The Importance of Making Attainable Resolutions for a Person With Chronic Illness


New Year’s resolutions are an interesting thing. As the old year gives way to a brand new bouncing baby new year, many people evaluate their lives, and set goals for improvement. These goals, or resolutions, may be anything from hunting for a better job, to furthering one’s education, to the ever-popular goal to lose weight.

For even healthy people, keeping their New Year’s resolutions is a difficult thing. In fact, in the U.S., new gym memberships soar by about 40 percent in December and January of each year, as large numbers of people resolve to improve their health, or to lose weight. About 80 percent of those people drop those pricey memberships by February.

As a person with a chronic illness, setting goals for the new year can be a tricky thing.

Chronic illness often causes unrelenting exhaustion and pain, which tends to keep us down. It’s natural for us to be unhappy with many circumstances in our lives – including the fact that we can’t work the way we want to, we can’t be as active in our children’s activities as we want to, we don’t get enough exercise or our weight has changed. Making New Year’s resolutions to correct these deficiencies might serve to slap us in the face, causing more anxiety and depression in the end.

This is not to say we shouldn’t set goals, or make resolutions, but they may need to be given a great deal more thought than other people give them. The issue here is to not set ourselves up for failure. This might mean setting modified goals. For example:

1. Keep up with the laundry – This is rather vague, and actually a great burden to take on. A more reasonable goal may be to pay attention to when the laundry has been moved from the dryer to the couch, and to try to fold half of it, returning to fold the other half in an hour or two.

2. Cook healthy meals for the family – That’s a huge task, especially when you stare it down every day at about 4 p.m. Setting a goal to mark
quick-and-easy recipes in a book, and putting those ingredients on the shopping list so they will be available, is a huge step in the right direction. With weekly menus made from these recipes, and readily-available ingredients for these meals, cooking dinner (or assigning your spouse or children to do so) suddenly won’t be such an overwhelming chore.

3. Lose weight – This is a fairly ambiguous goal for anyone, but when your everyday health make this difficult, it can seem impossible. Narrowing it down to “lose X pounds in X months,” or something similar, looks like something that can be done. To look at it from a different angle, we might instead set the goal of eating a healthy meal once or twice a week, or eating salad twice a week.

4. Walk the dog every day – This is a terrific resolution for the dog, but he’s not the one who will feel terrible about himself when you don’t feel well for days at a time. If this is truly about the dog’s health and entertainment, it might be a good goal to have the kids (if they’re old enough) walk the dog each weekday after school, or resolve to walk him once a week. I’m a professional dog behaviorist, and I can tell you that 52 walks per year is way more than most dogs get. It’s sad but true. He will truly enjoy that extra time with you, and will never ask what happened to the other six days.

On the other hand, if this resolution is about your own health and exercise level, it might be modified to walk out to the mailbox, or to the neighbor’s house, four times a week. Or take into consideration the exercise you’ll get while folding the laundry, or vacuuming a room of the house. Setting a goal to do one of these things each day – even just a portion of it – may take care of two resolutions in one fell swoop.

5. Visit the neighbors once a month – I always have good intentions to visit people near me, to be a better neighbor. Well, “the road to hell” and all that… I have finally made peace with the fact that, as I often feel too bad to even sit up and visit with someone who calls on me, this is probably not going to happen with any kind of regularity. I have given myself permission to stay in contact with people – including those who are just next door – electronically. Email, text messages and social media can provide a connection to people we care about, even when we can’t get out to visit.

New Year’s Resolutions and Self-Esteem

The bottom line on setting New Year’s resolutions is to set goals that are reachable. Attaining goals, or even each step to a goal, makes us feel good about ourselves. When we set vague goals, or goals we are unlikely to reach, given our health, it can make us feel bad about ourselves. Self-esteem, anxiety and depression are hugely important in how our bodies cope with illness.

Setting ourselves up to succeed improves our self-esteem. Happy New Year, and… you’re not alone.

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Photo via Jacob Ammentorp Lund on Getty Images

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