know that you will ask for help if you need it.
  5. Be patient and gentle with yourself.
  6. Spend some time each day doing relaxation practices. Deep breathing, meditating, coloring, laughing at a comedian on YouTube, yoga, listening to calming music, Tai Chi, journaling… the options are endless, so pick a few that work for you.
  7. Identify what’s most important to you in life and live each day from those values. Pick 5 values that you cannot live joyfully without. Yes, 5 may seem like a low number, but if you’re living with somewhat limited energy, it’s important to be realistic. On your worst health days, you can’t have 25 focuses, but you could certainly have 5. We all have to choose what we do and what we value most carefully, regardless of our health status. 
  8. Write out S.M.A.R.T. goals for the week, the month, for the year, and for the next 5 years. People who write out their goals are more likely to accomplish them.
  9. In your own time and in your own way, forgive people who have hurt you. Forgive yourself for whatever you’re holding against yourself. Forgiveness is a crucial and often overlooked part of healing your body and soul.
  10. Practice spirituality to feel connected to the world.
  11. Keep moving every single day, no matter how you’re feeling. Gentle and appropriate-for-your-fitness-level movement will help you more than you can understand. Talk to your provider about how you can get to the point where you’re working up a sweat 30-45 minutes 4-5 times a week; strengthening your weakest muscles 2-3 times a week; lightly stretching every day; and moving at least 60 minutes a day total. Start where you are and know that it’s possible to get to where you want to go. 
  12. Let go of perfectionism and accept the inherent messiness of life.

  13. Understand that your feelings are not necessarily facts. This is a good thing. Examine your harsh thoughts about yourself and your life and realize that you’re probably catastrophizing or thinking in black and white terms. Try writing your worst fears in a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) thought log – you’ll see that they’re not quite as insurmountable as you think. 
  14. Two interrelated concepts that I’ve written about already: Have a plan for your worst days that will help you continue on with your goals rather than slide into a relapse. Keep a “bad moment bag” of tangible reminders of who you are and where you’re going, as well as little treats and coping tools for yourself to help you get out the door, even when you think you can’t.
  15. Get out of the house for multiple hours each day.
  16. Celebrate your successes of all sizes.
  17. Make time for fun and play in your daily life, whatever that looks like for you. Yes, I said daily life.
  18. Be on as few medications as possible at the lowest doses. Surprisingly enough, your body will thank you. Many of the medications used for chronic pain were only created for short-term use, and their side effects may be outweighing their benefits for you at this point. Ask your providers for more information. I went off multiple medications and am so grateful I did because I have more cognitive clarity, less fatigue, and more control over my emotions once again.
  19. See a therapist to talk about the most anxiety-provoking, most saddening aspects of illness because no one can, or should, process these difficult thoughts alone (or use their friends or family members as their only form of talk therapy). Chronic health problems can lead to or add to already existing mental health problems, especially anxiety and depression. Here are some resources for finding a therapist in your price range.
  20. Do not be alarmed when chronic symptoms happen. Know that you are not in danger and that you can get through these, just as you’ve gotten through all of the moments before this one.

  21. Learn how to say “no.” Also, learn how to say “yes.”

  22. Spend time encouraging and loving others around you.
  23. As much as you can, stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and drugs because they will make your symptoms more difficult to manage.
  24. Managing dysautonomic conditions like postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) involves some lifestyle changes, but it can be done in a way that gets you back to a more typical life.

  25. “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne

4 thoughts on “25 of the Most Important Concepts I Learned at Mayo Clinic’s Pain Rehabilitation Center

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