Monday, December 21, 2009
Guide to New Year's Resolutions for People with Chronic Pain or Illness
Below is a guide I wrote for New Harbinger, the publisher of my new book Yoga for Pain Relief. The resolutions aren't just for people with chronic pain and illness--we could all use a little more self-care and a little less stress.
A Guide to New Year’s Resolutions for People with Chronic Pain or Illness
1. There’s nothing wrong with hope. New Year’s resolutions are a celebration of hope, and you deserve hope as much as anyone else. Let yourself imagine future events or experiences that will bring you pleasure or satisfaction, and make a list of at least 10 such things to look forward to in 2010. Think small and predictable, but nevertheless enjoyable (such as new episodes of a favorite TV show), as well as big dreams that you can work toward (such as finishing writing your novel, or a trip you’d like to take).
2. Make peace with your body. Most people with chronic pain or illness feel betrayed by their body. However, you’ve only got this one body, and it is your companion for this journey. This New Year, resolve to befriend your body. Start by reminding yourself what you’re grateful for. Heart still pumping? Thank your body. Able to enjoy a delicious meal? Thank your body. Can you still find sensual pleasure and contact comfort from touch? Thank your body. Whatever your state of health, thank your body for doing its best. Then resolve to do your best to care for and listen to your body, whether it’s with a nourishing diet and exercise, getting a manicure, or seeking the complementary care that feels most healing to you (e.g. acupuncture, massage, music). Pick at least one specific thing you are going to do to befriend your body.
3. Give yourself permission to do something you’ve been putting off. Time to take a look at how your world has gotten smaller because of stress, pain, or illness. Medical care and researching medical conditions can consume as many hours in the day as you let it. Doubts about what you can handle can push important activities into the uncertain future. Even fun can start to feel frivolous when your energy or time is limited. In 2010, reclaim your time and energy as your own. Ask yourself: Is there anything you need to give yourself permission to do, or to return to?
4. Remove something from your self-improvement or to-do list. To help you stick to resolution 3, ask yourself how you can take back your mental, emotional, and physical energy from something that just isn’t important enough to make your “what really matters” list. You may need to lower your housecleaning standards or decide that your daily chocolate habit is not a problem after all. Or maybe you need to find a way to forgive someone so you can cross resentment off your emotional to-do list.
5. Ask for support. Tell your support system about your resolutions. Let friends, family, therapists, and healthcare providers know what you are looking forward to, what is working with your body and in your life, how you plan to take care of yourself, what you want more of in your life, and what you are ready to let go of. If there are ways they can help, be specific and ask for it.
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist at Stanford University and author of Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Chronic Pain.