Category Archives: Self Health

Pain and Anxiety Relief With Mindfulness and AT


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

Drawing of a man and a dog with thought bubbles. The man's bubbled is cluttered while the dog's has only trees. Caption reads

There is often an inside joke among people that have Cerebral Palsy (CP) related to how often we get told by those in the medical profession to “just relax”.  It’s funny, because, with CP of the spastic type, it is very difficult, if not impossible to get you muscles to relax especially if you’re trying or anticipating something painful.  Personally, being cold, anxious, tired, excited, or even having a thought can make every muscle in my body tighten.  There is a definite mind body connection when it comes to CP.  This is why, when learning about techniques to help with anxiety, insomnia, and shame resilience, I’ve had a hard time understanding exactly how to be mindful.  Mindfulness involves intentionally focusing your attention on the present moment, feeling relaxed, and accepting all of your thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgement.  How do I stay in the present, remain relaxed, and accept my thoughts?   That’s like the doctor telling me to relax before they poke me with a needle!

Yet, I decided to give mindfulness another try when my doctor recommended it as we were discussing the pain in my neck and shoulders from spasticity (I tend to pull my shoulders to my ears, especially at night).   After researching apps, books, cd’s and websites (there are many to choose from) I decided to try an app called HeadSpace (also a website), aimed at beginners, that takes you through a 10 minute mindfulness exercise for 10 days.  These exercises are free, but you can also get additional content with a paid subscription.  The app is easy to use and provides funny animation tutorials before the exercise.  The exercises themselves are easy to understand, and make a point to discourage efforting to make yourself relax.  That’s when it hit me – I was trying too hard to make myself relax instead of letting it happen naturally.

Index finger tracing the hand.Mindfulness is still not easy for me, it involves practice.  I can say that I am starting to get it, feel more relaxed, and even fell asleep one night during an exercise!  I’ve had to modify things a bit to help me stay in the present moment.  For example, I trace my fingers as I breathe in and out as a sensory reminder.  Other people have used tapping or hugging themselves as a way to enhance their mindfulness.  Assistive technology like weighted blankets, adult coloring books or objects like a smooth rock, candle, soft fabric, beads, or a bracelet work for other people.  My colleague, Aimee, has blogged extensively on alternatives to medication for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and relaxation. Check out:

Mindfulness doesn’t require you to sit with your legs crossed, burn incense, or say “ohm”.  You don’t even necessarily have to have your eyes closed. It just requires intention and practice and there is really no wrong way to do it.

What relaxation or pain relief techniques do you use?


When Spring Didn’t Come


As I sit here using my light box, listening to the rain on the roof, I wonder when can I start tapering off using it each morning? I use the light box to help keep my circadian rhythm in tune with the rest of the world. Otherwise, especially in Winter with my tendency toward Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Delayed Phase Sleep Disorder (i.e. extreme night person!), I would not sleep at night and be useless during the day.

crocus budsWith more natural light in the warm months along with more opportunities to be outside, I don’t need to use the light box every day. I usually taper off sometime in the spring, typically by the beginning of June and then start again in mid-September.

Spring usually brings more energy, you know, that feeling we used to call “Wanting to run naked through the woods”. Not that we did, but it was a pretty good description of the feeling. [There used to be a TV show called Northern Exposure. One episode was about the annual spring “bull” run through town.]. Maybe the feeling has a theme song like the song “Here comes the Sun” by the Beatles. The urge to get outside, to throw open the windows and clean out the dust of winter (see “AT for Spring Cleaning!)

Except one year when spring didn’t come. Oh yes, outside the birds returned and flowers bloomed and the days got longer, but inside me, it was missing. Actually the lack of the “wanting to run naked through the woods” feeling made me even more depressed.

This was more than SAD. For those of you who have had major depression, you know. But it’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been there. I’d get advice like “It’s a beautiful day, get outside, open the blinds, you’ll feel better.” So I’d try and the contrast between the Spring outside and the darkness inside me simply made me feel worse.

silhouette of a person sitting on chair holding head with one arm with words in background like Unimportant, unwanted, useless, broken, alone.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” – T.S. Elliot

Did you know, contrary to a common belief, suicide rates don’t peak during the winter holidays. They are highest in the spring and fall.

If you have SAD and use a light box and find you can’t taper off in the Spring as usual, please reach out and get some help. There’s apparently something called “reverse SAD”. However, it’s also possible that something more than SAD is going on. Depression is a life threatening condition and not to be taken lightly. Please take care of yourselves and of each other.


Blocking the Blue Light


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff Member

I’ve been seeing lots of articles lately warning that the blue light from electronics including smart phones, tablets, computers, and televisions, negatively impact sleep. I’ve blogged before about my on-going quest for better sleep including use of weighted blankets, my cpap experience, and how I use a pillow headphone and the Stitcher App to help me turn off my brain.  Insomnia has always been a part of my life, but with these tools and techniques, it is less a problem than ever.

But part of my solution is also adding to the problem—I use my cell phone to play podcasts, music, and meditation recordings to help me sleep. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I get on my smart phone and select something to listen to that helps me fall back asleep—blasting my eyes with blue light in the process.

I was concerned reading the articles that I was helping and hurting myself at the same time, but I also knew my sleep was better than it had been in years, so I just kept up with what I was doing—ignoring my doctor’s warning about “sleep hygiene” and screens but following the other advice.

Noir Blugard glasses with black plastic rims and orange lenses

Finally, I starting noticing articles on some solutions that could work—things that block blue light. There are apps for Android devices that block blue light (Apple doesn’t allow app developers to access the display in this way), programs to use on your computer screen,  blue-light-blocking glasses, and blue-light-blocking screen shields for smartphones and tablets.

I’m definitely going to give these a try so my AT for sleep doesn’t help and hurt me at the same time. My smartphone retina screen is on order.

Have you tried any of the blue-light blocking technology?
Has it helped?


Hey Santa, how about one of these?


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I’m not so sure I was on my A-game of gift wishing last week (my husband reminded me I have a yogurt maker but I loaned it to a friend, though the aromatherapy device still appeals)—so I’m stepping it up a bit this week. After finishing up the Hanukkah shopping and gifting for others, I think I have some better ideas for AT that’s on my Christmas list this year. Good thing my family celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas!

First up, Santa, could I have the Peeramid Bookrest with the cute owl cover? I am an avid reader, but my arms fall asleep and my chronic upper back pain can be triggered by holding books for a long time. I often just use a pillow to prop the books on my stomach, but why not have the added benefit of a specifically designed pillow with a built in tray, pocket, and bookmark? I saw these while browsing my local book shop this weekend. If Santa is on a budget, there are navy Peeramid bookrests too for $10 less.

a pyramid shaped firm pillow with a long tassel coming out of the top to use as a bookmark and a lip around all four sides to hold the book

And look at this Santa, I’m still thinking of others, while looking at the bookrest options, I also saw this item for my friends that are iPad lovers—I have an iPad and enjoy it but don’t use it for reading as the backlight hurts my eyes. So—as a service for you iPad/tablet users out there—you may want to ask Santa for this IPEVO PadPillow Pillow Stand. I like that it folds up for tabletop or closer use and unfolds to put the tablet at a distance that might be more comfortable ergonomically or for your eyes.

the IPEVO folded up as a stand with a tablet on it. the prism is folded closer to the pillow base and theres a plastic guard to hold the iPad in place--a small piece like a tab in front of the screen

a woman reclining on a couch with the IPEVO in extended mode--the the prism-shaped bolster is near her knees with her iPad on it and the pillow pad is unfolded and extends toward her chest








Next up—a great stocking stuffer idea Santa—the reCAP, it’s only $7.99. OK, yes, I already have some of these but they are in boring silver. I use them everyday and could use a backup in a pleasant color. I have been on a long quest for the best, safest, most watertight, economical, environmentally friendly water bottle for quite some time. For now, the reCAP is the winner. The reCAP takes any mason jar and makes it into a water bottle. It has a gasket (unlike some other jar transformer systems) and a larger opening to drink out of. I am on several meds that result in dry mouth and feel better overall when I’m well hydrated. The mason jar conversion means there’s no BP of any sort—A, B, or otherwise, and the mason jars are affordable and very easy to clean. I use the wide mouth 24 and 32 oz. versions as they are even easier to clean. My only beef with the recap system, now that I have a car with larger cupholders, is that Mason jars aren’t insulated so they sweat, so if Santa wants to bring me some coasters to keep around the house and office, that would be great too–hint, hint, I like rainbows.

two mason jars one with a smoothie in it and the other filled with blueberries with recaps on the top

the recap in its packaging, basically a lid with a spout with a hinged cover for the spout









Finally, how about a Tile? I first heard of these from Carrie Baugher, a colleague at The Disability Network in Flint. These are small tiles that you can attach to things you frequently lose, then use your iPhone to find them—having the tile ring to find your attached item, or using the map function of the app that goes with tile to figure out the last location and time seen of the item. This all sounded good to me at the time, but the item my husband Joe and I most often lose is our iPhones. So, I thought, “Well great if I can find my iPhone I can find my keys, but what about when I can’t find my phone?” If one or the other of us has our phone we call each other’s phone to help find it—assuming the phones aren’t on silent, then we are in real trouble. Enter second generation Tile to the rescue! With the second generation, you just find an item of yours that has a tile, and use it to ring your iPhone, even if the phone is on silent. Hooray! Problem solved. So, Santa, in hopes of increasing the odds of finding either our phones or a device with the tile attached, Joe and I would like to share a 4-pack of tiles. I’m not sure I can claim this “losing devices” thing as a part of any of my disabilities, but the resulting anxiety definitely exacerbates my real, underlying anxiety disability, so I guess this is a preventive device.

the tile next to a cell phone the tile is 1.3 inches square and has a hole in the top corner to feed onto a key ring

There—a much better wishlist for Santa of AT that will help me every day. And really Santa, I know you know after the year Joe and I’ve had, what I really want, and its not technically something that can be bought, so for now, I’ll just send out positive energy and hope for good things for the New Year, and wish for these things to have a little fun.

Thanks Santa!

Wishing you and yours peace, joy, and love this holiday season and always,