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4 Mindset Changes That Can Help You Cope With Chronic Illness

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Living with a chronic illness means looking at life in a different way; altering your mindset is one of the changes that can be helpful. These are the four changes that have helped me cope with my chronic illnesses.

The mindset of someone with a chronic illness is different from someone who is healthy and well. When your body isn’t fighting against you, or your mind placing obstacles in front of you, the range of things you can achieve is only limited by your imagination. I remember this time. Trying new things, succeeding sometimes and failing other times was something I did without thinking. It was easy. In my case, I had lived with the impact of chronic illness for 10 years. Fortunately, I had a 10-year sabbatical from multiple sclerosis. In the last four years, this monster has returned, and it came with a companion, pain. Changing my mindset has been crucial to my mental well-being, as well as physical health.

What did I change?

1. Change of focus: The life in front of you, when you are healthy, can have obstacles. These are usually surmountable. You overcome these blockages by applying extra effort in time and energy. These are resources you have in plenty. When you have a chronic illness, these two attributes are in limited supply. Fatigue is a constant bedfellow, with an accompanying fog that limits your ability. This reduces time. The knock on implication is that you don’t have the energy to run, walk or sometimes even to crawl. So now your focus is not in the distance but within easy reach. Small, achievable steps are the key. Big leaps are often impossible.

2. Acceptance: Just because you accept that you have a chronic condition does not mean you will stop doing everything to get better, maintain or slow down the progression of your illness. Acceptance is acknowledging that you have some condition. Once you have made this clear in your mind, you can then take positive steps that can help you now, and into the future.

3. Be healthy: Your body, or your mind, is battling your disease. The human body is an incredible machine that scientists have yet to fully understand. It is clear that if you give your body the best fuel and exercise, this machine will work at its optimum. It is so easy to give in to the temptation of eating comfort food. All this does is interrupt and disturb the ability of your body to fight against your illness. Keeping fit is much more difficult, but it is worth the effort, and initial discomfort. I’ve been unfit; fitter feels better.

4. Gratitude, meditation and journaling: These three interlink because they help each other. I was, honestly, skeptical about the benefits of meditation, but I have been doing this for nearly a year now, and the change in my perception of the world around me has made me much more relaxed. If I am anxious or worried about something this habit has a way of dispersing the emotions. Any remnants that are left behind are quickly encapsulated and written down in my journal. Somehow the act of taking a thought and physically writing it onto a piece of paper that is in a book, that you can close, also takes this negativity and locks it away. Now you can begin to be grateful for all those small things in your life. A smile will often return once you see the simple beauty of life.

Is it simple?

Four changes in mindset seem simple. These all take work, and it will take time for you to see the way they impact your life. It is like brushing your teeth, brushing them once makes no difference, but making it a daily practice means that your teeth remain healthy and strong. I would suggest that you take these one at a time, get accustomed to doing, and then move on to the next one. Then the cumulative effect will take effect.

These do not cure you, but they can help you feel better about yourself, and be more capable of facing the daily challenge of living with chronic illness. My personal experience has been that if I do not practice all four I get overwhelmed and start into a negative spiral. Negativity is cruel and makes everything feel worse. When I notice, or I am told, then I reboot. I make sure I am not forgetting the daily practice. The focus returns, and I feel better about myself. It is a continuous process.

This is what I have learned, and I hope it can help you. If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments below.

Originally published: April 9, 2018
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