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Why Choosing Optimism Can Help in Your Life With a Chronic Illness

OK, let’s just get this out of the way. A lot of things kind of suck right now, right? There’s a global pandemic, which has left many of us feeling scared and vulnerable. There has been a resurgence of protests surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd. And while the protests are targeting reform on police brutality, many protestors have been victims of extreme force and violence coming from the police. The economy is tanking (as one would expect with most businesses shut down or reduced for safety) and many working folks are still laid off.

So, if you weren’t already stressed before (because, you know, we kind of live with chronic health problems) you almost certainly are now. So, how can we chose optimism and staying positive when the world seems like such a scary and dark place right now?

There are many benefits to viewing the world with an optimist’s attitude. Many studies have shown that optimists tend to liver longer, have fewer health problems, and handle stress more efficiently. But, on that note, being an optimist does also require you to be a bit of realist too. If you consistently try and tell yourself you can do something when you know you can’t (like me, when I tell myself I’m fine to go out on a hot day knowing damn well I can’t handle the heat) you will waste your time and energy on a fruitless search and mostly likely frustrate yourself in the process.

So, while we can’t simply just smile and pretend that everything is OK, we should try and do our best to put a positive spin on things. Stuck at home during the quarantine? You’re safe at home and doing your part to help protect the vulnerable. Mad about the protests? They are a natural by-product from the need to change, and positive changes are indeed happening. Scared about getting sick? You’re doing everything in your power to stay healthy.

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But how can we apply this to our everyday lives, especially when it comes to our health? Personally, I used to be really upset that I wasn’t able to work a traditional 9 to 5. For me, that was the most glaring and obvious reminder that I was different than everyone else, and it made me feel like a failure. But, instead of looking at it like I “can’t” have a job, I think about all the kinds of work I do in other ways. I get to cook and clean for my wife, who always appreciates me taking care of things she might otherwise overlook. I get to spend time with the best pets in the world (totally not biased or anything). And, I feel much more fulfilled in my work because I feel like I’m good at what I do, it’s an appropriate workload, and I get to help others. If I was still working in a call center and not focusing on freelancing, I wouldn’t have any extra energy to have fun with my wife either, which used to be a major complaint from her! Now, I have the energy to go out to dinner or shopping, something that makes her incredibly happy.

One really good piece of advice I’ve also received it to use a gratitude journal to record all that you are thankful for. So, even if a situation is just crappy and you can’t see the positives, you have a written record you can look over and see the great things you currently have.

And, as always, practice makes perfect. You certainly can’t change overnight. So, if you find that you are still feeling negative thoughts or feeling sad, be gentle with yourself. Take a deep breath and evaluate why you feel that way. Meditate, journal and talk with a good friend or therapist to see if you can alter your view on the world.

Photo by Antonino Visalli on Unsplash