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15 Things I Do to Keep Smiling on Bad Days With Chronic Illness

Why is it worth your time to seek out joy? Why bother finding smile-makers, as I call them?

There are numerous health benefits from smiling and laughing such as reducing stress and anxiety, releasing endorphins, relaxing muscles and decreasing pain.

These are just a few as there are lists and lists of supposed health benefits from laughing and smiling, most of which I can buy into.

I believe you get to choose. You don’t have to choose joy. You can be pissed. You can scream. You can have a pity party. You can start ignoring people and cut off contact. You can get fall-down drunk. You can focus on all the things you “used to be able to do” and “all the things you wish you could do.” One thing I know for sure is that those options do nothing for me. I can wish everything was “back to normal” as much as I want, but it won’t change anything. All it does is get me spending energy on the uncontrollable and cements the fact that I have no ability to direct my life to be how I want it to be. Congratulations, I’ve found another way to feel defeated and lose.

I believe we have to deliberately hunt smiles down sometimes because let’s be honest, it’s really easy to see and feel the bad most days, but remember, we are choosing to look for happiness and laughs.

I want to make it clear that I didn’t exactly skip out of the doctor’s office after getting my diagnosis. No, I basically went through the cycles of grief. I tried pouting. Everything annoyed me and bothered me. Anything encouraging that anyone said just seemed cheap and silly. I got angry easily. I tried to pretend I didn’t have anything wrong with me some days. One thing I know for sure is that I can’t fake consciousness when I’m busy being unconscious. I didn’t find any of those tactics to be quite as beneficial as trying out joy.

Here are some of my personal best tips I use to keep smiling:

Keep my mind busy. I have done logic puzzles every day since I’ve been out of the hospital as a way to distract myself, but still keep my brain engaged.

Find a new book or TV series that I enjoy.

Try new activities and challenge myself. I got out of the hospital about six months ago. Since then I’ve learned how to play cribbage, I refinished and distressed a wooden chair (obviously this happened over several sessions and with supervision), I took up acrylic painting, and I have started wood burning. If you don’t know where to start, just go to Pinterest and type in “crafts” or “DIY.” You’re sure to find something new and exciting to try.

Start silly traditions. My husband and I DVR “Jeopardy” and we get coffee and watch. It’s silly, sure, but it’s something fun to look forward to and we can compete with each other. Of course it’s not really much of a competition because he knows about every war in history and speaking of history, he apparently paid attention in history classes. The only categories I usually don’t have competition for are anatomy and pop culture. We each have a “set answer” for categories we know we’ll never get. For instance, for everything French, he says Charles de Gaulle. For me, for anything pope-related I always say Pope John Paul II. It works out occasionally.

Get a dog. I know this may not be an option for everyone, but my dogs have made me smile countless times during our all-day snuggle sessions.

Make someone else smile. Send a sweet text. Mail a happy card to a friend. Taking the focus off yourself is extremely beneficial.

Find a worthy cause to support in some way. If you don’t have money to donate, help publicize and spread awareness, or spend time in prayer for the cause. We all have something to give no matter our condition or status.

Get a devotional or journal. A journal is a safe place where you can be honest with yourself about your feelings and frustrations. You don’t have to pretend they don’t exist, just try to spend more time thinking about the good.

Make a list of the blessings in my life. Sometimes we get sidetracked dealing with nausea, dizziness, fainting, tremors and pain and we forget to notice that we have indoor plumbing. Or that we can afford the “good coffee creamer.”

Stay social. I know it’s hard. Force yourself to plan one or two events each week where you interact with other people. Whether it’s having a friend over to watch “The Bachelor” or getting together for coffee or a meal, it’s worth your time.

Set reasonable goals with exciting rewards. Showers can be hard. Doing hair and makeup can take incredible effort. I make it something simple, like I can have half a cupcake with my coffee if I get it done. Or, reward yourself with a latte after physical therapy on hard days. Anything to look forward to and help motivate.

Find a sport to love. If you don’t already, I think you’re missing out! I suggest hockey and college football. If you have a team to follow you have something to cheer for and keep up with. It’s a good distraction.

Watch a stand-up comedian.

Realize my health has changed. Don’t hold yourself to the same expectations you did before. Your house isn’t going to be as clean and your meal planning and prepping now depends on day-to-day symptoms.

Be honest with myself and others. If I’m not feeling up to going somewhere, I’m honest and don’t try to force it.

woman lying on bed wearing hospital gown
Amy in the hospital.

Follow this journey on POTS: Finding Smiles in the Trials.

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