A Pain in the Neck (Both Metaphorically and Literally)

            Before we get into today’s topic, I want to apologize if I am unable to post and/or respond as much as I’d like to this week. We’ve been having internet problems (as in the internet being completely disconnected for unclear and confusing reasons) since Saturday, which hopefully will be all taken care of by the end of this week. Unfortunately, this has greatly decreased my ability for ‘blog time.’  It is frustrating times like dealing with the internet company (which my husband mostly did, Bless him!) that are perfect for reminding ourselves just how fortunate we are and how much we have to be grateful for.  Not to mention that, really, we have so much more compared to our struggling neighbors down the street or around the world.

            Now to the topic at hand!  Sunday evening, my husband and I both noticed that we were carrying a lot of tension in our neck/shoulder areas, and my husband felt the start of a headache coming on (and, yes, I do think some of the blame is on our internet provider, lol).  So we gathered some supplies and camped out on the couch to watch a movie.  Neither of us grabbed a bottle of pills.  Instead, we made sure to heat up our microwavable bean packs (we each have our own long one and share another specifically designed for neck and shoulders), checked that both our neck and foot massagers were plugged in and nearby (yes, we’re spoiled: most of these items were gifts!), and had the massage oil within reach.

            While we watched the movie, we took turns massing each other’s tense shoulders and necks.  When our hands became tired, we either used the heat packs to ease our muscles or one of the massage machines to work the tension out.  This process helped us both a lot.  Unfortunately, I awoke in the middle of the night to pain that had returned full-force.  Since I wanted to get a good night’s sleep for work the next day, I took some low-dose pain medicine, and then used the heat pack and shoulder massager for about 40 minutes before returning to bed.

            The main point I want to make is this: medication should not be our first line of defense against our pain.  Obviously, some people suffer from chronic conditions and may have to rely on drugs regularly as part of their management.  And I am in no way judging others for using medications.  There are times (like at work or in the middle of the night) when I rely on medicine if my pain is too distracting for the current task.  It’s just that our society relies on medicine so much, often without considering other possibilities.  So here are my ideas of what we can do to help manage our pain before reaching for the pills.

  1. Listen to your body.  In our busy lives, it is easy to ignore what our body is telling us until it has to shout so loud that we have no choice but to stop and listen.  But if we can tune in just a bit more and try to understand the subtle cues, perhaps we will have the chance to deal with less pain as opposed to whatever else is on its way.  This all about being as proactive as we can regarding our bodies.
  2. Have natural alternatives on hand.  When you’re in pain, you want relief as soon as possible.  If all you have in your house is typical pain medication, than that is what you are going to use.  Instead, when you’re not in pain, think ahead to what you need.  Maybe that means ordering the right essential oils, asking for a neck massager for the next holiday when you’ll be receiving gifts, or even researching natural remedies for your most common ailments.
  3. Rest and hydrate.  This may seem overly simple, but when we’re in pain, we need to provide our body with the tools it needs to deal with whatever is going on inside.  Allowing ourselves to pause, taking deeper breaths, and consuming enough water are all ways we can work with our body to promote its healing.

What are some of your favorite natural methods for fighting pain?  

The Healthy/Happy Changes List

After posting about the start of my wellness journey, I thought it might be helpful to simply list out the lifestyle changes we have implemented (or are in the process of trying to implement!) in an effort to be happier, healthier people. Some of them may seem insignificantly small to you, while others may appear impossibly difficult. As I wrote last time, please remember to be patient and kind with yourself wherever you are on this path (even if you’re just looking at it for now and trying to decide whether you want to walk on it)!
Some of what I will list took a lot of research and discussion; others were ‘no-brainers.’ Some we stay true to easily; others may ebb and flow in terms of how well we stick to them. A lot of this process simply involves these decisions becoming automatic as we continue to make them over and over (especially concerning what we buy and/or eat). We have also learned that some changes really only apply to one of us, which may be the case for you if you are creating these changes in a household with different people.
Here we go!
1. Eliminated high fructose corn syrup
2. Eating smaller portions
3. Choosing snacks more carefully
4. Drinking pop only as a rare treat and instead drinking more water and 100% juice
5. Drinking vitamin-rich smoothies (we buy Bolthouse)
6. Consuming kefir and greek yogurt for probiotic health (good job, hubbie…I’m not there yet)
7. Buying and eating more fruits and veggies
8. Purchased a water filter (we use a container you put in the fridge, not the kind that attaches to the faucet).
9. Choosing whole grain products (and trying to avoid bleached, white flour)
10. Choosing products with lower sugar content
11. Switched to organic milk
12. Learned about the ‘dirty dozen’ and decided to only buy this produce if organic
13. Increased fiber intake (if you like cereal for breakfast, this is an easy place to find high-fiber options)
14. Switched to organic, cage-free eggs
15. Started a garden
16. Discovered ewg.org to help us shop smarter (thank you, EWG!!)
17. Began switching some of our hygiene products (some of these include deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body soap, & hand soap; some are bought, others are simple DIYs)
18. Started using more natural cleaning methods (say hello to vinegar, baking soda, and lemons!)
19. Replaced some cleaning products with Dr. Bronner’s castile soap
20. Changed many light bulbs (we received free CFLs through our energy provider, but eventually I’d prefer LEDs)
21. We unplug electronics when not in use (this and some of the following are more an efficiency issue, but smaller bills contribute to our happiness!)
22. Winterizing the house for colder months (this year, it’s been about 4 or 5 months!)
23. Purchased and use a programmable thermostat (we have it at 67 when we’re home and 62 for away/sleeping – we make it warmer for guests!)
24. Running an air humidifier regularly
25. Using a humidifier at night (great Christmas gift we received)
I hope to be able to add using all-natural lip balm and essential oils soon…but, as always, one small step at a time! What are some of the changes that you have made?!

Beginning to Change

            I have perfectionism in my blood, but it’s that frustrating, mostly self-directed type.  It is much easier for me to be patient and loving towards others who make a mistake than it is to give the same courtesy towards myself.  I can imagine the head nods and looks of understanding even as I write this.  I know I am not alone in this characteristic, and my gut tells me that this may be more common among us women than our male counterparts (correct me if you think I’m wrong, guys!).  While I can channel this into good work and other industrious outcomes, I have learned that trying to be perfect while pursuing a healthier, happier life is extremely counter-productive.

            If we decide to be healthy only if we can ‘do it the right way’ or ‘go all the way’ and be like those always-snack-on-veggies do-yoga-every-day make-their-own-yogurt people, we are probably never going to make any real steps in the right direction (if any of that describes you, by the way, kudos on making great life choices – even if it does make the rest of us jealous, lol). Our lifestyle habits are just like all other aspects of our story: we are all in different places in our journeys, and our destinations need not be the same.  And while this may be frustrating when we’re not where we would like to be, the variety in our different paths makes life interesting and beautiful.

            When my husband and I decided to create a healthier life, I was easily overwhelmed by all the changes we wanted to make and by figuring out where to start.  My thoughts went something like this: ‘We need to add more produce in our diets…but we might as well start switching to some affordable organic produce…which means we’ll have to change our meat, eggs, and milk…and speaking of healthier drinks, what kind of water filter is best?…Do we need to filter our shower water?!’  Maybe you can relate.  With so much information to obtain and so many changes to implement (not to mention my perfectionist tendencies), how did we ever start at all? By taking one small step at a time.

            The following is my advice for others who, like me, find their heads spinning at the daunting task of creating healthier habits:

  1. Start where you are most passionate and/or concerned.  For me, high fructose corn syrup was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  After hearing about its dangers here and there, I finally decided to do some research and then chose to buy products without it.  This led to an interest in label-reading and understanding exactly what we were eating.  By following our passions and interests, we automatically have more energy and ‘oomph’ to put into the task.   
  2. Surround yourself with support.  I think that accomplishing any goal is easier when you have encouraging support to lean up against.  I am fortunate to have a spouse who is on board with making healthier choices.  If you live alone, reach out to friends or family who may want to join you in making certain changes.  If you live with others who are less than supportive, find encouragement from another community you are a part of, including any online!     
  3. Set realistic goals.  When I first dabbled in more natural and safer hygiene products, I grated a recommended bar of soap to make our own body wash.  It took forever (are my arms that weak?!), and the result was just so-so.  I remember feeling so discouraged; we couldn’t afford a ton of fancy, better for you products, but I didn’t have the time (or desire!) to be grating soap every couple of weeks.  Fortunately, we came to a great compromise – we’d buy the affordable bars and use that instead of body wash (it lathers up great with a loofah, anyways).  I had to accept that it just wasn’t worth it to keep making the body wash.  My perfect little image of me making our own soap in no way fits into our reality.  I now try to always keep that in mind before getting wrapped up in a project that is not realistic for our lives.

What were the first steps you took towards a big life change?   

The Magic of Sabbath

            I think Sabbath can be an intimidating word.  It’s heavy with religious tradition and has been around long enough to have many misconceptions attached to it.  But at its core is a simple yet revolutionary concept to many Americans (and others in fast-paced, performance-centered cultures): rest.

            Followers of Christianity and Judaism get this concept from Genesis.  God created the world and then set aside a specific, intentional time (the seventh day) for rest.  Later, this becomes a huge debate between Jewish followers who wonder what exactly they can and cannot do on this special day.  Jesus shows up and, in a typical Jesus move, tries to tell them that they’re missing the point.

I think we’re still missing that point.  We all know we need rest, but building it into our everyday lives can be difficult.  We stay up late watching TV and then try to get up early to hit the gym before work.  We stay late at the office, pick up extra weekend shifts when we can, and cram every moment not at work with errands, chores, and as much fun as we can handle with what little energy we have left.

I reject this harried lifestyle, even though I partially live it (I’m working on it!).  The following are three characteristics to consider as we attempt to embrace Sabbath a bit more in our lives, whether we consider ourselves ‘religious’ or not.

  1. Individually – Your Sabbath should be just that – your’s.  Everyone has preferences for how they best rest.  Some may want to be alone, but others may rather rest with a partner, or even as a family.  Some may want to lounge in their PJs all day, whereas others may want to head to the park to ‘play’ or picnic.  It’s not so much what you do (or don’t do!) as much as that you feel rejuvenated.
  2. In Increments – While I really need a full day of rest pretty regularly, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of rest if you don’t have an entire day to spare.  Even just a few moments of closing your eyes and breathing deeply at work can help you feel more at ease.  Find whatever time you can – whether it’s five minutes or two hours – to begin enjoying periods of rest.
  3. Intentionally – For most of us, beautiful chucks of nothing are not going to magically appear in our schedules (as much as we may wish they would!).  Reaching towards Sabbath may initially involve a bit of work and planning on our part.  I think saying no plays a big role; that may even mean saying no to a fun event on a weekend that is already filled with plans.  Know your rest needs, and don’t be afraid to actively pursue creating space in your life! (Sounds like this goes back to boundaries…)

Do you have Sabbath in your life?  If so, what does it look like?  If not, how can you make it happen?

(If you’re interested in this subject, I highly recommend Lauren Winner’s book Mudhouse Sabbath.  Only one chapter covers this specific topic, but the others are very interesting, as well.)