Why It's So Important for Those With Chronic Illness to Practice Self-Care
Sometimes I wonder if we are hardwired by evolution to care for others before ourselves. Does this sound familiar?
I grew up in a family where my parents thought that self-care was self-indulgence. They sacrificed everything for the sake of the kids and consequently neglected their own health until disease struck. My mom had cancer and Alzheimer’s, while my dad developed cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. They both loved food and, failing to recognize the importance of basic self-care, became obese with age.
With multiple careers and four kids of my own to raise, I learned what I could from my role models. I mastered the superpower of multitasking, common among parents, by balancing my commitment to family with my professional ambitions. Yet, self-care was not even on my list!
So, like many of us, without even realizing it, I modeled the behavior patterns that had been set before me until one day they no longer worked.
I realized more and more that I could not meet the demands of being a full-time mother, or excel in my various careers, until I took charge of my own health. I could not continue to neglect my own basic needs! For example, I now know that breaking up a long work day by taking a walk outside or resting can do wonders for my productivity, not to mention my mental health.
Embracing the fact that self-care is not self-indulgent led to another important realization…
Genes are not your destiny!
Scientific research has shown that while we can’t change our genes, we can change some of our gene expression. New understanding of the microbiome makes a connection between our gut and immune system – with the right personalized diet, some of us can manipulate our microbiome to possibly prevent immune-related conditions.
These scientific findings are beginning to support what many of us have already discovered – the importance of lifestyle changes. Self-care gives us tools to take charge of our own health!
And knowing something about our genetic heritage (autoimmune disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc.), we can choose to focus on the self-care activities that will do us the most good: meditation, sufficient sleep, regular exercise, control of weight gain and more.
The single most valuable legacy we can pass on…
So, knowing this, why is it still so hard to take care of ourselves? This seems like a simple message, yet I am continually surprised by how hard it is to make time to do this for ourselves.
Ingrained habit patterns are difficult to overcome, but first, we need to stop feeling guilty for prioritizing our own needs. Self-care is about self-love – we don’t need to stop caring for others, but we do need to start caring for ourselves, too.
Learn more about the importance of self-care in autoimmune disease by watching Dr. Bonnie Feldman’s TEDx talk here.
What is it that allows some people to flourish in adversity?
When faced with a difficult diagnosis, or really any challenging situation in life, we may respond in one of two ways: by being a fighter, or being a victim.
Through many years of working within the autoimmune community, and even more years of having been an autoimmune patient myself, I have both become a relentless fighter and been inspired by countless others around me. This led me to wonder – why is it that some people find resilience in these challenging situations, while others cannot?
In my case, I drew upon my eight careers to find the resilience to get started and keep going. While our personal experiences differ, there seems to be a distinct optimistic attitude and open mindset to self-experimentation universally underlying resilience.
It all comes back to self-care as the foundation of this personal empowerment. Commitment to our own self-care goes hand-in-hand with a firm belief that we deserve to be at our best. This is the optimistic and determined mindset that spurs resilience, fueling us to fight for our own well-being regardless of any obstacles in the way.
An open mindset to experimentation allows us to overcome these obstacles. The revolutionary part is doing something different than what you have done up until now, by continually seeking new ways to improve your day-to-day health. We will settle for nothing less!
Join us in the fight through and against chronic disease at Your Autoimmunity Connection.
How have you found the resilience necessary to overcome the daily challenges of managing a chronic disease?
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