10 Ways to Break the Chronic Illness Symptom Cycle
1. Exercise: The best way to reduce pain and fatigue is exercise. The hardest part is getting started, especially when you can barely move. My lifesaver has been the Arthritis Foundation's Exercise Program. If you have one in your area, definitely sign up. If there's nowhere in your area that has this program, the Arthritis Foundation does have videos and exercise ideas here. You don't have to have arthritis to benefit from their website.
2. Meditate: You don't have to be a yogi or buddhist nut to get into meditation. Just close your eyes and focus on every part of your body, from your toes to the muscles in your face, and concentrate on relaxing them. This should relieve muscle tension which can reduce headaches and pain.
3. Remind yourself of the good: When I first tried this mental exercise, I couldn't think of anything at all. But the more I thought about it, the more good I realized was in my life. And there are good things in everyone's life. You aren't dead. You aren't living in the Dark Ages, where anesthesia is made of deadly hemlock. We have the internet where we can find support from people all over the world, check to make certain our doctors aren't quacks, and when we feel lousy there are always pictures of cats or funny youtube videos. The list of good things goes on and on.
4. Focus on what you can do: Instead of spending all your mental energy on what you aren't able to do, try to find what opportunities your chronic illness has given you. I like to say that getting Lupus was the best thing to ever happen to me. It opened up so many doors and has given me a sense of purpose I never had before.
5. Find a friend with similar experiences: I have a wonderful friend that I teach my Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program with. She also experiences similar health problems that I do. Having someone to confide in and to celebrate victories with is wonderful. We know what each other is going through, and the parts we have never experienced, we can still say "I don't know what you're going through, but I still support you". But be careful to find someone who isn't dragging you down with their negativity. It's important to find someone with a positive outlook.
6. Help someone else: As a kid I always thought people were crazy when they said helping others would make you happier. Well, they were right. Try volunteering, or teach, or give a homeless guy a pizza. And keep doing something great. Start a fundraiser for Lupus. It's an instant mood booster.
7. Be thankful: This goes along with Number 2, but it is still different enough to have its own number. Appreciate the people in your life and opportunities you have. Be grateful. Practicing this every day will shift your point of view from negative to positive, making you happier and less stressed.
8. Try something new. Try something out that might make your life better. Learn something. Knock off an item on your bucket list. I'm still trying to figure out how to knock "Pet a hippo" off my bucket list. Do something spontaneous. Try something that scares you.
9. Get rid of the junk in your life. Whether it's things cluttering up your house or people who are bringing you down, get rid of it. It's just taking up valuable space in your mind, so chuck it out. And hey, while I was clearing out my clutter, I found my Zune HD, which had been lost for 2 years! What might you find?
From the portfolio of Megan McCarthy
10. Experience life. While you are sitting here reading this, focus on everything around you. How you feel. Notice the texture of your chair. When you look out the window (or if you are already outside) soak in the colors around you. If you are around people, really look at their faces. Notice their eye color, their hair. They way they hold themselves. Really be aware of what is going on around. Really exist in this moment.