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As a new year begins, the scent of change is often in the air. It’s almost obligatory to make some sort of goal for yourself when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. For many, those goals include losing weight, eating better or quitting unhealthy vices.
For those living with chronic illness, the idea of making goals is just as enticing as it is for the next person, but it’s important to take health limitations into account. Setting attainable goals is the best way to ensure that you can be successful while managing your condition and living happily and healthily.
How does chronic illness affect mental health?
Living with a chronic illness can be difficult due to the physical manifestations, but it can also take a toll on a person’s mental wellbeing. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as chronic pain, fatigue and disturbed sleep, it can be easy to fall into a mental rut. The stress of having to live life a certain way and the added challenges of completing daily activities can leave a person feeling guilty, resentful and exhausted.
The psychological toll of having a chronic illness can be just as harmful as the illness itself. Often, people with chronic illness experience mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. That’s why it’s important to factor mental health into your New Year’s resolutions.
How can you be positive with chronic illness?
It’s not an easy feat staying positive in a negative situation, no matter what that situation may be. Dealing with a chronic illness can make it hard to stay positive, particularly when it gets difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel and you feel as though you have no control over your health.
Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or have dealt with a chronic illness for the majority of your life, there are changes you can put in place to help you make 2021 the best year yet when it comes to the management of your chronic disease.
New Year's resolutions for people with chronic illness
1. Tweak your diet
Diet is a vital component of overall health. The body needs essential vitamins and nutrients on a consistent basis in order for it to run optimally. For those with chronic illness, diet becomes even more important.
When it comes to making changes to what you eat, it’s best to start small. Doing a complete overhaul of your diet might sound like a good idea at the time, but it’s important to make resolutions that will stick, and easing yourself into it will increase your chances of success.
Taking away or adding in foods here and there can go a long way when making this lifestyle change. For example: if you suffer from chronic inflammation, adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, such as berries, fatty fish and green tea, can help to lessen the body’s inflammatory responses. These foods contain high levels of antioxidants, which are great for inflammation.
It’s also wise to limit your intake of certain things, such as foods with added sugar, white breads and fried foods. Cravings for these foods will not stop on their own, so being mindful of that and changing your diet gradually will help you make better food choices. If you have a sweet tooth, try switching a bag of candy for a bowl of fruit – you’ll get the same effect with a lot more benefits. Small steps will lead to big changes.
2. Move in your own way
If you have physical limitations because of your chronic illness, setting a resolution to run a marathon might not be the best idea. That doesn’t mean moving more in general is out of the question, though. Getting regular exercise can help lessen the impact of any depression or anxiety you may have because of your illness, and can also reduce the risk of your condition worsening.
To get moving, first you’ll have to determine what kinds of exercise you can do and what kinds you can’t. For example, if you have difficulty walking, joining a fitness centre with a pool might be a good way to get some low-impact aerobic exercise. If you are able to walk but can only do it for a short period of time, start off with small increments and work your way up, five to ten minutes at a time.
3. Prioritise your health
Dealing with doctor’s appointments and medication schedules can be tedious, but staying on top of things is a must when you have a chronic illness. Make a promise to yourself to avoid cancelling appointments unless absolutely necessary and give yourself a set medication schedule to stick to. This will help you stay on track with managing your disease.
Self-care also falls into this category. Your version of self-care may be different from someone else’s, but it’s important that you make your health a priority. Say no to things when you have to, find time for yourself whenever you can, and treat yourself every once in a while for never giving up in the face of adversity.
4. Learn to give yourself a break
It can be easy to see your physical limitations as character flaws, but it’s important that you remember that you are not your illness. If there’s something you can’t do because of your health, let go of any guilt you may feel.
It’s also important to let yourself take actual breaks. Maybe one day you’ll feel like you can take on the world, and the next you have a hard time doing simple day-to-day tasks. On that second day, let yourself rest. If you push yourself too hard you will likely end up worn out. Learn to know your limits and let yourself work within them without guilt or fear of judgement.
5. Practise gratitude
While managing a chronic illness, you might forget to be grateful for the good things in your life. After all, dealing with illness on a consistent basis can make it difficult to see the bright side.
To stay positive and help you stay on your path to happy, healthy living, practising gratitude goes a long way. Give yourself a few moments a day to write down, say out loud, or even just think about all the good things in your life. This will help you keep going on the more difficult days.
Making New Year’s resolutions may seem daunting if you have a chronic illness, because it’s hard to know what you’ll be able to do on any given day. But that doesn’t mean you are unable to aspire to the betterment of your life. Knowing what goals are attainable for you and formulating a plan to achieve them will help you deal with your illness in the new year, and for all the years to come.