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How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Less Intimidating When You’re Chronically Ill

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When you have a chronic illness, New Year’s resolutions can be somewhat intimidating. There are many health-orientated resolutions or goals you might want to attain but seem too large to overcome. The guilt of not succeeding can make a person not even want to attempt the process at all.

However, when you look at your well-being as a whole, there may be small goals worth adding to your life that can make a significant difference. Each small goal you attain adds up and improves your overall well-being. We can even break up larger resolutions into smaller manageable goals.  

Or we can avoid them altogether due to the innate stress of them and that’s fine, too. If we feel stressed with all the things we should be doing, ought to be doing and can’t do, maybe it’s time to reflect on how to tackle just one thing — with no specific goal for the future in mind. After all, we do many things for our health as it is. There is no reason to insist upon adding one more goal at the beginning of the year if it causes unwanted stress.

We all know there are a vast amount of health-orientated goals for us to choose from. When it comes to a New Year’s resolution, however, this is a very specific goal you want to achieve over the year. So of the vast array of health goals, pick one precise thing you think will improve your overall well-being in some way. Look at the ways you can achieve this goal and how you want to begin. Remember every improvement is meaningful.

There are different areas where you can choose goals to improve your well-being:

Lifestyle changes: This can include things like improving sleep quality, changing diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, meditation and mental health.

Life engagement: This includes increasing social interactions, hobbies, employment and financial wellness or volunteering.

I know we would all like to “decrease stress,” but that makes for a poor resolution because multiple factors need to change that when you’re chronically ill. Things you might want to consider are working on your diet (small changes even) and working on your sleep routine and exercise (small amounts at first, going at your own pace). Or conversely, adding in the things that help combat stress such as relaxation techniques, meditation, social interaction or that well-needed downtime you don’t think you deserve. All of those are separate goals.

It’s important to understand that we can’t do everything at once without feeling overwhelmed. And not everything is achieved quickly. So keep it simple, sweetie (KISS).

If you have a broad goal, plan it out. You can say I want to improve my stress levels. And in an effort to do so I am going to a) Pick up meditation for three months and after that becomes a habit add in b) Exercise, starting slowly and increasing at my own pace.

A resolution can have smaller goals within it that you can do throughout the year to attain your larger goal. The key is to not do it all at once and overwhelm yourself. You do it bit by bit and add more in as you go along. Throw in rewards for achieving each step and reminders about the next step. If it feels too much, back up to the first step and just continue on until you feel you can progress once more.

Never compare your health to others and choose goals you believe will benefit your well-being as you are now. Never let people say you must make big lifestyle changes when smaller goals may improve your thinking, your mental and emotional well-being. Goals, such as socializing more, can have a vast impact on our emotional health for example. And decreasing that sense of isolation some of us get burdened with is pretty important.

Make a list of long-term and short-term goals you want to achieve and brainstorm some methods you would use to get you there in a journal. Then make a copy of that list and put it somewhere where you’ll see it as a reminder. Review these goals during the winter, spring, summer and fall. You may have achieved short-term ones, some may be habit by then and some may need to be removed or modified if they’re not working for you. For example, a goal of exercise may have to be modified if you thought you could do more than you actually could manage. So modify the activity to walking. Write in a journal or blog about how you’re doing with them, what progress you are making and what benefits you get from it.

Try to have defined timelines for short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals can be one to six months, and the long-term ones can be a year or more.

When I get asked what my resolution is, I say it’s to improve my health. Because that’s always the name of the game. I narrow it down to specific, achievable goals. They’re never too broad or undefined. They need to be achievable.

We also need to know if we have a problem with a goal, it’s not us. The goal just needs to be modified for us. I used to have a goal to exercise every day. I can’t do it. I need a recovery day. Therefore, it’s now every second day. Except, of course, on bad pain days.

For the chronically ill, New Year’s resolutions are simply a time to re-assess our goals for the year. It’s a time to take a look at the goals we have and whether they’re working or need to be changed. It’s a time to create new short-term and long-term goals.

There’s no room for guilt — just trial and error and modifying and changing goals. So this year, think about a goal for your health. Break it down. And think about the ways to achieve that. Re-assess it in four months and see if it needs to be modified. If you’re doing well, reward yourself in some way that acknowledges the effort.

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Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: December 27, 2016
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