In April 2020, the VF ran an article about Fran Crotty, who was diagnosed in 1996 with granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA) and Crohn’s disease. Fran has managed to stay in remission for almost two decades and in the April article, she describes how faith and positivity have fueled her personal transformation. You can read it here: https://www.vasculitisfoundation.org/success-stories/fran-crotty-finds-that-faith-and-positivity-fuel-her-personal-transformation/. Fran has written the story you are about to read below on her morning routine for creating a positive start for the day.
What does wellness look like in the time of COVID-19? What are ways for patients to stay mentally healthy while physically isolating due to the pandemic?
Long before news of the arrival of a strange flu that had closed down China and was spreading quickly through Europe came to light, I devoted part of my morning routine to my mental and emotional health. I am glad I had made this a priority because life during COVID-19 can be really stressful and very isolating at times. While many of us are out of our normal routines (like getting dressed for work or getting kids off to school), a morning regimen may be just what’s needed to get us all off to a good start and adds some normalcy to our lives.
After waking each morning, most of us take for granted that we will begin our day by brushing our teeth, taking a shower, and getting dressed. Minty breath, soap-scented skin, and clean clothes sure make us feel ready to face the outside world. But how much thought do we put towards preparing our inner selves to create a positive start for the day? Could taking some time in the morning possibly help us deal with life’s challenges a bit more even-tempered later in the day? With a little thought and planning, I began to tweak my existing routine to give my mental and emotional health the added attention it deserved. These few additions have done wonders for my mood and ability to be more resilient in handling challenges throughout the course of my day. And as we’ve all learned, especially those of us with autoimmune disorders, our emotional health directly impacts our physical health. So, let me share some of my secrets that keep me on track, motivated and able to better handle (mostly) what life throws me.
First, I set my phone to wake me at the same time each day, an hour later on weekends. I put it in a place where I have to physically get out of bed to turn it off. (I know that otherwise I will hit the snooze button and roll over.) I start my morning’s first few minutes with an attitude of gratitude (or as my parish priest, with a strong Philadelphia accent, puts it “have an addy-tude of graddy-tude”). So, I say thank you to God, the universe… listing all I am grateful for. Need some ideas? Look around your bedroom to start… my husband lying next to me, cozy sheets and blankets, sun streaming in the windows, a plush rug on the floor, indoor plumbing… Oprah Winfrey says, “You radiate and generate more goodness for yourself when you’re aware of all you have and not focusing on your have-nots.”
Next, I allow time for meditation – 15 minutes. I used to be very frustrated each time I read or heard someone advise a daily meditation practice for optimum health. Of course I wanted to do all I could to improve my health! But when thoughts of my to-do list began to interrupt my attempts at meditating, I’d just beat myself up. That sure didn’t feel Zen. Then I read Emily Fletcher’s book, “Stress Less and Accomplish More.” Emily says, “This is not meditation for monks, it’s meditation for people with busy minds and busy lives. I give people permission to have thoughts. Everyone thinks it’s about just clearing the mind and since that is very hard, people don’t want to do something for very long that they feel like they are failing at.”
Whether you read a book, watch a video or use a meditation app, it’s worth allowing time to calm your mind with meditation. Ideally, allow for two, 15-minute meditations. But start off with one; make it routine and then go from there. Lately, I start my morning with www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7Vo3IjrsrE&feature=share.
Next, I wash up and dress for some exercise. Either I head outside for a 30-minute walk in my neighborhood or to the family room for a workout via YouTube. Walking outdoors, preferably with a walking buddy (shout-out to my friend Kathleen), starts your day in the fresh air and a partner means you’re accountable to someone else. A walk doesn’t require special clothes or a membership. The added benefit of meeting a friend is the daily catch-up, a time for venting or for lending an ear—all good for our mental health. If your friend can’t make it, continue your gratitude work; be thankful for sidewalks, beautiful gardens, nice neighbors or listen to an educational and uplifting podcast.
When the weather doesn’t cooperate, I turn to YouTube. There’s a workout for everyone right on your phone or TV. I typically tune into my “friend” Pamela (Reif) who has plenty of options for workouts at every level and a focused workout for every area of the body. (My go to is https://youtu.be/ILUZz0nGEBI). I just love Pamela because she is ALWAYS happy to see me, never judges my workout outfit (sometimes my pjs) or my bed head, and always ends our workout sessions with a “Well Done!” Sometimes I work out to the video music and other times I turn the volume all the way down. Then on my phone, I listen to positive affirmations, which I repeat as I exercise. I know it sounds like a lot of technology, but doing this allows me to strengthen the body and the mind, both in the same 30 minutes!
Off to shower. After which, while applying lotion, getting dressed, and applying makeup, I say a rosary. To keep me on track, I pray along with a rosary app (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/holy-rosary-standard-edition/id980806882). Lately, my family has been dealing with some stressful issues, in addition to worries of COVID-19 and isolating at home. There are times when it feels like I have tried everything, but I won’t give up. That’s why my faith and prayer is what I lean on. So, like brushing my teeth, saying the rosary has become a habit. Also, I’ve been collecting prayers and words of inspiration in a binder that I keep at my bedside. I aim to read a selection each day. When that wasn’t happening as often as I wished, I decided to record myself (iPhone voice memos) reading some of my favorites. Once I finish praying the rosary, I head down to the kitchen to empty the dishwasher or to the yard to water our raised beds, while I listen to these recordings.
Then it’s time for a healthy breakfast…. That will be another post.
This may sound like a bit too much multi-tasking for some people—especially first thing in the morning. But if any of my suggestions resonate, give them a try. Use technology in a positive way. Take baby steps. See what feels good. Add a nugget to your morning routine…. then rinse and repeat. Next thing you know, it’s a habit, like washing your hair.
Good luck and stay well!