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The Best Ways to Improve Your Heath, According to Chronic Illness Patients

Diet, fitness and general health goals are among the most common New Year’s resolutions people make, but if you are someone living with a chronic illness the traditional ways people aspire to “be healthier” might not feel attainable.

We asked our Facebook community for some of the best things they have done for their health. Here’s what they would recommend.

1. Practice Self-care

“Self-care in any form. Anything that makes you feel good: Naps, baths, yoga, coloring, the gym, a walk outside, maybe it’s massages or getting your hair colored, scrapbooking, crafts, biking, books or movies. Seriously, any time that is specific to you is so important.”

“Try and do one thing you enjoy every day that isn’t about or because of your health problems. [It’s] a lesson I often forget until I realize I’m in a very unhappy place.”

“As absurd as it may sound, I take a shower (or a least I try to) every day, no matter how I might feel. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult! I take a shower, do my hair and then put on perfume that I like the smell of. Then I dress in whatever is most comfortable for me that day, which could be my PJs!”

Not sure where to begin? Start by putting 5 minutes on your calendar every day and dedicate it an activity that makes you feel good or helps you relax.

2. Exercise

“Get moving! This is so much easier said than done, but it does so much, both mentally and physically, in terms of coping with chronic pain. You may need to start with a physical therapist, or maybe just a very knowledgeable personal trainer, but start somewhere. It’s so hard at first, and it’s scary, and it hurts a little, but as a 25-year-old with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome it is my lifeline and has turned into a career for me as a personal trainer. Don’t sell yourself short by telling yourself you’re too far gone. You won’t know unless you try!”

“Slight exercise. I can only do about 10 minutes, but I do it and only three days a week. I love to dance, so dance videos are great.”

“More sex! (Which is a type of exercise…)”

Not sure where to begin? Start small; take a walk around the block and build up your stamina and strength by walking a little bit more every day. You can also try low-impact exercises like yoga or water aerobics. If physical exercise isn’t an option for you, try some mental exercises like sudoku or a crossword puzzle.

3. See a Mental Health Professional

“Don’t carry unnecessary guilt because of your illness. It’s a part of you and that’s awesome. Don’t allow others to have a negative impact on you. And if your illness is physical, keep mental you healthy. A therapist was the greatest gift I gave myself.”

“Take a class that gives you tools to cope, whether that’s a mindfulness or meditation class, something else or one geared specifically at people with chronic pain. Ask your local doctors, clinics, hospitals and your or your partner’s workplace what they are offering. If nothing, tell them to look into starting one.”

Not sure where to begin? If you have health insurance, see what services your plan covers and ask for a list of in-network providers. If you don’t have insurance or if mental health benefits aren’t covered, you can search for therapists who offer services on a “sliding-scale” (based on your level of income or ability to pay). You can also try phone, video or message-based therapy, which may, in some cases, be more affordable.

4. Make Healthy Changes

“Drink more water. It may not take the pain away, but it definitely keeps my skin looking good, my brain a bit clearer (brain fog is bad), and helps flush [my] medication out faster.”

“I smoked 30 cigarettes a day… and this year I quit after 20 years. It’s been 10 months since, and I am a bit proud of myself. I recommend [quitting] to everyone.”

“I started practicing yoga three days a week, reduced my caloric intake and increased my activity level with the help of a food and activity diary I downloaded to my Kindle. I take self-care days off work and I go to the gym three to four times a week. My energy has increased, my mood has lifted, I sleep better and I have lost weight.”

Not sure where to begin? Download an app that helps you track your food or water intake. You can also schedule an appointment with a nutritionist if you are concerned about your diet or need help customizing a meal plan.

5. Pick Medical Practitioners That Work With You

“Find the right team of doctors that actually communicate about [your] medical case.”

“If a doctor isn’t helping you, don’t be afraid to find a different one.”

“Always double-check what a medical professional tells you.”

Not sure where to begin? If you aren’t happy with the quality of care you are getting, seek out a second or third opinion. You can also consider working with a concierge doctor, a doctor with a smaller patient load – although they typically charge more for their services.

6. Consider Getting a Pet

“Buy a dog to keep you active. I became so isolated and too scared to leave the house. Now I have Dexter. He makes me get up and out every day, even if I’m hurting like hell. I know I need to keep moving and battling through it for him.”

Not sure where to begin? Visit your local animal shelter or ASPCA to meet some adoptable pets. If getting a dog or a cat seems like too much of a commitment, start small and try getting a fish.

7. Learn How to Put Yourself First

“Getting used to and more comfortable with saying no. Say no to people, situations and events that will push you beyond what is reasonable for you. It’s OK to say no, and the people in your life who love you will understand that.”

“I have finally learned to put myself first. It has changed everything! My mood, attitude, outlook, relationships, health and the list goes on! By putting myself first, it allowed me to open my eyes to gratitude and affirmations, which made things more positive. It’s not easy at first. I had to set reminders, and sometimes I still forget when life is super [busy]. But now when I hurt, it’s life reminding me I’m alive.”

“Listen[ing] to my body. It can be really hard to stop what I’m doing and rest, but it is exactly what I need to do if I don’t want to have a flare-up.”

“Let go of something that causes you stress. Let go of the perfectly clean house ideal, the friend who doesn’t make you feel good about yourself or the guilt you feel when you take care of yourself.”

Not sure where to begin? Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss setting boundaries if you are struggling to say no.

8. Try Alternative and Complementary Medicine

Yoga, anti-inflammatory diet, turmeric and essential oils.” 

“If you can afford it, book yourself in for regular massages! Great for physical and mental health.”

“See a functional medicine doctor, and learn to eat for your body. It has helped me.”

Not sure where to begin? Talk to your doctor about trying alternative therapies. They will likely be able to point you in the right direction and will know which treatments will or won’t be beneficial to your health.

9. Be Your Own Advocate

“Be the best advocate you can be for yourself. To do that, you have to fully understand your illness and the recommendations the doctors give you. Research every single thing… Do not depend on anyone to get the information to you.”

“Know your limits, don’t be sorry for being sick and make your no a no with no explanation. Make yourself your first priority.”

“Speak up, don’t be afraid to say, “No I can’t go out, I’m tired.” Believe in yourself even if others don’t believe you. Pray, rest, exercise and know your limits, don’t push them.”

Not sure where to begin? Listen to your body, and be honest about your needs.

Have anything you would add? Let us know in the comments below. 

Community replies have been edited for length and clarity. 

The Best Ways to Improve Your Heath, According to Chronic Illness Patients