chronic illness

10 Ways to Cope with a Chronic Health Issue

If you have health issues that impact daily living, I understand. Here are 10 techniques I’ve found to help me cope.  Maybe one or two will help you, too.

double rock tunnel

Chronic health issues often feel like a gate into a different world. Everything is different for us – our first thought isn’t how fun something is or how much we need it, but how much energy will it require?

  1. Pace yourself. It took time to figure out the limits of how much I could do, and it varies with my health status. Even now, when I like to think my illness is in remission, I will over-do and find myself exhausted and not tracking mentally very well for days or weeks. Sometimes it is an emotional event, not a physical one, that can put me back at square one, unable to function. It’s imperative to pace myself and make sure I have sufficient down-time and sleep.
shaggy dog

Tribble is a sweet little snuggle bunny!

  1. Find emotional support. When I became sick, I didn’t have the time or energy for social contact. Eventually, I filled my home with dogs, cats, and parrots to keep me company and be my social support. I also started this blog, which was flexible enough that I could post when I had the energy and let it go when I didn’t. Now, I have blogging friends all over the world, people who comment and care. Sometimes I can go out and meet friends in the flesh for tea or a meal, but these events are often too exhausting.

purple grapes

  1. Food matters. Nutrition and diet influence our bodies more than doctors know. I’ve experimented to see what works, tracking my intake and symptoms. I was vegetarian for years before discovering that I needed more protein, and eating meat again gave me a physical boost. I laughed at the gluten-free movement until I tried it. After a week, I was so much more energetic that I was sold. I’ve been gluten-free now for three years and it is effortless because I value the dramatic lessening of inflammation and pain. I began to wonder what else I’m eating daily that caused inflammation in my body. An ALCAT test told me what foods to avoid. Now, I’m finally headache free on a regular basis after almost 25 years of daily headaches.
mountains, lake

I can’t hike like I did before, but I still make an effort to get outside and enjoy nature.

  1. Exercise in a way that fits your body. Years ago, a co-worker was enthusiastic about her new exercise program and called me lazy because I didn’t want to try it. I discussed it with my rheumatologist who told me that I should only exercise with the help of a personal coach that specializes in people with disabilities. What? My doctor clarified that with most exercise regimens, there will be pain and discomfort. I needed to work with someone who could tell the difference between the pain of building muscles and the pain of damaging my joints. Because the autoimmune disease had ravaged so many of my joints, there was the distinct possibility of further damage through an exercise plan. Another friend insisted I use ice for my chronic joint pain. Sorry, but only heat helped the arthritis. Some people struggle to stop sharing their beliefs — that work great for them as a normal person—and insisting that it will work the same for me. It doesn’t. I must know my body and act accordingly.
sunset

This photo has not been edited; the colors were naturally THIS brilliant!

  1. Sleep is a weapon. I recall reading a thriller many years ago, in which the protagonist spent an incredible amount of time on the run – and plotting how to get some sleep, safely. He kept repeating to himself, “Sleep is a weapon,” as he arranged for a safe space and time to sleep. The book was not memorable, but that one phrase has been with me for years. We are the caffeine generation that thrives on sleep deprivation. We tend to treat people who sleep more than 6 hours a night as aberrations or sissies. For many years as I raised my children and worked full-time while chronically ill, I was lucky to get 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Now that my kids are grown and I’m sleeping 7-8 hours a night, I see what a difference it makes. Sleep is a weapon that makes me sharper mentally and physically; it cannot be underestimated.
mountains

View from Mt. Evans, Colorado

  1. A creative outlet feeds your soul. For years as I raised my children, my own needs were neglected. What little energy I had was used to be the mother they needed, but I’m a firm believer that everyone is happiest if they have a creative outlet of some type. It doesn’t matter what it is or even if you’re good at it, just that the activity brings joy. And this doesn’t mean we all have to be artists; we can be bee-keepers, cooks, bloggers, sewers, singers, scrap-bookers, etc. We just need something to stimulate creative thinking and the liberty to experiment without judgment. Trust me on this, it nourishes the soul.
alpine flowers

alpine flowers

  1. Help others. It’s so easy to focus on myself and my illness, but it’s therapeutic to shift focus to help others. Somehow, it makes it easier to help myself and gives me perspective. The work I do to help others helps me balance my otherwise analytical life.
grassy plain; barbed-wire fence

Good boundaries are a must.

  1. Say “no” unless you need to say “yes.” There are so many charitable organizations needing help and so many people less fortunate, that it’s easy be torn in a million directions with a desire to help those in need. I just don’t have the bandwidth; I have to be selective. When I receive the first overture of a worthwhile organization requesting help, I ask myself, “Is this my fight to fight?” If it doesn’t feel right, I wish them well and move on. Occasionally, I’ll hear “yes,” and study the situation to determine the best use of my time and energy to help them while honoring my need to pace myself.
Mountains

Valley in the Rocky Mountains

  1. Release the need for drama. Drama is interesting and can give you a feeling of urgency that can often be mistaken for importance. But often, it is just like chewing gum – a lot of action for nothing. It can suck all your energy and achieve nothing but emotional exhaustion. Exit the drama and overblown emotions.
trees in mist

Tuning into the mystery of the universe an help you find your center.

  1. Find your spiritual center. It doesn’t matter what your belief system is, as long as you believe it authentically and passionately. Every religion can be a path for spiritual growth. While I was ill, I left the religion of my childhood and youth and embraced a spiritual practice that philosophically fit me better. It was a coming home that helped me grow in many ways. Meditation was my best tool for overcoming my illness. I still depend upon meditation to hear my soul’s advice and guidance. Prayer is talking to God; meditation is listening. I’m convinced that this one change boosted my recovery.

    alpine flowers, granite rocks

    granite boulders and alpine flowers.

8 replies »

    • That comes up a lot for me. Everyone wants to help, which is sweet. If a suggestion doesn’t sound alarming, I’ll experiment and try it. But I know it may not work. Thank goodness I talked to my doctor before trying my friend’s workout!

      Liked by 1 person

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