A friend sent me this quote, and it has inspired me to share this personal story with you.

For a while I struggled to find my joy.  I was taught not to ‘air my dirty laundry’ but I also know that many of you will be able to identify with my story.

If you suffer from jaw pain, or pain anywhere in the pelvic region, hopefully I’ll be able to share something with you in this blog post that will lead you towards answers and healing.

Towards the end of 2017, life felt crap! I felt over-worked, I hardly saw my friends, I was tearful and more sensitive than usual, I was frustrated and grumpy and I was indecisive – unsure if ANYTHING that I was doing was the right thing.

I felt completely out of balance and it felt horrible.

My day had become a series of tasks and chores – it felt like a job that I was getting tired of. When did my life become a job? I had designed my entire life to AVOID having a job. I created a business out of photography so that I could work my own hours, from where ever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was living a life void of direction, with one day simply rolling into the next.

It was around this time that my chiropractor referred me to a maxillofacial surgeon and said it was time to take the pain in my jaw seriously.

I have suffered from jaw pain for the past 8 years (the exact length of time that I have been shooting weddings.) The level of pain varies but is in direct relation to my stress levels. It can get so bad that I can’t eat solid food without serious discomfort. I haven’t bitten into an apple in years. I thought maybe the surgeon would discover that my jaw doesn’t align properly, or there is some cartilage damage – something a small surgery could fix and VOILA – no more jaw pain. But I was wrong!

There was nothing mechanically wrong with my jaw, nothing at all. I was just suffering from stress.

I spent an hour (and R3500) getting a lecture on stress. He barely spent any time at all examining my jaw. I spent the bulk of the appointment watching a Powerpoint presentation on stress management.

Apparently, 9 out of the 10 people with TMJ issues are women. In the 50s we would have been told to go home to our husbands for (ahem) relief! 

Before I could react to this statement, he told me that doctors now know better, and are encouraging women to better manage their stress in alternate ways.

So… no surgery or magic pill to fix this then? NOPE! It was time to implement some stress management techniques and this was the plan…

  • Head to the dentist for a bite plate (like a gum guard) to prevent clenching and grinding. I was to wear it all the time initially, to help remind me to relax. Once I had broken the habit, I could reduce use to night time only.
  • Eat soft foods to allow the jaw time to heal.
  • Put reminders all around the house (mirror, laptop, steering wheel) to relax my jaw
    (you just did it, didn’t you?) 😉 I used colored stickers.
  • Relieve tension in back and neck by spending less time looking down at my phone and laptop.
  • Exercise. Like a factory has a chimney to release steam, your body needs an outlet too. The more stressed you are, the more exercise you need (which is hard for me, cos when I’m busy I just want to collapse at the end of the day).
  • Spend as little time as possible reading the news or talking about matters which I have no control over.

The tactics that the TMJ doctor gave me were all very much physical, but there was psychological work to be done too. So I took a hard and honest look at all the areas in my life that were causing me stress and I made some changes. I also started to take note of how my mind (my thought patterns) was adding unnecessary stress to my day.

I have a very vivid imagination and the tendency to get lost in my thoughts. This, coupled with the fact that I find myself very easily drawn into other people’s drama, means that I end up with unnecessary negative energy in my life.

I have the option (we all do) to accept that this is just the way I am OR I could address these patterns of behavior and try to change the way I do things.

I was taught a strategy for coping with unwanted and unhelpful thoughts.

When a thought comes into your mind, and you start to have a physical reaction to it (heartbeat quickens, sweating, agitation, tearfulness, irritation, fear) – ask yourself whether the thought is helpful or unhelpful.

The helpful kind ensures that you get to your meeting on time, submit a report in time or deliver a good level of work. Anxiety can help you in these ways. Unhelpful anxiety cripples you and stops you from performing to the level that you should. So the technique is to first identify whether the thought is helpful or unhelpful.

If you decide that it is unhelpful, replace the thought with an image of a great big red stop sign. With that image in your head, distract yourself with an activity. Get up and do something else.
This is a tactic for people who struggle with unhelpful thoughts. I am not suggesting that this simple tactic is the answer for anxiety sufferers.

Now that I had a plan to cope with my stress better, I was going to add purpose and intention to my day.

Thoughts weren’t allowed to creep their way into my consciousness without my consent. How dare they? If my mind wandered off in a particular direction, it was only because it was a helpful direction and I gave it permission to do so.

The other thing that I did to find joy was to reclaim my hours. I didn’t get into this line of work to spend 9am-5pm in my office. I decided that if I was working, I was going to work hard. If I wasn’t working, I was going to put my computer and phone away and be completely present in whatever it was that I was doing.

You see, finding joy begins with YOU!

Making a change begins with YOU!

I am telling you all this, not because I have it all figured out and certainly not because I am an expert in happiness. I am telling you because I went from a 5/10 to a 10/10 in 6 months by taking control of my stress, my mood and my thoughts.

I know that this journey of running your own business is lonely, and confusing, and I’m certain that you can identify with the feelings that I have described above. You might even be suffering with jaw (or neck) pain yourself. I want you to know that you don’t have to accept that this is your lot in life. If you can’t answer that you are as happy as you know you could be, then take control and make a change. You, like me, probably started your own business because you wanted freedom, time with your kids, to work from exotic locations and to take a nap mid day if you needed to (I’m not the only one who does that, right?).

All these things are POSSIBLE if you want change, and if you are READY to put in the work and implement strategies for a happier you.