Living with a chronic illness can be extremely difficult. You struggle with feelings of anxiety, loss of control of your own body, guilt, pain, anger and exhaustion. Every day will challenge you. As you look around at your friends and family, it might cause you to feel guilty that you may not always be able to join in at gatherings or go out and have fun like you use to do. All of these feelings are not abnormal. In fact, they are very rational, and if you spoke to anyone with a chronic illness, they would agree they probably feel the exact same way.
If you continue to work, you must find time to take care of activities of everyday living, such as taking care of children, spouses, household chores, and work. Then there is you: Your needs. What happens when you are at the bottom of your To Do list? The outlook isn’t good. You have probably heard the expression “You can’t pour from an empty cup” ? Well, that’s absolutely correct! Living with illness is already an enormous stressor, draining your cup steadily. This adds to your stress tremendously, threatening your health even more. If there is anything I have learned as a holistic practitioner, it’s that self-care should be your priority.
I teach this to my patients, as well. I want to share a few tips that I have learned over the years and hope you find them as helpful as I do.
It’s ok to say No
Setting boundaries is necessary when it comes to reducing your stressors and maintaining self-care. Let friends and family know that while you love to do social things such as going out, you’re not able to at this time. Saying no does not make you a bad person and it certainly doesn’t mean you don’t care. Saying no means that you are giving yourself the space you need to heal.
Saying yes just to make others happy can cause resentment on your end. If they continue to pressure you or try to persuade you into saying yes and it makes you uncomfortable, you may need to put some distance between you and that person for some time. There is no need to feel guilty about this. It will only help your physical and mental health in the long run.
If your list of To-Do’s don’t include you at the top, then you need a new list. Schedule yourself first, whether it’s doctor’s appointments, massages, acupuncture, therapy, exercise or whatever it is that helps reduce stress and anxiety for you. Taking care of you will allow you to heal and thrive. This, in turn, will allow you to now give some of your time and energy to others because you have taken your own time to self-care first.
Eat for health, you deserve to feel good
When you eat poorly, you are depriving your body of good health. Fast food, processed food and refined sugar wreak havoc on your health, including your gut. It can cause blood sugar fluctuations, digestive issues, inflammation, as well as mood swings. Your gut communicates to your brain, so when your food choices are poor, your mental health suffers, as well. Focus on fresh vegetables and fruit. Also, eat non-processed organic, pasture raised meats, poultry and wild fish ( if you choose to eat animal protein) and include healthy fats. These nourish the gut and help increase beneficial bacteria while balancing blood sugar and sending healthy signals to the brain.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It’s bad enough that you already feel guilty for being chronically ill. Don’t let fear or pride get in the way of asking for help. If there is something you can’t accomplish, it’s not the end of the world. Just let someone know you need some help with certain things and that you’re very appreciative and grateful for their help.
Make laughter a habit
Laughter has been shown to relieve stress and boost the immune system. Laughing makes you feel good and can reduce anxiety. It can also boost immune function. Additionally, it helps to relax your muscles and increase pain tolerance in the body. The physical benefits of laughter are many. While we sometimes have a difficult time drawing laughter from our lives, the benefits are not to be ignored.
A positive attitude can make all the difference, especially when you are not feeling well. Have you ever been cut off in traffic while you were in a really good mood? Chances are, it didn’t bother you as much as when you’re having a bad day or were in a negative mood. That’s because optimism can help frame the way that your body reacts to a negative stressor. If you do not perceive a negative stressor to have a major impact on the state of your mood, then your body will not consciously perceive the stressor as that great of a threat. This means that an optimistic frame of mind can reduce the impact of a stress reaction. And the reduction of stress hormones can reduce inflammation in the body. This is where practicing an optimistic state of mind can lead to health benefits.
Self-care means different things to different people. Everyone’s journey is unique so do what makes YOU feel good and never forget to self-care. That means being able to heal so you can be the best version of you, and everyone benefits from that.