One of the things that are not discussed a lot in the medical world is how chronic illness or acute disease affects the mental and emotional well-being of those who suffer from them. In the same way that arthritis or asthma can cause pain and discomfort in our bodies, they can also negatively impact our minds, view of ourselves, and the world around us.
Recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 60 percent of adults in the United States have a chronic disease, and 40 percent have two or more. Chronic diseases are not rare, and on many occasions, they compound.
It’s important to note that when you suffer from chronic illness, caring for your mental and emotional well-being is just as important as caring for your physical health because our bodies and minds are intrinsically linked. Here are some self-care tips and reminders for people who suffer from chronic illness of all kinds.
Stick with the facts
It’s effortless to fall into the trap of health anxiety and paranoia when we have a chronic condition. Still, one of the biggest ways we can care for ourselves is by mapping out the facts of our condition and accept them for what they are, instead of catastrophizing and assume that you will never get better or that the pain will never go away.
This is a dialectical behavioral therapy strategy called “checking the facts,” which means that we need to check what we’re anxious about and identify if it lines up with the truth of our condition. A statement like, “I am never going to feel good ever again,” and checking if your symptoms have gone away before. Ask yourself if that self-defeating statement is true; you might be surprised that, more often than not, the answer is no.
Self-care can be simple
Self-care does not mean going on an expensive vacation or go on a shopping spree to feel good. Sometimes, even the simple act of taking a long bath can help you calm your mind and steady your heart. Don’t pressure yourself into doing big things to feel better. Here are some simple tasks you can do throughout the day that can help you get your mind off things:
- Drinking enough water
- Spending some time under the sun
- Doing your skincare routine
- Taking a nap in the afternoon
- Touching base with one of your closest friends
- Washing your hair
- Brushing your teeth
Even these seemingly random tasks can go a long way in restoring balance to your body that’s hurting from a chronic illness.
Be your own champion
Being your own champion or advocating for yourself simply means acknowledging when you need help, asking for that help, and being willing to receive it. It means staying on top of your schedules, from doctor’s appointments to medications.
But being your champion doesn’t mean being your own superhero; it means acknowledging your boundaries and when you need help. It entails not hesitating to go to your primary caregiver when your symptoms are getting unbearable. For example, if you’re scheduled to have private food allergy testing after a bout with allergies, don’t skip it no matter how unmotivated you are. These visits to the clinic can help you recover and feel better in the long run.
If you find that you’re missing out on many steps in your disease management, enlist the help of a loved one to keep you accountable in loving ways.
Validate your feelings
A big part of caring for yourself as you manage your chronic disease is to allow yourself to feel. It may sound cliché or corny, but a crucial part of being compassionate to yourself on bad days is to accept your chronic condition is worth grieving and crying over. It’s OK to admit that having this illness is not a walk in the park, and it hurts. Let it be true, and let the tears fall where they may. Open your heart up to someone who cares, like a dear friend or family member or even a therapist.
And when this wave of sadness passes away, dust yourself off and advocate for yourself once again and remember that just as there are bad days in your disease, there are good days as well.
The Bottom Line
Just because you suffer from a chronic condition, it doesn’t mean that that is all you are. You are not your mood disorder or acute disease; you are a person of immense value and worth and someone worth all the self-care in the world.