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19 Ways to Care for Your Mental Health When Your Illness Is Flaring

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I don’t know about you all, but when it comes to my health, I have a tendency towards tunnel vision. If my chronic illnesses are flaring and my physical health is spiraling out of control, usually dealing with my mental health is the last thing on my mind.

But that shouldn’t be the case. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and the two may influence each other more often than we might realize. Not only that, but neglecting my mental health during times when my physical health is in crisis is silly, because the two go hand in hand. When my chronic illnesses get bad, that’s exactly when I can expect an increase in stress, depression, anxiety, fear, worry, sadness and so on. Flare-ups are prime time for checking in on your mental health.

That’s why we wanted to know how our Mighty chronic illness community takes care of their mental health on days when their illness is flaring. When you’re experiencing peak symptoms, it can sometimes be difficult to find self-care practices that are physically (or mentally – looking at you, brain fog) doable, but hopefully you’ll find a few options on this list that could work for you. Everyone is different, of course, and we all have different ways of tending to our mental health, but however you choose to care for yourself, know you deserve it, and we’re proud of you.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. Write in a journal.

“Journal it out, keeping my emotions bottled up too much causes them to explode later on and get out of control.” – Laura B.

I listen to music… or write about what exactly I am feeling. Sometimes pain can produce negative thoughts, negative feelings… so for me letting this out at least on a piece of paper… helps. Then I move on… continue my day. We are only human… and only so many people understand what we feel.” – J.N.V.

2. Do activities that make you happy.

I have a mental health box. It has activities that make me happy: favorite book, puzzle, coloring book and colored pencils, stuffed animal, etc. I also put a funny movie(s) on.” – Mackenzie P.

I text my friends and play my guitar (badly), watch movies, read books and sit outside in the sun. I read or listen to encouraging talks and articles and sing my favorite songs.” – Naomi V.

I watch movies (I love the Hallmark Christmas movies) or talk to a friend or family member. In the past I did journal.” – Deborah P.

I watch funny movies or YouTube videos and try to do art or crafts. I also like to cuddle with my animals and I will message friends in my support system so boost my mood.” – Jessica Z.

3. Look for the positives – no matter how small.

Smile. It’s kind of a fake-it-til-you-make-it thing. Smile as much as possible. Also, look for little things to enjoy. I have been laying on the floor unable to move or talk or cry and looked over at a patch of light and thought, ‘What a pretty shape, how beautiful is that.’ It takes you out of your moment of pain. Or I make a list of my favorite things in my head. Sounds [silly] but it’s good to find positivity.” – Lucy S.

4. Listen to music.

I listen to music or an audiobook that I love and take some deep breaths.” – Heather S.

I listen to music and pray.” – Ashley S.

When I’m having a bad pain day I just rest a lot, and sometimes listen to music.” – Misty A.

5. Eat your favorite comfort food.

Not gonna lie, I like to treat myself to comfort foods whenever I accomplish something, even as much as eating a proper meal or showering or just anything really. Just reward myself with a bit of candy. I’m type 1 diabetic so I have to be careful with making sure I get my insulin for that but hey, maybe I can reward myself for doing insulin for that reward? Haha.” – Jerica W.

I watch favorite movies, listen to Christmas music, and I color and comfort food is a must. Especially my homemade chicken noodle soup.” – Vienna L.

6. Get some rest.

Sleep, I just have to go to bed and block it all out.” – Russell C.

Sleeeep. I sleep until I feel better, if allowed… it’s usually not possible.” – Liz W.W.

7. Spend some time outside (if you’re able).

Sitting outside on the patio (when the weather is decent enough) helps me.” – Billie Jo R.

Get rest, watch movies, TV series and I like to go out on my deck to get some fresh air and sunshine with my sunglasses on of course.” – Sierra L.

8. Talk with others in a support group.

Seek support from my lupus Facebook group, they truly understand and support me when I need it.” – Lori H.B.

I go to support groups on Facebook and try to help others. If I can help someone else feel better, it definitely helps me feel better.” – Alice C.

“Going into an online support group and connecting with others who feel the exact same way, helps tremendously!” – Laura B.

9. Meditate.

Meditate and use my adult coloring books! I use the app Simple Habit and love it! They have several for chronic pain and it does help some.” – Ash L.

10. Create art or music.

I just pick up my ukulele and my song book and go to writing a new song about my struggles.” – Elizabeth H.

I crochet. It gives my mind something else to focus on, and making beautiful things helps me feel like I’m doing something worth while. When I can’t even crochet, I sleep.” – Monica I.Y.

I use the time to mentally recharge as well as physically recharge. I also channel the negative thoughts and feelings into poetry.” – Sukie M.

11. Make a list of what you have accomplished.

Make a list of what I have completed rather than drill on the items I need to do. Therefore I feel like I completed something.” – Katrina W.

12. Ask for help.

Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health, especially when living with multiple chronic illnesses. Figure out and do what works for you, talk to a mental health professional if you need to, and try to be open to the idea of anxiety/anti-depression medication. Living with chronic pain/illnesses is really hard. Remember that it’s OK to not be OK! And it’s good to ask for help.” – Melina R.

13. Take a day for yourself.

I usually just take the day to myself. I watch shows if I can stand it or just lay in bed. When I’m physically exhausted it’s easy for me to get socially exhausted too and sometimes it’s just hard when I’m not feeling well to keep up with everyone.” – Aubrey L.R.

“I stay away from most people as I’m a lot stronger on my own so I avoid confrontations and/or toxic people. Priority is to stop everything and just take care of me because it can all come tumbling down when you are physically and mentally exhausted.” – Haleemah H.

14. Plan a fun activity.

I remind myself that I am a tried and tested warrior – I have survived days like this 100 percent. I plan what I will do on my next good day – go to lunch with a friend, get a new haircut, manicure/pedicure, etc., something to spoil and pamper myself! Planning an activity I like helps distract me and gives me something to look forward to. It gives me hope.” – Carol C.

15. Use laughter as a distraction.

I find on days where I am physically not doing well and emotionally not doing well, that the best thing is to distract myself with laughter, watch a funny show or movie.” – Laura B.

We recently renovated our bathroom and installed a TV over the bath so I can have a bath, relax with some aromatherapy bath salts and watch some comedy shows/movies. Laughter is the best distraction and stops you from feeling bad and sorry about yourself, by taking the focus elsewhere.” – Laura M.

When I’m down, I find something funny on Facebook and laugh. I distract with reading or my favorite video games.” – Colleen S.

I always find that laughter is the best medicine so I marathon watch funny videos to uplift me.” – Haleemah H.

16. Play computer or video games.

If I’m flaring and just can’t handle the world, I play Sims. Its a game that takes up my entire computer screen, which means I can’t scroll through Facebook and get lost in comparing my life of pain to the pain-free lives of peers. Or over-research new symptoms. What I can do is get totally lost in another world, and escape for a few hours. It helps me escape better than TV, too because it’s more engaging. Often I feel slightly refreshed mentally after playing, even if the pain flare remains.” – Sally F.

17. Know it’s OK to feel whatever you’re feeling.

Sometimes when I am having a bad flare-up and it’s lasting longer or I miss out on something that I was looking forward to, it really hits me more mentally. I try to look at pictures on my phone of things I was able to do recently. It’s OK to be sad or frustrated. I focus on letting myself feel emotions and not shove them down. Talking to friends or family. I have someone come over and we will eat in bed and play a board game or card game where it is most comfortable for me.” – Stephanie H.

18. Read a good book.

I delve into my favorite books while I’m listening to music. I can imagine my life somewhere else doing that and forget about my pain for awhile.” – Marie C.

“I love to read because I can be 100 percent absorbed in the story and not connected to anything besides my book. I’ve always enjoyed being drawn into a different world and getting to learn something new – it never fails to spark my passion and curiosity. But it’s also refreshing to just have a break from technology, and ‘shut off’ for a while. Definitely helps me ‘reset’ in a way.” – Paige W.

19. Give yourself “little reminders” as often as you need them.

I try to remember that pain and depression run along the same pathways in the brain. So when my pain goes up, depression goes up. And if I can bring one down the other will also come down. Knowing this doesn’t always make me feel better, but it reminds me this moment isn’t permanent and I will feel better. That helps a lot!” – Chris R.

I have a Zox bracelet band with the word kindness written inside. It reminds me to be kind to myself instead of punishing myself by pushing on and making things worse. It’s OK to be kind to ourselves after all.” – Vicky M.

I try to remember that it’s just a bad day, and there is no need to start panicking about things getting worse in the long-term. It’s just a bad day.” – Gabbie J.

Originally published: July 25, 2018
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