You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to know that the has been hard on everyone. Loss of employment and disruption of routines have affected millions of people around the world. But during COVID-19, people with chronic pain are especially vulnerable to new hazards.
Whether it’s restricted access to medical care, diminished pain management options, or isolation for people who are , it hasn’t been easy for people with chronic illnesses to get through the coronavirus pandemic. But if you look around, you can see people with chronic conditions who are still here, going about their lives and adjusting to disruptions.
Today, that’s what I want to focus on. The pandemic isn’t over, so it’s not too late to make healthy changes and improve your mental and physical health during COVID-19.
We’ve all seen the trend of at-home workout videos, but a lot of those suggestions assume a certain level of fitness and physical ability. While this works fine for some, many people with chronic conditions simply cannot do these physical activities.
So how about some alternatives that can scale to any level of ability?
Did you know that stretching can improve range of motion and decrease your risk of injury? By stretching the ligaments and muscles in your areas of pain, you can get your body more used to working that part of your body and improve your strength. A stronger muscle is less likely to suffer an injury, so don’t underestimate the value of this simple, at-home workout.
Don’t feel the need to over-exert yourself, either. Sit in a comfortable chair or sit up in your bed, then slowly stretch out any pain areas to the degree that you’re comfortable. If you can find a way to work this into your daily routine, you’ll not only feel better about staying active during the pandemic, but you could reduce some chronic pain symptoms.
Even if you don’t feel comfortable leaving your home, walking can do a lot for chronic pain. It’s a low-impact exercise that can slowly improve bone density over time, and it’s a great way to keep your heart healthy while social distancing.
Try getting up and walking around your home even for five, 10 minutes a day, or whatever you can accomplish. It’s not a race; it’s just a way to get you feeling better and moving about.
Of course, walking isn’t an option for everyone. If you have limited mobility and a walk around your apartment is out of the question, you can still enjoy cardiovascular exercise.
Put on some music (I’d recommend Sia, myself) and sit up in bed, on a chair, or on a fitness ball, if you have one lying around. Then get moving! Move your arms, shake your hips, tap your feet; just move in whatever way feels comfortable for you. It’s probably not going to look like one of those sexy gym commercials, but it’ll get your heart pumping and get your body moving, which is what matters.
But there’s more to taking care of yourself during the coronavirus pandemic than working out at home. Let’s look at another way to nourish your physical health.
Without a set schedule, it’s easy to fall into some bad sleeping habits. And trust me, whether that’s staying up all night with energy drinks or getting bored and putting yourself in a food coma, I’ve tried them all. So let me tell you what helps snap me out of it.
I don’t care if you have nothing to do for the day; set a schedule for yourself. Even if it’s to wake up at 9:00 AM and sit on your phone for an hour, having a sense of routine is so important right now.
If you’re looking for more engaging things to fill your day, take up reading (many local libraries offer e-book selections), video games, or listening to podcasts. The important thing is to have clear plans for when you wake up and when it’s time to get some sleep, and the longer you stick to your routine, the easier it will get.
It’s easy to spend all evening in front of a screen, actively engaging with something, then get in bed, sit on your phone, and wonder why you’re not tired. Remember that your brain needs time to calm down, especially if you’ve been doing things that day. I like to lie down without my phone for about fifteen minutes or so, and I find that it makes it much easier to fall asleep.
You don’t have to be an incredibly neat and organized person to keep a clean, comfortable bed. Just doing little things like putting away the laundry at the foot of your bed or keeping it clear of plates and cups can go a long way in helping you sleep. When you’re surrounded by extra items, it’s harder to feel comfortable, so give yourself the space to get a good night’s sleep.
Now that we’ve covered ways to look after your physical well-being, what are you going to do about your mental health during COVID-19?
If you’re like me, then staying motivated right now is a big challenge. It’s hard not to see the people you care about or to miss out on your normal plans right now. Some people with chronic pain live with that every day, though, so I’d like to share how they manage to keep connected with their friends and family members.
Love it or hate it, is a great tool to stay connected. Whether it’s reaching out through Facebook or just seeing what your friends are up to on Instagram, these platforms make it easy to keep a sense of connection between you and your loved ones.
I, for one, have never been more grateful for Skype and Zoom than I have been this year. Phone calls are great, but there’s something about seeing a loved one’s face that really enhances the connection. If you can’t be in the same room as the people you care about, set up a video call to catch up. Bonus points if you find normal, non-COVID things to talk about!
There’s a lot of lip service paid to being connected with others, but the pandemic also makes it easy to lose track of yourself. Even if you’re feeling drained or uninspired, sit down and try to make something: a drawing, a short story, a piece of music, etc. There’s no “wrong” way to do art, and this is a great way to check into what you’re feeling when you don’t feel quite like yourself.
There’s one last area that I want to cover, and believe me, it could be the most important thing that you, as a person with a chronic illness, could do during the coronavirus pandemic.
These times aren’t easy on anybody, and we’re all operating at less than 100 percent. So the next time it feels dire that you’ve made a mistake or wasted a day, try to cut yourself some slack. I know how hard that can be, so here are some places you can start.
Did you manage to get dressed today? Fantastic, spend some time playing video games as a reward. Or even if you didn’t hit that goal, can you get a glass of water and make sure you’re staying hydrated?
By focusing on what you have done and the things that you can do, you’ll find it much easier to forgive yourself for the things that just didn’t happen.
You’re going to mess up sometimes, but you can’t let that hold you back. If you didn’t work on anything yesterday, that doesn’t mean you can’t complete a project today. Let go of old disappointments, and instead try focusing on what you’re going to do differently today.
Sometimes the issue isn’t what you’re accomplishing (or not accomplishing), but what you’re expecting. There is a . You don’t need to feel constantly scared of that, but you might want to remember that it’s okay if you don’t feel your best right now.
What matters is that you’re trying your hardest to stay afloat, and if that means a few days where you just can’t get out of bed, that’s alright. Just keep looking for what you can do, and you’ll make it through 2020 before you know it.
None of us know the “best” way to deal with the pandemic, because that’s different for everyone. All I can tell you is that strategies like these have worked with other people with chronic conditions, and I think that they can help you, too.
Why not give them a shot?
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