For many of us, having a morning routine is invaluable. Not only does it help us set the tone for a productive day but it also grounds us and helps us manage our anxiety about facing our day’s challenges. But if you manage life with chronic pain it can be challenging to find the time and energy to develop a routine. Chronic pain can be emotionally and physically exhausting, cause fatigue and make it difficult to get a good night’s rest. Even thinking of getting up the next day to face it all over again – routine or not – can feel overwhelming. But with a bit of planning each day, you can enjoy the powerful ripple effect a morning ritual can have on the rest of your day.
Begin your day with a sense of calm
How often do you wake up and get dressed in a hurry? Do you frantically rush around your house? Are you perpetually worried about facing traffic on your way into work? If you manage life with chronic pain and invisible illness, it can often feel burdensome to face your day and the nagging pressure of being rushed. The pain, stiffness and fatigue associated with chronic pain can also slow you down since they can make you feel rundown and incapable at moving at a quicker pace. That, of course, can frustrate you, compounding the feeling of being rushed and leaving you lamenting over why every single thing has to be so demanding and effortful for you.
Beginning a morning routine can help you start your day in a more organized and calm way. It can allow you to focus on taking care of yourself first and building a foundation that prepares you to handle daily stressors. The power of a morning ritual is that you get to plan out your time so that you can accomplish your morning tasks in a calm manner and within a timeframe that works for your body.
Plan your ideal morning ritual
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Wake up earlier
Work on waking up a few minutes earlier than you normally do. It may help to go to bed a bit sooner than you normally do the last night before. If you struggle to make those changes, just remember the stress of waking up at the last minute and rushing. Refocus that struggle and instead be grateful to reset a few extra minutes of your rest so that you can kick your day into gear without rushing.
Pain and stiffness may be worse in the morning. It may take a while for your body to loosen up, too. Giving yourself more time can help you stay more relaxed.
Try gentle stretches
If you manage life with chronic pain, you know that it’s often accompanied with stiffness, gentle stretches can help your body loosen and wake up. From the side of your bed, lift your arms and wiggle your fingers and toes, and then move your ankles from side to side. This will help your blood flow to these areas. Stand up slowly when you feel ready.
“Stretching makes you feel better instantly. It allows for full mobility and range, helping you develop muscle structure and helping the muscles function efficiently and correctly,” Renee Scott, former professional ballerina and founder of Barre Attack, said.
Take a warm shower
Help your stiff joints and muscles with a warm shower. Taking a warm shower is a gentle and calm way to get your day started off right.
“For those who have a hard time waking up, a morning shower can make a big difference, said Dr. Janet K. Kennedy, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert in New York. It can boost alertness, she said, but she recommends a somewhat cooler, not cold, shower to avoid raising your body temperature dramatically.”
Meditate for a few minutes
As your morning coffee brews, sit on your couch quietly for a few minutes of meditation. Meditation promotes relaxation and a calm mind. Instead of diving into your to-do list, give your mind time to wake up with a meditation.
“Mornings are when I have time to focus on me, before my mind becomes bogged down with action items and calendar reminders,” Emily Abbate, C.P.T. said. “Since taking those few minutes for myself in the morning, I’ve noticed that I feel more chipper and I’ve been enjoying my runs more, too. Plus, I’m doing something, if only for five minutes, that makes me better for the entire day. Five minutes to a better me? Of course I have time for that.”
Write in a journal
Many people find that writing in a journal is helpful in processing dreams or emotions. Your journal is your space to be free and open, so take a few moments to gather your thoughts and let them spill out onto the page. “On days I get thrown off course or don’t get that morning check-in time for whatever reason, I feel cranky, foggy-headed, and unfocused,” Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN said. “My work and interactions with others suffer because my head is still full of lots of random thoughts. Because it’s rarely realistic for many of us (myself included) to sit and free-write three pages every morning, I’ve found that having a structure of short prompts helps me focus fast.”
You may be a coffee drinker, but remember that your body will thank you for drinking an ample amount of water – especially in the morning. “Our bodies are pretty dry when we wake up,” Angela Lemond, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said. “Drinking a couple of glasses of water to allow the body to rehydrate allows for better digestion when you do eat. If you are not properly hydrated, body processes do not work as efficiently.”
Eat a healthy breakfast
You haven’t eaten since dinner, so your body needs to be refueled. Make sure you’re giving it what it needs. Focus on whole food plant-based options that provide your body with the nutrients it needs without the fat and cholesterol of the standard American breakfast. Try a piece of toast with some fresh fruit or a fresh fruit smoothie with nut butter.
Check the traffic
Before you head out, check your local traffic report. Plan an alternative route if needed before you get in the car to save you from the frustration of being stuck in stopped traffic.
Put your new routine to work
It takes time for a routine to become a part of your day, so give yourself time. Stay in contact with your healthcare team about your pain, about your new routine and about any other ways you are working to manage your pain. Make adjustments to your routine as you and your team see fit.
The power of a morning ritual can help you start your day more calmly and with less pain. You might not notice an immediate difference, but when practiced long-term, a morning ritual has the power to help you manage life with chronic pain in a more calm and organized way.
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