Whoo! It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for your humble blogger here. In a nutshell, I spent the past weeks collecting medical records for my Disability Medical Review, seeing doctors and having more medical tests done. I had my first 24-hour BP monitor test, which was incredibly not fun. A 24-hour BP is basically getting fitted with a machine and blood pressure cuff which then sticks to you like a leech and takes your blood pressure every 20 minutes for an entire day. My poor capillaries.
Anyway, now that all that mush is mostly over I can relax a little. Now that it’s Fall (my absolute favorite season), I can revive my favorite morning ritual of starting the day with a cup (or three) of tea.
How do you start your day?
Your alarm doesn’t go off, you can’t find your keys, the toaster burns your breakfast, the trains are delayed and by the time you stagger into your job you’re stressed and cranky. Every tiny annoyance and stroke of bad luck after that looms larger until you’re ready to start throwing things against the wall. Sound familiar?
Everyone has bad mornings. Everyone has good mornings. For those of us with lupus, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ mornings can also include how swollen your joints might be, if your muscles are cramped, if you’re fighting a flare or inflection, or if you even have the energy to get out of bed at all. With lupus’ unpredictable nature, it can seem like going through everyday is like navigating a mine field. Starting your day off on the best foot possible is then twice as important.
What Are Rituals?
Whether you realize it or not, your life abounds with rituals. A mother who tucks her children into bed and reads them a story every night is performing a ritual. Your pre-game party where you make your famous nachos is a ritual. Some are ingrained in us through our upbringing. Some we create ourselves. Some have spiritual meaning, but many are practical.
Chances are, you already have a morning ritual – it might involve a loud alarm, staggering out of bed, shoveling breakfast down your throat and rushing off to work. Sure, this routine serves a purpose – namely, getting you out the door – but does it really serve you? If you find yourself dreading the morning or groaning as soon as you open your eyes, then your morning routine might need a second look. Make the time to ask yourself these questions. If writing’s your flavor, then journal about the answers in a notebook so you can keep track of any ideas you get.
How do I feel in the morning?
If you consistently wake up feeling rested and generally well – congratulations! What are you reading this for? On the other hand, if you consistently wake up really groggy, sore and feeling generally miserable, think over what you can do to change that. Are you not getting enough sleep or do you toss and turn all night? In the summer, I actually have more trouble sleeping since my open windows let in the sounds of cars, sirens and night owls as well as the breeze. While you can’t change what’s going on outside your house, ear plugs and super-heavy drapes can help muffle it. If you toss and turn a lot, then your mattress might need an upgrade. If a completely new mattress is out of the question, a foam mattress topper or featherbed can give you extra cushioning and warmth.
If it’s sore joints that are making your mornings extra rough, talk to your doctor first. For me, a cold night adds tense muscles to sore joints, so if your room tends to be chilly, try adding extra blankets to keep your body warm and loose. Another suggestion is doing some light stretches before trying to get out of bed. My worst morning offenders are my lower back and hips, so before I even try getting out of bed I’ll curl my legs up as much as possible and very gently roll my legs from side to side, loosening up my spine. A bed that’s low to the ground can also make getting up in the mornings a little easier.
Am I giving my body the time to do what it needs to do?
For years I would have a chronically upset stomach. It was mild enough to ignore, so ignore it I did, figuring that it must be a part of my lupus symptoms or maybe just another one of the little surprises that my body liked to spring on me. It wasn’t until I lost my job and went on disability that I found the reason. In the midst of jumping out of bed and rushing out the door, I wasn’t giving my body time to properly get rid of yesterday’s waste and properly digest the first fuel of the new day. As a result, I was starting every day by throwing myself into an uncomfortable imbalance. After a few months on disability, my body settled into a new routine where it wasn’t being rushed and I haven’t had those stomach problems in years.
If you’re employed then this step can be tricky; it does take time for your body to ease out of an old routine and into a new one. If you have some vacation time coming up, that could be a great time to be aware of any differences in how you feel and how your routine changes. Do you feel more rested when you get up? Is your pain less? Is your mood better? Make quick notes about what time you wake up, what you eat and how you feel and compare them to your regular morning routine. If you do notice differences, think of any ways you can bring a little of that into your normal day.
Am I giving my body what it needs to get through the day?
Like beating a dead horse, we’ve heard over and over that breakfast is numero uno in starting the day off right. However, it’s easy to forget that when you’re running late and just hear that there are train delays and heavy traffic. It’s much easier to grab whatever is available, healthy or not. It’s worth the extra bit of effort to prep some healthy snacks the night before or buy them from the store, so that they’re handy. Finding healthier alternatives to your favorite morning foods is a good idea as well. Even something as simple as mixing a handful of nuts and granola with your morning cup of yogurt can give your body an extra energy boost.
Starting on the right thought
While the above deals with your body, starting the day with a good attitude can help make your day go more smoothly overall. You can take advantage of your morning commute by listening to relaxing music (not too relaxing – you might fall back asleep) or an inspirational podcast. Personally, I like listening to something funny, like Weird Al songs. Reading a book or performing breathing exercises are other options that can easily be done on a train, bus or anywhere else you can sit down for a bit.
How do I start?
If big changes to your morning routine aren’t an option right now, try small changes. Practice some calming breathing during your commute by breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds and breathing out through your mouth for 8 seconds. Make it a game by increasing your time and seeing how long you can stretch your breath out. Before brushing your hair or while putting a little moisturizer on your face, take a minute to give yourself a quickie head massage. Rub the pad of your fingers on your temples, along your jaw and your eyes. If you wear glasses like I do, you might have a bit of extra pressure on your temples and behind your ears from where your glasses sit, so give those some extra love. Shoulder tension is pretty common, so giving each shoulder a little kneading can help work out any morning stiffness as well.
Make mornings easier on yourself by having everything ready to go the night before. Have some food ready to grab and everything you’ll need for the day in a bag by the door. Having everything all set, you can sleep a few extra minutes and not feel rushed as you leave.
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What little tricks do you use to make your mornings smoother?