The final instalment in this 3 part series on the connection between your pelvic health & emotional wellness!
Check out part 1: Pelvic Floor Dysfunction with Anxiety and Depression? You are not alone!
And Part 2: My Top 3 Tips for Cultivating Emotional Wellness in Your Pelvic Health Recovery
- Body Positivity… and last but not least…
Mindfulness is a BIGGIE and certainly takes practice…Let’s skim the surface on what it means to be mindful and how this can help our pelvic health!
My first several attempts at mindful meditation (as someone who is a bit of a perfectionist) looked a lot like this…
…”is this it?…am I doing it?…is this mindfulness? Maybe it is?…I haven’t planned dinner for tonight…what am I going to make?…I have to get to the grocery store…Will I have time to do get there before picking up the kids?…how much longer do I have to sit here?… oh crap this is not mindful…I suck at this!” AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!
For a while, I decided that mindfulness was just NOT for me…I could not “quiet my mind”. But then, I found Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and learned that trying to quiet my mind, force myself to think positively, create calm and trying to “get it right” was the exact opposite of what it means to be mindful.
So…what is mindfulness? There is NO ONE or RIGHT definition, but this is my favorite:
“Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, focus and openness – which allows you to engage fully in what you are doing at any moment. In a state of mindfulness, difficult thoughts and feelings [or even distressing physical symptoms] have much less impact and influence over you” From: https://www.actmindfully.com.au/acceptance_&_commitment_therapy
SO HOW DO WE ACCESS THIS MENTAL STATE? FIND YOUR SKY!
There are many analogies and metaphors out there to help us understand and practice finding this mental state. My favourite visualization to get connected to a mindful state is picturing myself as the sky. My thoughts, memories the sensations within me, and what is going on in my environment are the clouds passing through the sky. In the midst of an emotional storm, the clouds get dark and begin to swirl through the sky. It is so easy for any one big, dark, menacing cloud to grab my attention, hook me in and carry me away into the storm. Getting back in touch with that broader sky allows me to make space for those big dark clouds, but also take stock of the other clouds in the sky and gain perspective that while the storm will pass, I am the sky, I am constant. Picking a fight with any one cloud, often results in that cloud pushing us around. Mindfulness isn’t about creating a calm sky, it is about changing your relationship with the storm so that it has less influence over you.
SO WHY DOES MINDFULNESS MATTER IN PELVIC HEALTH RECOVERY?
Remember that it is NORMAL for this process to be difficult. What mindfulness does is help us to make space for the natural ways in which this is difficult without creating too much unnecessary additional pain by getting carried away by the “dark clouds”.
SOME EXAMPLES OF COMMON DARK CLOUDS IN PELVIC HEALTH RECOVERY…ARE ANY OF THESE FAMILIAR???:
- Avoiding the issue (“ahhh this is just a normal part of having a baby” or “this is so overwhelming, I am not going to go back to see that pelvic health provider”).
- Labelling (i.e. “Despite all of my hard work, I am still having symptoms therefore I am broken/I am a failure” OR “I was told by my health provider to not insert exercise here, therefore it is BAD for my pelvic health therefore I should NEVER do it again).
- Personalization (i.e. “I exercised hard too early after child birth, I caused this”)
- Blame (“My doctor/midwife/sister/mother/best friend should have told me that this could happen to me, its their fault!”)
- Catastrophizing (i.e. “I am having a setback in my recovery or have reached a plateau, I am never going to get any better.”)
- All or Nothing thinking (i.e. if I don’t constantly have “perfect” alignment, breathing and muscle activation all the time, I am just going to make things worse).
- Emotional Reasoning (i.e. “this movement causes discomfort or anxiety, therefore I should listen to my body and avoid it”)
- Hooked by the past or memories(i.e. birth trauma, past experiences when certain movement or activities triggered symptoms, “if only my body looked and felt like it used to”)
- Hooked by the future/expectations (i.e. “I will enjoy my life again WHEN my symptoms are all gone”, “My symptoms are never going to go away entirely, what’s the point?”)
Again, these thoughts are only natural…BUT…it can be helpful to start to explore how these thoughts or thought patterns are serving you along your recovery journey. These thoughts can shift you towards an extreme of disconnecting from your core or shift you towards the extreme of becoming consumed by your pelvic health.
Consider where you are on this spectrum in this moment and which “Dark Clouds” may be carrying you towards either end of the spectrum.
There is a SWEET SPOT in there in which we can become aware of our pelvic health (through education, visualization, and practicing shifting our attention here), take stock of it in the context of the bigger picture of who we are, allowing ourselves some clarity in determining how best to address the sensations or symptoms that we are experiencing AND continue to live our lives and values.
Disconnection______________ Sweet Spot _____________Hypervigilance
We will shift along this spectrum throughout our lives, but mindfulness helps us to find the sweet spot more often!
SO HOW CAN YOU GET STARTED WITH LEARNING MINDFULNESS??
Meditation can be a useful way to cultivate mindfulness but it is not the only way! There are a TON of ways to cultivate mindfulness in day to day moments, day to day movement or in your exercise/rehabilitation programs. I am forever learning new skills to help me connect with this head space.
Practicing mindfulness in the midst of emotional turmoil can be a difficult place to start. I often suggest to clients that they practice becoming present in joyful or soothing moments. These are moments that we often miss out on when we are caught up in our pelvic health. Find an activity that gives (or used to give) you the warm and fuzzies. For new mamas, it may be cuddling baby or watching them sleep. It could be eating your favorite food or sipping a hot beverage. It could be having a warm shower or getting a massage. My favorite tool is to use the senses to bring awareness to these moments. Remember that your thoughts will most definitely wander. Simply notice when this happens and shift your awareness back to your sensations…In this moment:
- What do you see?
- What sensations do you feel on your body?
- What sensations to you feel inside of your body?
- What do you hear?
- What do you smell?
- What do you taste?
- How is your body moving or finding stillness to engage in this moment and what does that feel like?
It can take time to develop these skills. Contacting the moments that feed your soul is often a great place to start!
A FINAL NOTE:
Please consider investing in your emotional wellness along this journey!
*Occupational Therapy is covered by many extended health care plans and you can use your health care spending account to cover Occupational Therapy services.*
In the absence of extended health coverage, I am saddened to hear women say (OFTEN!) that they are paying out of pocket for their Pelvic Health Physiotherapy and therefore have to let their mental health care slide as they cannot afford both. I certainly understand that this can be financially difficult!
However, I would like to raise awareness that working on these skills (Self-Compassion, Body Positivity, and Mindfulness) are integral and really should not be an afterthought or luxury on your journey to wellness. They will have a direct effect on your work in Physiotherapy and can be far more impactful than any one stretch or strengthening exercise prescribed.
Occupational Therapists are holistic practitioners positioned perfectly to help you and any other health care providers involved in your care to bridge the gap between your emotional wellness and physical recovery. Get in touch to discuss how we can work together!
Stay tuned, for news on a presentation coming to KW Pelvic Health in which Beth Albert (Pelvic Health Physiotherapist) and I will be discussing how we can work collaboratively to address your pelvic pain!
Lara Desrosiers OT Reg. (Ont.)
Occupational Therapist, Psychotherapist