June 30, 2016

What counts as a meaningful activity?

By Dr. Aliza Weinrib
A lot of patients ask me what kind of activities count as meaningful activities.

Sometimes it sounds intimidating, like an activity has to be a very big deal and take a lot of time or effort to be meaningful, and that sounds like too much when you are in pain.

Of course, I totally agree that would be too much! This is not about climbing Mount Everest or doing everything that you would do if you didn't have pain.Has a simple hug or a phone call ever meant a lot to you?
Keep in mind that sometimes the smallest, simplest actions are the most meaningful.
Has a little time outside refreshed you? Has cleaning up one part of your living space felt good? Has getting out of bed or having a shower felt like a small victory?

These are all meaningful activities! For the sake of our well-being, we all need to find meaningful activities to do each day that are within our reach.

These meaningful activities can include:
  • Activities that connect you with people you care about. It can be as simple as watching a TV show with a friend, eating a meal together, or sharing some funny texts.
  • Hobbies and fun activities that you enjoy.What do you like to do? Some examples from patients are hobbies like knitting or gardening, playing with pets, reading a good book, or playing a game.
  • Activities that may not be fun, but feel satisfying. Most people don't love doing chores, running errands or paying bills, but it sure feels good when they are done!
  • Activities that are important for your health.This could include things like gentle exercise, grocery shopping, cooking, and going to medical appointments.
  • Activities that are part of taking care of yourself. We all have hard days when we can't do as much. On those days, having a bath or a shower, or taking some time for rest and relaxation, are important things that you can do for yourself.
Meaningful activities can change and improve life with chronic pain
Doing more meaningful activites can change the flavor of your life
When we look at it this way, we do meaningful activities each day. Now you can simply and quickly track yours in the Manage My Pain app. I would like to leave you today with one last thought. Sometimes, we can't eliminate the pain entirely. I know many of you are all too familiar with this very difficult situation!

This is like when I am making soup and I add too much salt. The salt is in there and I can't get it out! The only thing that I can do is add more of the other ingredients – more veggies, more beans, more broth. And then the soup tastes much better. In a similar way, even when you can't get rid of the pain, you can add small, manageable, and meaningful activities to your day. Bit by bit, this can change the flavor of your life.

About the Author

Picture of Dr. Aliza Weinrib
Dr. Aliza Weinrib
Clinical Psychologist, University Health Network
Lead Psychologist, ManagingLife
Dr. Weinrib is a clinical psychologist specializing in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for pain. In addition to her private practice, she practices as part of the Transitional Pain Service at the Toronto General Hospital. She is a Board Member of the Ontario Association for Contextual Behavioural Science and a Researcher at York University.

Dr. Weinrib guides content development as the lead Pain Psychologist at ManagingLife.