This post is part 3 in the 5 Keys to Adaptability for Chronic Illness Series. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Disclaimer: While I offer tips for maintaining wellness while dealing with a chronic illness, I’m not a licensed medical physician, psychotherapist, or psychologist, and I’m not offering medical or psychiatric advice.
For my full disclaimer policy, go here.
Before we dive into this week’s post, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge the delay in getting this post published.
I’ve been on a bi-weekly blogging schedule and was doing pretty well with sticking to it. Then life happened: I tragically lost a dear friend, and it took me a bit to feel like myself again. But even though what I was going through wasn’t related to my chronic illness, because I already had some adaptability skills under my belt, I was able to move through my grief in a way that allowed me to care for myself completely, and also gave me some great inspiration for blog posts I’ll be sharing with you soon.
Now, let’s move on to this week’s topic: coping skills for living with chronic illness.
Coping skills (also known as coping mechanisms) are any behaviors or actions we take to help us deal with stressful situations.
Since living with a chronic illness and/or pain can be overwhelming, frustrating, and can cause feelings of hopelessness, it’s important to develop healthy coping skills to build up our resilience and help us live well – despite our diagnosis and experiences.
In this blog post, I’ll share the best coping skills to help you adapt to living with chronic illness and help you make the most of your life.
Keep scrolling to learn more! 👇
Taking Care of Your Physical Health
When you live with chronic illness and/or pain, taking care of your physical health is one of the most important things you can do to help you cope and prevent further complications.
Oftentimes, no chronic illness occurs alone – meaning you may also experience related conditions or illnesses (comorbidities), or be at a higher risk for developing these things. For example, those with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing heart disease, but proper management of blood sugar and other proactive steps can be taken to reduce this risk.
Additionally, learning to manage your symptoms can go a long way toward helping you thrive and build your resilience while living with chronic conditions. Lifestyle choices like diet, finding a fitness/movement routine that is accessible to you, and prioritizing getting enough sleep can all help ward off some of the more intense symptoms and effects of chronic conditions and offset the chance of developing comorbidities.
There have been countless studies that show how maintaining a healthy diet (this is specific to each person, so I’m not making any suggestions here!) and being as physically active as possible can do a lot for our stress levels, which has an overall effect on our physical well-being. But doing these things can also boost our confidence and help us gain better cognitive function, thereby improving our overall quality of life.
Taking care of your physical health is also one of the best coping skills to help you adapt to living with chronic illness because it can reduce the side effects of various treatments and medications. As always, be sure to consult your healthcare provider to find out what movement practices and dietary choices are best for you.
Engaging in Activities That Help You Process and Regulate Your Emotions
Living with chronic illness and/or pain can certainly take its toll on your emotional health and well-being. Those who are chronically ill are at an increased risk of developing depression, so learning coping skills to help maintain emotional wellness is recommended.
Physical symptoms from general illness, as well as chronic illness and pain, have also been tied to increased levels of stress, so practices that help calm the nervous system and de-escalate the flight, fight, freeze, or fawn response by helping to “turn off” the amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for creating these responses – which disrupts the stress response can be extremely helpful.
One of my favorite techniques for dealing with the stress of all sorts is EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique). This is a practice based on the energy meridians of Chinese Medicine and has been used to help people deal with things like anxiety, PTSD, phobias, chronic illness, depression, and more. I wrote a whole post about using EFT for chronic illness here, and you can even download a free guide here to help you get started today!
And don’t discount the benefits of seeking professional help if needed. There is no shame in needing some extra support, and therapists, counselors, and coaches can all help you learn more about what emotional wellness activities might be best for you.
Learning to Show Yourself Compassion
Self-compassion can be a hugely beneficial coping skill for those living with chronic illness.
Self-compassion is having a mindset towards oneself that is rooted in kindness and acceptance. This is something different than the popularized “positive thinking only” stuff that’s popular in the mainstream personal growth community these days. It’s not about ignoring the difficult and challenging aspects of having a chronic illness, but rather, it’s about showing yourself grace in the midst of these struggles and remembering that your life still has a purpose.
I know self-compassion may not be something that comes naturally to us all – it definitely doesn’t come naturally to me! In addition to using EFT to help me get through the uncomfortable emotions living with a chronic illness brings, I also use it to help foster the things I want to experience more of in my life.
I often use YouTube videos from Brad Yates as a way to help me articulate my EFT practice when I’m not able to create one for myself for whatever reason. He has a great EFT session for self-compassion you can watch here. Be sure to check out his other helpful videos, too! (I get nothing if you visit his YouTube, I just think his technique and personality are great!)
It’s true: our lives probably look different now that we’re living with chronic illness.
But by taking care of our physical health, engaging in activities that help us process and regulate the tough emotions chronic illness can bring, and showing ourselves self-compassion, we can build up our resilience and experience a fulfilling life.
If you’re living with a chronic illness, I invite you to download the free workbook you’ll find at the end of this post – it’s a great way to get started with adapting to life with a chronic illness.
Keep the conversation going in the comments by sharing your favorite ways to cope with living with chronic illness, or share this post with someone you love!
May your flares be few and your spoons be plenty,