Health and Well-Being

Tips for Self-Care for the Chronically Ill

First – you matter! What you are going through is important. Your thoughts and feelings count. Whether you are perfectly well, or desperately ill, you have intrinsic value. You are a gift to the world, and you will make it.

For those who have a chronic illness, there is the inevitable struggle of trying to achieve balance in everyday life. The effort to live a “normal” life requires a great deal of energy, and frequently, we feel as if we have too many balls in the air, and there is no way to juggle them all successfully. They merely are flying wild through the air in many directions and then falling everywhere.
We waffle between decisions. Am I well enough to do that, if I do, will I have to pay later? Is the effort worth the pain? How much should I push myself?

So, developing a plan for self-care is vital.
It can make all the difference in anxiety levels. Learning to manage your overall health will also be essential in trying to minimize days it incapacitates you.

Shall we start? –
1) Listen to your body! Too often we don’t pay attention to what is going on in our bodies. The messages your body gives you are crucial to your well-being. If you need to rest, carve out some time to do that, pain and exhaustion are megaphones telling you to slow down. Become comfortable saying no. You don’t have to do or be everything to everyone. And, you needn’t over-explain. “No” is a complete sentence.
2) Be gentle with yourself. Living with a chronic illness is punishing, and can be brutal. Beating yourself up because you cannot attend an event or because you let someone down, is counterproductive; it creates more anxiety not less. (I know, I know, easier said than done.) Treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend, with kindness and compassion.
3) Remember the “Spoon Theory.” The Spoon Theory is a boon to those who suffer from chronic illness. It helps clarify how you are feeling and what you are capable of on any day. Each person has a certain amount of spoons, and when you use those spoons, you’re done. Maybe one day having a shower and getting dressed and doing the dishes uses up more than half of your spoons; then you need to judiciously “spend” the remaining spoons. On another day, you may have all the spoons you need to carry on and do what needs doing; on a bad day, your spoons may be used up before you even get out of bed. Remembering this helps.

4) Don’t be afraid to accept help if someone offers. This statement is self-explanatory. Although, sometimes we allow pride or guilt to get in the way. If you have people in your life who will help you, thank those lovely people, and let them!
5) Ask for help. “Elementary, my dear Watson!” But for the person with a chronic illness, we often hesitate to do this. Again, guilt, nasty old guilt. Let the guilt go, reach out. Ask your friend to pick up ginger ale, help you catch up on the laundry. They may say no, but if you do not ask, you may never get the help of someone perfectly willing to give it to you.
6) Steer away from a victim mindset. Self-pity is deadly. Your world shrinks, your anxiety and depression increase exponentially. It’s valuable and necessary to vent, find safe people with whom you can share your story openly and honestly. But don’t fall into the trap of being a “victim,” it sucks to have a chronic illness, no question, but healthy attitudes make a difference to your emotional well-being, and that is essential to remember.
7) Find a competent, caring therapist. Being chronically ill can be an emotional land-mine, and it’s often difficult to navigate your illness without stepping on a bomb that blows you apart. A great therapist can help you manage your emotions. Depression and anxiety are often co-morbid conditions that go along with a chronic illness and having a professional therapist can make the journey more bearable. They are trained to help you map out and manage various aspects of self-care. 

8) Eat nourishing food. There are all kinds of “diets” out there that claim to be the answer to everything, but keeping it simple is the better option. Focus on whole foods, shop around the outside of the grocery store as much as you can; the less processed and junk food you consume, the better. It’s hard, I know because sometimes comfort foods call your name, but in the long run, it’s best to stick with a diet that is as healthy as possible.
9) Get to bed at a reasonable hour. This one is a corker for me, as I am more of a night owl, but all the research points to the benefits of getting a good nights sleep. When you suffer from a chronic illness, that can be a challenge, because your pain frequently keeps you awake, but when you are able, close those blinds, snuggle under the blankets and get some shut-eye.
10) Distraction works wonders. On those in-between days, when you are not feeling great, but not feeling terrible either, placing your focus on something else will be your best friend. Get outside for a walk, listen to some great music. Have tea or lunch with a friend. What is your hobby/hobbies? Enjoy those wholeheartedly when you are able. Look for joy in unexpected places, watch a funny movie; laughter is the best medicine.

11) Let go of worrying about what others think — such a difficult task. One curse of chronic illness is the dread of letting others down. Stigma is still something we all battle. We would dearly love it if everyone would understand and appreciate what we are going through, but that doesn’t always happen. And living under the black cloud of what we imagine others are thinking of us, adds an extra burden we do not need. So, deep breaths, everyone, let it go – if you can do that, it will bring a measure of relief.
12) Do the next thing. Break your day into small, manageable pieces. When overwhelmed, do the next ‘something.’ And then the next. Baby steps. Back up the panic bus, try not to go there. Instead, make a list. If you cross only one thing off, you still have accomplished that thing. And that is progress. Celebrate it.
13) Start a journal. When “safe” friends and family members seem unavailable, when you need to blow off steam, write, write, write. Studies have proven that journalling improves mental health, and that is a fundamental and significant piece in our overall sense of well-being.

14) Choose your friends wisely. It’s okay to let go. There are people who no matter how hard you have tried to connect and build meaningful relationships with, you find they don’t “get” you. You need people to enrich your life, not make it worse.
15) Find an exercise program and follow it; gentle exercise is best for the chronically ill. Try a Walking Program, Yoga, or Thai Chi. Make sure not to overdo it; that will only backfire and create more problems than it solves.
When it comes right down to it, you are the only one who can take care of you. As much as close family members and friends care, it is taxing and can be wearying for them to be your ever constant support. It’s lovely when they can assist and when they can support you, but they will, from time to time, need to back off. If you have your self-care program in place, it will ease the disappointment and hurt you feel when others cannot give you the help you would like to have.

What are your tips for self-care? I would love to hear about them!


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