4 Ways I Embrace the Anxiety That Comes With Chronic Illness


For my 40+ years on this beautiful planet, I have had cystic fibrosis. The routines of nebulizers and doctor visits and occasional hospitalizations have just been part of the fabric of my life – not always easy, but something I’ve come to expect and over the years have developed some good tools for working with.

What I did not expect was the anxiety that started after a life-threatening exposure to mold several years ago. The possibility of that happening again ignited a fear that tends to sit in my gut, compelling me to constantly monitor my environment, watching for things I could breathe in that might make me sick. Feeling at the mercy of that fear is exhausting.

So, my new challenge: cultivating tools for working (maybe even playing!) with that anxiety. Here’s what I’ve found that has made a huge difference for me:

1. Talk it out

I’ve found that if I can talk through my worries with someone, it helps me get perspective on what is a reasonable precaution and what borders on obsessive. No one person can fill this role, so I keep expanding my support team — medical specialists, a clinic social worker, naturopath, counselor who focuses on chronic illness, countless friends and family. When I’m too afraid to make a clear decision, I talk it out with someone.

woman and younger woman selfie at beach

2. Give my mind something else to do

My friend who is an integrative psychiatrist once shared with me that anxiety is sometimes a product of a bored brain looking for something to do, and settling on fear by default. So now when I feel like I am having trouble coping with anxiety, I try to push through the fear and make progress, even just a little, on a project I’ve been putting off — reorganizing a living room shelf to feel more inviting, or hanging up a new poster to brighten up a hallway. This helps refocus my attention in a positive way, plus I continue to reap the benefits of these re-energized spaces.

3. Give my whole body something else to do

Anxiety has a way of sucking the fun out of life, so I’ve made a new commitment to whole bodily fun. Over the summer I took my kids to a waterpark, a lake, the beach, and we have plans to go for a guided kayak tour of a nearby river soon. Something about my relationship to water, splashing and playing in it takes me to a whole different wavelength – I’m too busy being here to focus on my anxiety.  The biggest hurdle to this one is to make myself do it. It’s really easy to make excuses and stay home and fret. But it’s so worth it when I do.

 

4. Get creative

My meditation teacher recently asked a question that really spoke to me: what am I just managing in my life versus embracing? Anxiety immediately came to mind, and I struggled to feel what embracing it might look like. I mean, I’m never going to be happy about having anxiety. But here’s the thing – that question helped me realize when I’m writing a post like this, I’m actually embracing it. I’m integrating it into the one of the most creative parts of my life, writing. But I’m also learning that creativity can take many forms, from experimenting with new spices at dinner to posting online about a movie that inspired me. Even when it’s just a quick dance step in the living room, getting creative, making connections and expressing who I am — even with the anxiety — brings a sense of meaning and purpose that gives me some fire. It helps me feel that spark of something deeper, a connection to life and who I truly am that helps me be here and embrace my life more fully, anxiety and all.

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