Be Gentle with Yourself

Posted by Nurse Linda in Life After Paralysis on August 20, 2021 # Health

Woman in a wheelchair reading a bookLast week’s blog contained a brief discussion about relationships. The most meaningful relationship is with yourself. This is an idea that people do not often think about and frequently forget. Being gentle with yourself is something that you should incorporate into your daily life. It consists of gentleness to both mind and body.

Creating a healthy self-image is a challenge as we are bombarded with information about how we should think and how we should look. In reality, we should be positively thinking about ourselves, just as we are.

Changing the approach to how you think about yourself is a process that does not happen quickly. This takes some work. Individuals are quick to think about all their self-perceived qualities in a negative light. Perhaps this is due to negative conditioning throughout life or due to human nature, probably a bit of both. As people, we tend to cling to negative comments and thoughts rather than remembering something positive that was said to us or a moment of pride.

You can change your mindset from a negative thought driver to a positive one. This takes time, practice, and patience on your part. Start by listing your positive qualities. These can be anything that you feel good about. Your list might include your beautiful eyes, fantastic smile, great laugh, generous thoughtfulness, or quick wit. There are many things which are positive in your appearance and personality. If you are new to thinking positively, it might be a challenge to come up with even one thing at first; however, think about it and find that one trait that makes you unique.

Once you accept one great thing about yourself, allow time to enjoy it. You do not need to share your discovery with others but know it is your asset. Next, if you found something about your physical appearance, think of something that you excel in your personality. Or, if you first thought of strength in your personality, think of something in your appearance. Continue over time until you have at least ten strengths for yourself as a person.

When you are alone or with other people, think about your strength instead of your vulnerability. We all have something that we are self-conscious about. Practice keeping your mind on your strengths. When you interact with another person, reflect on how you could improve that interaction using your strengths. Look for the positives in your interactions. Be gentle with yourself in thinking about yourself as well as others. We are all humans moving about to our best abilities. None of us are perfect.

Some people establish a time during the day to meditate or practice mindfulness to help them clear their mind, look for triggers that send them into a downward spiral, or just to rest their mind to change gears from negativity to positive thinking. Just as you need to care for your body, you also need to care for your mind. This is being gentle to yourself.

If you find that you are feeling blue or sad, have difficulty accepting yourself, cannot find something positive in your life or just want a tune-up, talk with your health professional about a mental health checkup. Your healthcare professional may refer you to a therapist or counselor or may offer treatment in their office.

If you are having challenges in your mental wellbeing, you also have the option of calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text GO to 741741. This is a free service to speak with a counselor immediately. You can talk with these professionals at any time, not just in the moment of crisis.

Keeping your mental wellbeing healthy is different from mental illness. We all need to keep our minds healthy, just like our bodies. This allows us to feel good, interact with others better and accomplish life’s goals. Caring for your mental wellbeing is in the news a lot lately as celebrities and even our friends are finding success with keeping mentally strong. Do not rely on what you are reading about others but obtain treatment for yourself because you are your own unique person.

Another way to be gentle with yourself is to treat your body with care. People often think because they may have changes in sensation in parts of their body that it is unable to be hurt. Some individuals do not even consider parts of their bodies as belonging to them. However, your body is still a part of you that needs your care and attention.

Bodies react to pain, irritation, and injury in the areas with reduced sensation. A message of harm may not be received in the brain, fully or partially. Your body may not have the automatic response of moving or adjusting due to a disturbance to a part of it. Care for your body may be different or changed, but your body is still an integral part of your being.

Gentle handling of your body is necessary. This includes moving your body on a regular basis to protect it from the development of pressure injury. When you do move your body, you will want to do so gently to avoid injury of any kind. Often, since there is reduced pain sensation, individuals can become rough with their limbs, which can knock them up against a chair, bed. or wall. This can create bruising, scratches, and bleeding both within and to the outside of the body.

The temperature may not be sensed. Dressing for the weather is important even if you do not sense cold or heat. In the heat and humidity of summer, cool clothes, cooling cloths, fans, air conditioning and cool drinks are needed to keep a body cool. In the winter, warm clothes in layers are important. Cover all parts of your body, even your feet, toes, and hands, to prevent frostbite. Be sure to put a coat on around your entire body, not just over the front, to keep warm. Put a blanket under your pressure dispersing equipment to keep your body warm as a wheelchair can conduct the cold to your body. Stay warm but be careful not to sit too close to a heat source as burns can happen. Humidity can be a factor in the winter as well. Cool or pre-heat your vehicle to ensure an even temperature.

Self-care activities can be a source of stimulation to your body. If you have tone (spasticity), doing daily care can be a trigger. Aggressive exercise, bowel care, or any quick actions to the body can stimulate tone, making any movement of any kind more challenging. People often want to get regular, daily care over so they can begin their day. However, slow and steady will actually reduce the time in these activities. A gentle approach can hasten a bowel program since the goal is to relax the rectal sphincter. Quick, aggressive stimulation, triggers spasticity which closes the rectal sphincter taking more time to complete a bowel program.

Bodies need to be exercised to reduce tone and avoid contractures (stiffening of the joints). The muscles of your body contain a stretch reflex. Muscles are always in a slight state of contraction. Providing a gentle movement to your muscles gives them the feedback they crave. More aggressive therapeutic exercises can be done to stimulate your nerves and muscles, which is excellent but be sure you have been educated about how to do this.

Standing is a form of therapy that helps your body. Even though you may not be moving your body, standing provides a tremendous amount of therapy and benefits. Standing reaps the benefits of gravity. When standing, gravity helps to put weight through the bones, it assists with pulling the diaphragm down to breathe more effectively, it assists with bringing stool down through the bowel, it stretches muscles, and, very significantly, it feels good to the body even if you do not perceive it. Standing is an important factor in mental health. Ask your healthcare professional for an evaluation to see if you are a candidate for a standing frame. Most health payors cover these because of the number of benefits to your body. It is a gentle therapy as your own body supplies the weight for the process.

Being gentle to yourself encompasses both mind and body. These ideas are just starters. You will be able to advance your gentleness as you progress. Gentleness is an organizing thought to coordinate your ideas to care for yourself. Nurse Linda

Pediatric Consideration:

People have the concept of being gentle with babies. However, as children grow, we sort of lose that thinking like children and teens explore the world on their own. Decreased sensation from any cause is a new concept for anyone. There might not be a lot of individuals setting an example for a child to know what to do. Demonstrating gentleness in your own self-care as well as in the care for your child provides an example for children and teens to mimic.

Following the examples above is a good start. Also, think about the activities your child may enjoy. If they like to free form on the floor, be sure they have some cotton pants and long-sleeved shirts to avoid friction and shear injury. The clothing will help their limbs slide along instead of dragging, eliminating the separation of the layers of skin. Always consider gentleness for mind and body. Nurse Linda

Linda Schultz, Ph.D., CRRN, a leader and provider of rehabilitation nursing for over 30 years, and a friend of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation for close to two decades. Within our online community, she writes about and answers your SCI-related healthcare questions in our Heath & Wellness discussion.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.