As you can see from the title, this post is about the benefits of stretching – but not the stretching you do to limber up and prevent your muscles from cramping. The stretching I am referring to is the kind where you do more than you are used to doing or think you can do (but I need to add one more qualification, which is that whatever stretching you do needs to make your life better in some way).
Why is stretching beneficial for those of us with chronic illnesses? It’s beneficial because we often feel depressed and hopeless because of all the things we can no longer do, such as doing things with our children, keeping the house clean, having fund with our friends, etc. And stretching to do more than we normally do or think we can do significantly lessens, and can even eliminate those feelings. Every time we go beyond what we thought our limits were, we feel a sense of accomplishment and hope.
Before I say more, I need to make it clear that I am NOT suggesting that you overextend yourself physically when you know that doing so will exacerbate your symptoms or cause your illness to flare for several days or more. As I said above, the kind of stretches I’m talking about are those that make your life better, not worse. So think of ways you can stretch that will do that. I’ll give you some suggestions a little later in this post.
Stretching, when we don’t overdo it, is very good for us, but most of the time we resist doing it. We resist for lots of reasons, and many of them are from things we learned when we were younger that were either wrong or no longer apply. For example, a baby elephant that is chained to a tree soon learns that struggling to get away is futile (obviously we’re not elephants, but in this case our minds work in the same way that theirs do). When it is an adult, that same elephant can be restrained by a very weak chain. It will not try to break free.
For each of us, from childhood on there have been countless times when we have “learned” that we couldn’t do something, or that doing it was painful. And, as with the elephant, what we “learned” becomes an unconscious limitation. But the process of deliberately trying to stretch makes us question those limitations, and that can enable us to overcome them.
One “chain” that restrains most people is the belief that they need to be in a certain mood to do some things. For example, they don’t think they can reach out and call friends if they don’t feel sociable, or they don’t think they can cook a nice meal for themselves if they are depressed. But the truth is that our actions can be independent of, rather than dependent on, our mood. So don’t let your mood prevent you from stretching!
Hopefully you have thought of some ways that you can stretch. I’ve given you a couple of suggestions: reaching out and calling friends and cooking yourself a nice meal. You can also stretch by taking up a new hobby, planting some flowers in the garden, joining an in person or online club, or countless other ways. So start stretching and you will soon see your depression lessening and your quality of life getting better and better.