You know those days when everything seems to go sideways? I have chronic pain, so I understand. In the past, things were worse: I used to feel like I was getting half-drowned everyday simply because of how out-of-control my life felt.
But pain is a great teacher. To avoid going off the deep end, I had to learn to "surf" through life, taking each day (and sometimes each hour or each minute) as it came in stride. And whether you have chronic pain or are just having a pain-in-the-ass day, I want you to know that when life sends you a huge wave, it is possible to grab your board and enjoy the ride.
Here are some of the things I've learned about avoiding big wipeouts while surfing life's ocean.
1. Accept the wave, whatever the ride.
The biggest thing I've learned from my journey with pain is to accept wherever I'm at in any given moment. If your day suddenly takes a hard right turn into Cray-cray-ville, that's what it is. When you refuse to accept that your day is off the rails, then all your energy goes into pushing away that reality. You get tense, you clench your jaw, and inevitably the stress intensifies. When I learned to open up and allow my pain, I was able use all that "denial " energy to cope rather than to fight. There is something truly transformative about saying, "OK, this is happening right now. I accept it."
2. Let your body lead.
In our world of smartphones, social media and 24-hour "connection," our bodies often get lost in the shuffle. And when we are disconnected from our physical selves, we lose the connection to our internal GPS. But ultimately, our bodies always know what's best for us. The trick is learning to shut up and listen.
So when you are feeling consumed by a day from hell, try this technique. Find someplace quiet to rest comfortably, close your eyes, take some deep breaths and scan your body slowly from head to foot, pausing on each body part. When you find a place of tension or discomfort, ask, "Shoulders, what do you need?" For me, inviting my shoulders to move downward away from my ears is frequently the answer. But sometimes what my body wants is movement, like gentle yoga or a walk. Whatever you need, your body will know about it. Just be open to the request and be brave enough to act on it
3. Don't buy into the story.
My brain is a champion storyteller: Kate is mad at you, that's why she didn't text you back! ... If you rest now you'll lose everything you've worked for!
In other words, I can create a lot of pain in my life just with the stories I tell myself. So don't believe the hype! Deal only with what you know to be 100% true in that moment. You can't know what other people are thinking, you can't know what will happen in the future and you can't change what's happened in the past, so ditch the storytelling.
4. Create a cocoon.
A cocoon is a safe place to rest and rebuild yourself, and it is a vital stress management tool. Give yourself permission to curl up away from the world and look after yourself on a regular basis. For some people their cocoon might be time on their sailboat or browsing in a record store. Whatever makes you feel peaceful and calm, make room for it in your life and practice it regularly. Self-soothing habits are about restoring your energy and regaining your perspective so check your guilt at the door and treat yourself!
5. Meditate, duh.
My stress level and pain decreased sharply when I began to take 15 minutes out of my morning to practice breathing meditation. For some, this piece of advice is obvious. For others, it may sound insurmountably tough. So if you are reluctant to try this on your own, there are a ton of great guided meditations available. Find one you like and get sitting! The truth is that meditation is just about dedicating yourself to the practice of trying to just be. So even if you hate it, you'll be more aware of why you might hate it. And that itself is a great practice for learning to "surf" through life!
6. Get outside for goodness sake!
I don't know why this works, but it does. They've done studies! Go for a walk, sit in the park or even just open a window. Nature heals. Believe it.
7. Pace yourself.
I used to drive myself endlessly to go-go-go! But now I understand that pushing myself only creates more work down the road. Don't wait until things are bad before you take counter measures. Learn what triggers your pain/stress. Get to know what signals your body sends when it's getting tired and then honor those signals.
My dearest wish is that you can learn from my journey so you don't have to take the long way. But I know I am not the only one who has been down this road so if you have any other tips or tricks you'd like to share please share them in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you.