Why an accommodations and products series? One of the things that chronic health problems will do to you is make you try anything to make things even a little better. My friends, the goal for this series is that you won’t have to go through as much of the rabbit trail searching that I did, because now you get to learn from my mistakes and get straight to the good stuff! This part one of a 3-part series about my favorite things that help me wisely manage. Many of these accommodations are cheap and even free; some are more costly, but I promise they have made a big enough difference for me that I wanted to mention them anyway.
I’ve learned from the best occupational therapists, physical therapists, (mental health) therapists, doctors, nurses, peers, and so on over the years – especially during my month at the Mayo Clinic Pain Rehabilitation Clinic – about how to manage the tricky balance of caring for my health concerns and having a rich, full life. This particular post is about mental health practices and how they help me establish the rhythms of my life.
(For reference, I have a Mac and an iPhone, but I’m sure that there are equivalent apps on other computers and phones, too.)
- Bad moment bag
My bad moment bag is something I reach into when I face that I am scared of because of higher-than-usual symptoms, challenging tasks back-to-back(-to-back), or something that I can’t honestly figure out, but is messing with my peace. [Learn how to make your own here!]. It’s a bag of little things to keep me going, short activities I can do or small moments that I can create that will help me to pause and breathe, but not slump into my couch for the rest of the day doing these things when I need to keep moving for now. (This is why it’s called a bad moment bag rather than a bad day bag. I’m learning not to condemn a whole day to being bad based on how I’m feeling at any one point.)
One of the most consistently helpful parts of my treatment for my chronic illnesses is exercising in different ways (stretching, light weight-bearing, balance, and most importantly, aerobic) 4-5 times per week for at least 30 minutes. There are all sorts of price ranges for this one – some people have nice gym memberships, some people buy a cardio machine like an elliptical along with a few weights (paying up front and not a monthly fee for a gym), and some see opportunities in flights of stairs and walking paths (me too!). I’ve written an article about how I exercise with my chronic conditions, including two conditions that often limit people’s ability to exercise.
Whatever it is that will get you exercising – whether it’s catching up on Netflix or listening to audiobooks or getting a great playlist going, being inside and having a consistent temperature or outside in nature and admiring the sights as you walk or run, doing sitting exercises or standing exercises, exercising alone or with a partner or group – do that. Talk to your medical practitioner(s) first to get an idea of what could be helpful for you, and if you’re living with difficult chronic conditions, you may be able to get help from a physical therapist – I thank God for the physical therapists and physiatrist who taught me how to exercise in ways that were right for me.
- Coloring pages/book and markers/sharpies
I don’t know about you guys, but some forms of meditation make me grumpy because I’m an antsy person who needs to move around frequently. Coloring books are a more active form of meditation that still get me out of my head and able to focus on something else other than pain or emotions for a little bit before problem-solving. You can buy a book or find lots of free pages online.
- Therapy appointments, worksheets, and/or therapy apps
- Therapy, if you can afford it, is the best option. Individual therapy, group therapy, whatever it is that you think would be most helpful – Psychology Today even lists what insurance each listed professional in your area uses. Many people are also on sliding scales.
- DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) sheets. DBT tends to be more about mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder – validating people, increasing social skills and coping skills while reducing impulsive behaviors. CBT tends to be more about anxiety disorders – looking at unhelpful negative and automatic thoughts and changing them to match reality in a more hopeful manner. Here’s a free DBT workbook and a free CBT workbook. I’ll write posts about both of these modes of therapy at some point because of how helpful they’ve both been to me!
- There’s even a free CBT app specific to insomnia and sleep-related thoughts, CBTi. (There are other general DBT apps and CBT apps, too!)
- There are lots of masterposts of self-care links online.
- BellyBio app
One of the most consistently helpful ways to naturally relieve some physical and emotional distress is biofeedback therapy (another kind of therapy, yep!). It’s about doing slow and consistent breathing and calming yourself down. BellyBio is a free app that helps you to do some of the therapy without a therapist (because if you can’t afford it, you should still be able to get some of the benefits).
- Bible and prayer time
If you’re religious, getting to your roots (or Root) is a beautiful part of life.
- Spotify playlists
There are tons of mood-specific playlists already made, or you can make one of your own for your favorite cheer-up music, workout music, and so on.
- Stand Up! app
It’s important for me to get up and moving a little bit every hour, at least. Stand Up! is a free app that sets reminders for you at whatever time intervals you want. Or, if you have a smartwatch like a Fitbit or Apple Watch, you can have it remind you instead.
- Silence and solitude, hopefully in a beautiful place
One of the biggest things that I learned this summer when I went traveling by myself was how much more self-confident I was when I wasn’t constantly connected with others through social media. My happiest hours were those that I spent alone, while also knowing that I was loved and not truly alone. I wrote about this act of learning to dance like nobody was watching and hope that my suggestions about how to reduce time on social media might be helpful to you, too. Especially if you have a highly taxing job serving people, learning self-care is super important.
Self-explanatory, no? I also keep a note on my iPhone called “journaling on the road.” Sometimes, I write it in poetry form.
- OverDrive membership
If you have a library membership, chances are good that you can borrow eBooks and audiobooks from Overdrive for free. When I feel in a bookish mood and/or am lonely, books are wonderful companions, and audiobooks are a great alternative for when I feel too tired to read. (And if you’re in need of a recommendation, I have lots of books on my read and to-read lists. And they’re organized into lots of shelves on GoodReads.)
- Mascara and lipstick
We had “look good, feel good Thursdays” at Mayo Clinic and I grew fond of them. When I feel like crap, it’s fun to look way better than I feel. When I’m at home, it doesn’t matter, but when I’m out, I don’t want anyone else to be able to tell how I’m feeling by how I look – I prefer to keep that conversation to a few friends, if I feel I need support. However, that doesn’t mean I get myself looking good for others – I do it for me. I even keep a favorite mascara and lipstick in my car so that I can do my makeup on the way, if I’m late.
I hope that you will find these some of these as helpful as I do!