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5 Ways to Stay Positive When Chronic Illness Gets You Down

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People are constantly telling me to “stay positive,” but no one ever tells me how it’s possible to think positively when I am going through a hard time. “Stay positive” is kind of an empty piece of advice when you think about it. When I am going through a rough patch and someone tells me to “just be positive,”’ it is positively frustrating. However, I am a firm believer in “the power of positivity” and I believe everyone should at least give “being positive” a chance. This post explains my most effective tricks for maintaining a positive attitude.

1. Turn negative statements into positive ones.

The most important thing is to be aware of what you are thinking. Be super conscious as to where your mind is going and if you catch yourself thinking or saying negative things, immediately correct them. At first, it is really hard to do this but eventually, the more you do it, the more it will come naturally to you.

Start by thinking of everything you’ve complained about today – and then work out how to rephrase that in a more positive way. For example, I’ve been complaining a lot about the cold lately and today I was out to lunch with some friends and thought, “I am so over winter! I hate the cold.” I corrected this by reminding myself that the fact I was out to lunch with my friends was way more important than how cold it was and the alternative was being home alone in my warm bed. While most days I choose the warm bed over my friends, it’s really nice to get out and catch up once in a while.

Another example is when I am experiencing a high pain day, I will often start to have a pity party for myself, thinking things like “why me?” and “why is my life so hard?,” but these thoughts only add to my discomfort. Instead, I try and remind myself that not every day is a high pain day and be grateful for the low-pain day I had yesterday.

Sometimes it feels a little forced to do this but it can really help change your perspective. It’s so easy to be negative in life; the real challenge is maintaining a positive attitude. This won’t happen overnight and it takes more than just a decision to be positive. You need to find all your bad habits and break them with good ones.

Sometimes you can’t always be positive, and that’s totally OK. My rule is: If you can’t be positive, at least be neutral. What I mean by this is instead of correcting “my life is shit” with “my life is amazing,” sometimes you need to meet halfway and decide your life is neither shit or amazing, it is just somewhere in between, and that’s OK. Being neutral is the stepping stone we need sometimes because let’s face it – not every situation warrants a positive statement.

2. Appreciate small victories.

Instead of getting yourself down when you “lose” a battle, try appreciating the little wins you’ve had. Sometimes we get so caught up in the bigger things we forget to acknowledge the little things. For me, this means appreciating every morning I wake up and can successfully brush my teeth and change my clothes. This is probably such a small thing for many that they do not count it as a victory, but I have days so bad I can’t even do such simple things, so for me I count it as a win.

Instead of being frustrated with myself that I can’t vacuum my house this week, I praise myself for all the little wins I’ve had during the week, like cooking a meal or brushing my hair. This could apply to your job, maybe you missed out on a promotion and you’re down about that. Don’t become too fixated on the loss. Look beyond it and remember that customer who gave you that raving review, or the report that really impressed your boss. It can honestly be applied to any part of your life.

By actively reminding yourself of these small victories, you’re training your brain to view yourself in a more positive way. If I am ever feeling down about where my life is at, I always step back and start thinking about all the little wins I’ve had and focus on those. By viewing yourself more positively, you are more likely to succeed, as this positivity makes you more confident.

3. Reduce or manipulate your stress.

Stress is, unfortunately, an inescapable part of life. No one actually lives a stress-free life (no matter how many green smoothies you drink or how much yoga you do!). Instead of trying to eliminate stress, it is more productive to simply try and reduce your stress or manipulate it to be a positive thing. If I am stressed about something I ask myself two simple questions:

  • A) Is this stressor something I can control/change?
  • B) How can I manipulate my stress to benefit me?

If I answer no to the first question it means it is something I shouldn’t be stressing about. Things that aren’t in our control are things that often cause us stress but we shouldn’t let them. This kind of stress is a total waste of our precious mental energy because there is little to no benefit that can come from this.

An example of something stressful you have no control over is an exam you’ve already sat. You may spend the next few weeks feeling so stressed about what your result will be, but you actually have no control seeing as you’ve already taken it. Once you leave that exam or submit that assignment, the stress should disappear with it because it is a terrible use of your mental energy worrying about something that’s already done.

Stress is actually something that can sometimes be super beneficial (say whaaat?). If you use stress to motivate you, it can actually increase your performance. If you’re stressed about work, try and use your stress to your advantage by pushing yourself to work harder. If your studies are overwhelming you, use this feeling as an incentive to study harder and ease your worries. It’s definitely easier said than done but it is not impossible.

People may deal with stress in three ways: some people cope with unhealthy impulsive behaviors (retail therapy anyone?), others shut down completely and neglect the stressor altogether, but others use the stress to motivate them in a productive way. If you can work towards achieving the third kind of stress, it can ultimately benefit your productivity and make you work harder. With these three things in mind, it is also important to recognize and avoid the first two common stress-induced behaviors.

4. Do things you love.

I don’t care how busy you think you are, you are never too busy to add a few extra things in your schedule you enjoy. This is coming from someone whose schedule could not have been busier if I tried!

Do you feel like your life is lacking something, despite having the perfect job/family/whatever else? You need to make time for regular activities you really love. Whether this is stopping at your favorite cafe once a week to enjoy that coffee that isn’t made using Nescafe (no hate on instant coffee – I live off that stuff!) or watching the Kardashians with a glass of wine – make time for it! In fact, find more things you love and squeeze them into your routine too.

Life is absolutely too short to not enjoy things on a regular basis. Whether you are full-time at work, as a parent, as a student or as a patient like myself, you can and will find suitable things you can do that you love each week, if not each day.

You never know what’s around the corner so read that book, drink the wine, sign up for the yoga class, grab that coffee with your friend, buy those shoes and don’t feel guilty about it.

When you have these things to look forward to, it makes the rest of the week easier. Life becomes more enjoyable and less like a shitload of pointless chores.

5. Find the good in every bad situation.

I am a firm believer that no matter how shit something is, something good always comes from it. It takes a lot of patience and hard work to train your mind to think this way but it isn’t impossible.

Give it a go; think of the shittiest thing that has happened to you this week and then look at it from every angle until you can squeeze something positive out of it.

Did you do it? If yes, comment and tell me what your situation was and the positive you took from it! If you couldn’t find one, tell me and I’ll find it for you. This is honestly how I’ve gotten through everything in my life, including my sudden decline in health last year. I think it can be applied to anything you go through in life. (I’m still working on applying it to death, though. Sorry.)

If you focus on the good in every situation, no matter how small that positive is, you will inevitably become a more positive person. While this can sometimes be a very forced thing to do, eventually the more you do it, the more it will come naturally. You will find yourself doing it subconsciously. For example, it might rain on the day you needed to do washing and instead of thinking, “Just my luck,” you’ll think, “What a perfect excuse to stay in bed and read a book!” without even trying to squeeze the positive out. This point is directly linked to my first point because you are still turning negative statements into positive ones.

Whether the silver lining you find is huge or minuscule, it doesn’t matter. The point is the situation is never 100 percent shit. Sometimes it might be 98 or 99 percent, but try and focus on that tiny percentage of good!

These are just five practices I find help me stay more positive but of course, there are so many more ways you can maintain a positive attitude.

How do you stay positive? Have you tried any of the ways I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments!

This post originally appeared on Finding Rainbows in the Dark.

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Thinkstock photo via Jupiterimages.

Originally published: August 21, 2017
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