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Self-Care Is Not Selfish: 10 Chronic Illness Self-Care Tips

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I’ve spent a great deal of time the past few weeks in judgment mode. My mind has been preoccupied with being hypercritical of myself, despite repeated attempts to practice compassionate self-care. This often happens when I hit a rough patch with my health and I start to feel that I’m falling short and failing to live up to expectations – mostly mine.

As humans (especially those of us in Western society) the tendency is always there – the desire to “do better,” “be better,” “achieve more,” but when you throw chronic illness into the mix, the result can be greatly exacerbated. It’s the antithesis of gratitude and acceptance.

When I fall into this pit of negative self-talk, I feel inadequate, undeserving, incompetent, helpless. At first, these thoughts creep in slowly, but soon they begin to overtake my thinking like a tidal wave, sweeping everything positive and good out to sea – far away, unreachable. In these moments, the surge of negative thoughts is stronger than I am.

When I finally convinced myself to see a doctor in early 2006 after months of debilitating symptoms, it was because I could no longer pretend that I was just reacting to stress or to the problems in my marriage. Like many women, I put off self-care and minimized what was happening to me because there were so many other things that needed tending. And like many women, I thought of self-care as selfish or indulgent, served up with an undercurrent of guilt. It seemed extravagant – like a weekend at a spa, rather than emotional first aid of the highest order. Like the classic example flight attendants give about putting on your oxygen mask first before helping others, it’s important to tend to yourself first.

An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly. Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean “me first,” it means “me too.” Self-care is not a waste of time. Self-care makes your use of time more sustainable.

What I’ve learned over the past 15 years of being chronically ill is that when turning inward to fight for yourself seems like the last thing you can do, it is, in fact, the most essential thing.

There are many things you can choose to do to make sure you are emotionally loving to yourself — and all of them take practice. Here are 10 for you to honor yourself with today:

1. Eat healthily and mindfully.

Too often we eat our meals while multitasking, thus denying ourselves the pure experience of a nourishing meal. Would you work on the computer when having dinner with a loved one? Treat yourself with that same level of respect, and allow yourself to indulge in a meal without any distractions.

2. Keep track of your accomplishments.

While there are great merits to a “to-do” list, we must also recognize the things we’ve done. At the end of the day, make a list (either mental or write it out) of the productive things you’ve done that day. Did you nurture a relationship? Do the laundry? Complete a work assignment? No matter how small, you deserve a pat on the back.

3. Express gratitude.

Just as it’s beneficial to keep track of what we’ve done, it’s also good to notice what we have. Keep a journal by your bed, and note the things that you feel lucky to have. Everything from clean sheets to a good friend is worth noting. I end each day by writing down at least three things I’m grateful for in my gratitude journal.

4. Gift your inner child.

What were some of your favorite things when you were little? Did you love sidewalk chalk, picking wildflowers, or jumping in mud puddles? Treat your inner child to a little present and allow the warm feelings to wash over you.

5. Create a cozy space.

Does your bedroom look the way you want it to? If it doesn’t, add some candles or fun throw pillows. By building a space that feels warm and inviting, you establish an inviting retreat for when tough times arise.

6. Read a book.

Finding a book you love is a great way to feel happy. It feels wonderful to look forward to a good story, and the act of reading helps encourage a sense of peace. Join a book club or make a date with yourself at the library or a local bookstore.

7. Find a form of physical activity that energizes you.

What experts say about exercise and endorphins is true – getting active increases feelings of happiness. This doesn’t mean you need to hit the gym. Rather find a form of physical activity that works for you. Go dancing with your friends, enjoy a Saturday morning hike, or go on a bike ride.

8. Unplug.

Instagram and Facebook have some benefits, but does it really make you feel better to expose yourself to everyone’s online versions of themselves? Most often people only report on their success, and so it can be hard when you’re comparing your entire life to everyone’s highlight reels. Take the time to break away from social media, and allow yourself to focus on the beauty of the moment.

9. Create something.

Whether it’s a batch of brownies or a pastel drawing, getting artistic allows us to feel mindful and productive.

10. Build a self-care kit.

Fill a pretty basket with some of the things that make you feel special. It could be nail polish, your favorite lotion, treasured photos, or a new pair of socks. Place your pick-me-ups in a pretty basket, and keep it in your bedroom or bathroom for when you need an extra dose of love.

This story originally appeared on You Don’t Look Sick.
Getty image by Katherin Ziegler.

Originally published: April 11, 2022
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