A Quick Guide to Living with Chronic Illness
Easy steps you can take to improve your quality of life with chronic illness...
Chronic illness is a term which encompasses a wide array of conditions; it can include relatively minor ailments, right through to conditions which negatively impact every area of your life.
Some of the things which people often have problems with include the strain which is put on your relationships with your partner, family and friends. There are also emotional consequences of living every day with restricted levels of energy, independence, plus the loss of your normal life. When you add additional symptoms into the mix, like pain, inflammation, digestive issues or lack of sleep, life can be quite a challenge…
So, here are my 5 top tips for living with chronic illness and improving your life.
1 - Do not mistake your illness for who you are
It is important to acknowledge that a chronic health condition can be overwhelming, and it can also impact your life in multiple ways. But in order to improve your quality of life, it is important to also recognise that your illness is not who you are.
Often when people are feeling overwhelmed, particularly over a long period of time, they can begin to focus solely on the negative consequences of their experience. This is completely understandable, because when something is making you feel so unwell, you just want to fix the problem. When you focus your attention on something it can give the impression that you are doing something about it, and this can provide some temporary relief. But over the longer term, this has the opposite effect, and can lead to feelings of depression.
Try to separate your illness from who you really are. You can do this by noticing that your illness is only one aspect of your personal experience. When you take your attention away from all the negative aspects that are affecting you, you create the space to notice other things in your life. Focus on simply being present. Observe your surroundings, notice the things that you can do, appreciate the people who love and care for you, and work toward the aspirations, hobbies or goals that you can achieve.
2 - Learn how to master your mind
When people are dealing with unpleasant symptoms, it is quite common to also experience anxiety, worry or depression. It is easy to get lost in overthinking about your situation, and this can lead to heightened levels of stress and tension in your body, which can in turn exacerbate symptoms. It’s a vicious cycle!
The way to get over this problem is to practice becoming aware of how your mind works. Meditation is a good way to begin developing this insight. Many people associate meditation with sitting still with your eyes closed for prolonged periods of time, and whilst this can be useful, it may not be practical if you are also dealing with illness. So, I recommend simply taking a couple of minutes regularly through the day (maybe every couple of hours) to simply to stop what you are doing and notice what you are thinking and feeling in that moment. This will allow you to develop awareness of what your mind is up to throughout the day. You may be surprised to find how many negative thoughts are occupying your mind but becoming aware will allow you to begin to change your patterns.
3 - Respect your limitations
Chronic health conditions can be debilitating. It’s natural to want to overcome these restrictions and get back to what you consider normal. But there is a fine balance between a healthy desire to improve your quality of life and being in denial of your situation. Getting this balance right is something which is often a problem, especially for people have chronic exhaustive conditions. It’s easy to overdo things when you get a good day, or to inadvertently keep yourself in a state of constant fatigue because you are not respecting the physical limitations that you have.
So, please respect the physical aspects of your condition. In my experience, people can expand the boundaries of what they are able to do much more effectively by being setting goals where they are also gentle with themselves, rather than by adding on extra levels of physical stress. Each day you have a limited amount of energy to use. Treat it wisely.
4 - Spend time with people who uplift you
Friendship and social support are so important in helping you to maintain your emotional well-being. Not only does this take your mind off being ill, but it can be a great source of joy, fun and emotional connection, as well as a great boost for your endorphin levels! If you have restricted mobility or energy levels, it can be a challenge to get out into the world and meet people. Social interaction often gets pushed to the bottom of the list of things to do, after all the essential items, like shopping or getting out of bed.
No matter what your circumstances, try and make the effort to find some emotional support and interact with friends regularly. If you can get out and meet people, that’s great. If not, then try and meet people online. But remember that all social interaction is not positive. Notice what effect spending time with people has on your emotions. If you regularly feel emotionally drained after spending time with certain people, because they are always focusing on the negative aspects of life, consider the possibility that this may not be helpful for you. Or if you join a support group, and feel worse after being in it, then perhaps it’s time to move on and connect with people who will make you feel uplifted. Focusing on appreciating the joy that exists in life is much better for your health!
5 - Take practical steps to improve your life
The final tip is about increasing your levels of self-empowerment. Take some time out to do some research about your illness. Focus on sources which have been created by people who have qualifications and expertise in that area. Find out everything that you can do to improve your symptoms and experience, and then put those things into action consistently. So, for example, if you start taking dietary supplements to help a symptom, make sure you follow that through for a significant period. Be aware that not everyone has the same fundamental approach to health, and so it’s important to seek out therapies which fit in with your own outlook on life. If you are having difficulty making changes in your life, then consider getting professional help to help you move beyond any blocks that may be stopping you.
Remember that whilst you would obviously prefer not to have chronic illness in your life, there are plenty of things that you can do to influence the outcome. These include how you perceive your situation, how you spend your time each day, the extent to which you can let go of unhelpful thoughts, and what level of control you choose to take in improving your experience.
Everything in life can be viewed from multiple perspectives. Challenges can also be an opportunity for personal growth. Which one will you choose?