10 Coping Strategies for Dealing With Chronic Illness
1) Surround yourself with positive energy as much as possible. If you are seeing a doctor who thinks that you will never be cured or who is generally negative about your prospects of increasing health, find someone new. Find practitioners who believe in you and your healing. Create a network of different practitioners from all realms, Western Medicine, Alternative Medicine, Massage Therapists and Mental Health Workers.
2) Join a support group. You can do this in person and these days there are many online forums and support groups for both general autoimmune conditions and chronic illnesses and as well as groups that are more specific to certain conditions. Make sure that the group is actually supportive. How do you know? Trust your gut, you should feel better after you interact in these groups. You should feel that your feelings and your experiences are being validated.
3) Continue to seek out resources as much as your health allows. Many of these will be resources in your local community and many will be resources in the online community. Don’t give up. Find ways to keep your body, your mind, and your spirit moving in the direction of healing.
4) Remember the difference between pain and suffering. There is physical pain that is real and then there is the suffering that we add to this pain with our thoughts. Notice how in moments of distraction or in moments of focusing on something outside of yourself you might feel some relief from your symptoms. Even if it is for 5 minutes or for 30 seconds, try to allow yourself to receive the nourishment of these moments.
5) Breathe deeply. Take five full belly breaths. Place your right hand over your abdomen and your left hand over the middle of your chest and inhale for a count of five and exhale to a count of five. Make sure you exhale completely and pause before beginning the next exhale. Notice even subtle changes in the quality of your mind and body.
6) Practice Creative Visualizations and Guided Imagery. The most basic method of guided imagery is to focus on the area of discomfort or illness in your body. Create a picture of this area in your mind, use your imagination. The image does not have to be anatomically correct. In fact, the more creative you can be the better. Once you have this image in your mind try to notice other aspects of the area, is it hot or cold, rough or smooth, does it have a color associated with it? A smell? A taste? As you are becoming aware of these aspects begin to ask this part of you and the related imagery how it can move or change to create relief. Notice if the image, color, texture or any aspect of the image begins to change. Practice this guided imagery for up to 30 minutes at a time. Many people also find it very useful to do this exercise for shorter intervals throughout the day. There are many free resources for these practices online. There are additional resources in your local library and bookstores and also many practitioners who can support you in learning more about these tools.
7) Make time to be out in nature. Talk a walk. Step outside. Sit on the grass. If none of these are possible, bring nature to you. Buy plants and flowers. Create an atmosphere of vitality in whatever spaces you occupy. Learn about Feng Shui. Very often the spaces in which we live and work in contain stagnant energy that can be mirrored in the personal spaces of our bodies. See what you can let go of in your physical life that might make room for new energy, for healing.
8) Reflect on your relationships. Make decisions to be around family and friends who can be with you in a nonjudgmental way during your tough times. Again, create a support network so that you never feel that you are overwhelming any one person or burdening them in any way. You deserve connection and support.
9) Keep a journal. This does not have to be a formal diary. Create collages, make pictures that make sense to only you, write about what you are feeling. Collect quotes that feel inspirational or copy passages from books that have helped you through difficult times. Basically, this is a place for you to express whatever you want without having to worry about any ramifications. It is your book of healing.
10) Be grateful. One of the most difficult things to do when we are in the midst of illness, discomfort, or pain, is to see all the good in our lives. Keep it simple. You can be grateful for the bed that you can sometimes rest in. You can be grateful for the food you can eat, even if it is severely limited by your condition. You can be grateful to your animal friends, a piece of music, the leaves changing in the fall, the feel of the sun on your face. Let this grateful feeling move through your whole body. Every time you have a grateful thought and related feeling of gratitude you are giving your body relief from illness.
Allison Weliky, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in the Boulder/Denver area of Colorado. She is available for free consultations over the phone or in person. She specializes in working with individuals struggling with chronic illness, relationship challenges, and women’s issues. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to continue to work on improving your relationships and your health.
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