Hopeful Acceptance: Strategies for Coping with Chronic Illness (Part 2 of 5)

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Read Part 1 here first.

Cultivating Self-Care and Self-Compassion

Finding a helpful coping strategy for chronic illness begins within. If you have found yourself confronted with an ongoing illness, take some time to reflect on your belief system. How do you feel about illness, in general? What are your attitudes toward others who are ill? How do you believe your illness impacts your sense of worth?

By really examining your internal story about illness, you may identify beliefs that are holding you back from a hopeful experience. For example, if you believe it is selfish to put yourself first, you will continue to give to others while neglecting your own needs. If you believe you are worth less because you can’t accomplish as much as you were capable of before your illness, it will be challenging to find compassion for your condition.

Self-care begins with a shift in understanding and belief that your needs are not only as important as everyone else’s, also necessary to your survival and well-being. Like the flight attendant that insists you “put on your oxygen mask first, before assisting others,” now is the time to practice taking care of yourself first. This may mean find outside assistance for yourself and/or small children. It may mean re-evaluating your daily priorities. And, it may require that you get really creative with your resources, to assure you have what you need for your own care.

All of that is only doable, if there is a heartfelt practice of self-compassion. How will you tend to and nurture yourself throughout this illness? What attitudes are you willing to let go of, so that you can find love for yourself? Unfortunately, there may be relationships that re-enforce a negative approach to your illness and question your worth. This is the time to examine how those relationships are serving you and if they need to be re-negotiated.

Compassion and care are products of a healthy self-esteem and positive outlook. Be mindful of your self-talk. Replace negative thoughts with ones that support your mind and body. Let go of measuring yourself by the past or others and celebrate each accomplishment, no matter how small. Find gratitude for every supportive moment, be it a helpful friend, uplifting thought, understanding medical provider, healthy meal or beautiful sunset. Focusing on the positive aspects of life helps to expand that positivity.

  • How will you shift your attitudes toward illness to allow for self-compassion? What do you need to feel nurtured and cared for?
  • Practice “putting your oxygen mask on first.” What would need to be different for that to happen? What would change as a result?
  • Take personal inventory of your attitudes about illness. Also notice the attitudes of those that surround you. What changes are you willing to make to create a supportive environment?
  • Monitor your mental chatter: How are you talking to yourself? How will you practice positive and affirming self-talk?
  • How might you find gratitude, even in the tough days? What blessings are in your life?
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