Anyone grappling with a chronic illness understands how emotionally, physically, and mentally draining life can be. In between running around to multiple doctor appointments, experimenting with various medications, or constantly having to detail your condition to others, people living with a chronic illness never get a day off. When how you feel dominates every thought and waking moment, it may be aggravating to hear messages such as “it only gets better” or “at least it’s not worse.” Expectations we have of ourselves to feel normal often add onto anxiety and stress of living with an illness. Sarcoidosis warriors in particular deeply understand the crippling feel of the limited knowledge around the disease.
While the course of chronic pain and illness is unpredictable, there are a variety of coping methods to help survivors of chronic conditions process the layers of physical and mental stress they experience. People cope with pain in different ways, and some methods may work better than others.
1. Be Kind to Yourself
Stress, anxiety, and chronic pain are tightly connected, and becoming aware of positive and negative thought cycles is crucial. Stress can sneakily manifest itself into different areas of our bodies and minds. As many survivors of chronic conditions know too well, living with a chronic illness can limit one’s sense of independence or an ability to enjoy certain activities. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher and author, the process of self-compassion begins by treating oneself with kindness and empathy, rather than with criticism or doubt. Neff conducts research on the effects of mindful coping mechanisms on the body and mind by leading workshops centering on guided meditation and self-compassion exercises. The power of letting in accepting thoughts, such as “May I learn to accept myself as I am”, can help people refocus pain and suffering into positivity.
2. Practice Positive Thinking and Mindfulness
When put simply, all humans experience varying degrees of pain and suffering throughout life. Dr. Neff’s mindfulness techniques focus on the realization of our common humanity, which can help people with chronic illnesses feel less isolated. Carving out time in the day to meditate, breathe deeply, or rest can alter how we mentally and physically feel over time. While sitting and trying to be present can be a painful experience for many, inviting in more compassion and mindfulness, if even for a moment, can be healing. Similar to the workshops that Neff leads, becoming aware of everyday thoughts and habits can reveal one’s ability to forgive themselves. Engaging in activities like journaling, reading, cooking, exercising, and listening to music can help us adapt to change. These are all adaptive coping strategies that work at the root causes of stress. While it may be difficult to find mental or physical space to be present, paying attention to what triggers stress can help us gain a sense of control. When we start to focus on what we can do, rather than our limitations, pathways of healing can be opened in surprising places.
3. Remember Self-Care
Gathering as much information as possible about an illness can help anchor down feelings of hopelessness or confusion. Developing a sense of self-compassion and forgiveness can sharpen one’s priorities and realization of their inner strength and power. This can mean reaching out to others as a form of self-care. Not only are there hundreds of online and in-person support communities for specific illnesses and conditions, but the idea that stress, anxiety, and chronic pain are not always curable through a medical lens is gaining traction. Discussing your symptoms and feelings with doctors, close family and friends can help release tension. A way to cope with overwhelming tension is finding a creative outlet to express your emotions, like painting, drawing, or cultivating a garden. Writing in a journal can help organize your insights in a specific place.
Adaptive coping methods that involve mindfulness may not be enough to assist with certain amounts of debilitating pain. However, awareness and recognition of one’s strength, and that illness is not a result of a failure to do more can be powerful.
See our Self-Care Guide for more information on general wellness recommendations!