7 Tips for Managing Chronic Illness

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Managing your life in the shadow of a chronic illness can feel like a full-time job, especially when you are juggling family and work demands as well. It can feel like a treadmill you’re unable to slow down and can provoke feelings that zap your motivation. Here are 7 tips to help you keep those plates spinning, and even inspire feelings of success while developing resilience to the challenges you face.

Accept

When you have finally been given a diagnosis of a chronic and long-term illness, you will spend much time asking yourself ‘why me?’, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’. The answer is that you have done nothing. It is not karma. Accepting that you don’t have total control over your body is the first step to successfully managing your condition.

You are not to blame for your illness, and so by accepting your body for its frailties, you are able to remove the feelings of self-blame. You have not chosen this path, but you can accept that you are on this journey. Accepting your body and your illness can stop the cycle of negative thoughts that can prevent you achieving your full potential.

Listen

Your body will be giving you cues and signals about its general health. You must listen to your body and learn to translate the signs it gives you. By listening to your body and recognizing the impact of these physical signs, you will be able to identify where your limits are at.

Journal your symptoms so that you can compare them with the activities that you have undertaken during the day. If you are taking new medication, note any changes in symptoms (either positive or negative), so that you can gain a clear picture of their effects and you can communicate your findings to your medical team.

You will be able to recognize the triggers for flare-ups and be able to use the information to remain active within the limits that you have identified; for example, perhaps you are more active during the mornings, so plan your activities during the times that suit your energy levels.

Be honest

You will be acutely aware of how your chronic illness affects those that love and care for you, and you may often be tempted to underplay how you are feeling so that you don’t burden others; however, this coping strategy can backfire.

Be honest about how you are feeling. If you don’t feel up to doing something, be honest about it, so that you don’t have the burden and guilt of unmet expectations. If you are struggling with your health challenges, vocalize it so that you can get the support that you need and avoid any misunderstandings. People can help you if they understand the true picture of how you are feeling.

Be kind to yourself

You must extend your awareness and concern for others to yourself. Your inner voice will more than likely be your harshest critic. Would you talk to someone in the same situation as you in the same manner? Of course not! You may have a low self-opinion and feel distressed about how well you feel you are coping with your chronic illness but think about if your partner or friend was suffering as you are – you would react with kindness and compassion, and these are the responses that you need to develop, rather than anger or hostility. Being kind to yourself is not selfish – it is necessary.

Learn to be assertive so that you can express exactly what you want and need in a non-confrontational manner. It’s ok to say no, but by dressing up your feelings and not saying how you are can make you feel powerless and out of control.

Set goals

Have a think about what your current priorities are and make a list. By having a list of priorities, you will be able to determine goals that support your priorities. They may seem unachievable right now, but by setting them out you will be able to identify the steps that you need to take to help you achieve them. Perhaps you suffer from diabetes and want to achieve and maintain weight loss, or be able to walk around the block unaided, whatever your goal is, it needs to be broken down into manageable steps that you will be able to accomplish along the way – this is the key to your success. Celebrate the small wins, and you will be motivated to continue.

Adapt

There will be occasions when your intentions and goals will be derailed by your illness – but take these instances as a rain check and a postponement rather than a cancellation. Setbacks go hand in hand with chronic conditions, but by learning from each experience, you will be better prepared to navigate through the challenges should they arise again in the future.

Each day is different, and while your body’s ability to cooperate can be unpredictable, your mental agility to adapt to the circumstances will develop your resilience to successfully manage your condition and help you to achieve your goals.

Seek joy

The endless rounds of medical checkups and tests, medications, fatigue and pain can diminish your ability to see joy in the everyday. Think about what makes you smile and makes you happy. It can be as minor as your first cup of coffee of the day, listening to music, the way the sun streaks through the leaves of the trees, or even watching your favorite tv show; identify joy in the everyday.  

You have not chosen this path in life, but it is the journey that you are now undertaking. The challenges that you now face take a toll on your physical, emotional and wellbeing. While you cannot control many aspects of your body’s function, how you approach this new chapter in your life is shaped by your thought processes. The 7 tips above can be utilized to lessen the emotional burden of your chronic illness.

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