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Self-care is something we hear about all the damn time, it’s become such a trend. Mostly, when we see self-care tips they involve bubble baths, spa days and going for a walk. But when you’re chronically ill, getting your nails done or going to a yoga class is probably at the bottom of your list, when your energy levels are low and the most basic forms of self-care, like taking a shower are a challenge.
Now self-care is definitely important, no matter your age, gender or health condition. But how you practice it will look different for different people.
Living with chronic pain or any chronic illness can make maneuvering through day to life a lot more difficult. From the constant aches and pains, brain fog, anxiety and the grueling testing, it really takes its toll on you mentally, emotionally and physically. Which is why it’s so important for us to prioritise self-care, but how?
WHAT DOES “SELF-CARE” REALLY MEAN?
Okay, let’s start off with defining self-care because there’s a lot more to it than pamper days. According to the world health organisation, “Self-care is a broad concept which also encompasses hygiene; nutrition; lifestyle; environmental factors,socioeconomic factors and self-medication”.
Self-care is all the things you do to take care of your overall health and wellbeing. We can break self-care into 7 different categories :
When you think of self-care, physical self-care is probably the first one that comes to mind. Physical self-care is all the things you consciously do to take care of and improve your physical health, such as
- Eating healthily
- Getting adequate sleep
Emotional self-care refers to all the things we do to keep our emotions healthy and in check. A few things that you can do to address and tend to your emotions is-
- Speaking with a therapist
- Daily affirmations
- Taking a moment to yourself to practice gratitude and stillness/meditation
Similar to emotional self-care, mental self-care is all the things you do to stimulate the mind, which could include:
- Learning something new
- Reading a book
Every day tasks may not feel like self-care but they actually can be. Things you do to eliminate stress or make day-to-day life run smoothly also count, such as-
- Organising your home
- Meal prepping
- Setting and sticking to financial goals
As humans, we need social interaction and connections with other people. Social self-care is probably one of the most necessary for us all. When you make the time to nurture your relationships or have a long chat with a loved one, think about how much better you feel. Social self-care activities can include:
- Going for a coffee with a friend
- Sending funny memes back and forth with your bestie
- Having weekly dinner with your family
Whether or not you’re religious, self-care applies to all. It’s all about doing the things that make your inner self (soul) smile. If you are religious, that could revolve around your beliefs but if not it’s all the self-care activities that bring you peace and look after your soul, for example:
- Creating a vision board
- Getting out into nature
Whether you’re employed or self-employed, taking time for professional self-care is very important. In order for you to put your best foot forward, feel fulfilled and progress in your career, this form of self-care is essential.
Some professional self-care activities you can do are:
- Ensuring you take regular breaks throughout your working day
- Taking mental health days if you need to
- Not taking work home with you and allowing yourself to turn off
Ok, now we’ve broken down what self-care is, here are some realistic ways those with chronic pain and illness can incorporate it into their daily lives.
HOW TO PRACTICE SELF-CARE WHEN YOU HAVE CHRONIC PAIN OR ILLNESS
1. SET YOURSELF ACHIEVABLE GOALS
Getting up at 5am, going for a run and writing in your journal sounds amazing but when you’re chronically ill, that may not be realistic or as achievable. Instead, set yourself some achievable goals and make a flexible plan that you can stick to.
You can make a plan weekly or daily, it all depends how your illness affects your day-to-day activity.
I prefer to make a plan daily, as I can base my day around how I’m feeling and what I can mentally and physically manage.
For example, on Monday morning, after assessing how I feel for the day, my list may look like this:
However Tuesdays list could look a lot different based on how I feel:
Allow your plan to be flexible. If one day you get a lot done and the next day you lay on the sofa all day, that’s totally fine. Let your body guide you and if you aren’t able to tick everything off your list, don’t beat yourself up about it.
There is always another day.
Listening to your body is probably the most important self-care act for those who have chronic pain or chronic illness.
2. EAT HEALTHILY
Nourishing your body with food is really important as it helps your brain and body to function. Eating the right foods will not only keep you looking good but will also provide you with certain nutrients to help boost your immune system, improve brain function and can also help to regulate your moods.
There are so many foods and natural remedies that can be really helpful to manage chronic pain. Eating healthily is a simple way to help yourself without too much effort.
There are so many healthy and tasty recipes available, if you’re a little stuck or not much of a cook, get yourself a cookbook or find some recipes on Pinterest.
Or speak with your doctor or nutritionist to come up with a healthy meal plan that may also help with pain or symptoms of your illness.
Okay, this one is hard and I’m not here to suggest that you go for a crazy session in the gym. Instead, tailor what you can do to you! Whether it’s going for a short walk, doing some simple stretches or going to the gym, do what works for you.
Exercise not only keeps you fit but is also a great way to boost your mood, distract you from pain and get out and be social.
Of course, listen to your body and speak with your doctor before doing any exercise.
But if you’re unable to do any exercise, don’t beat yourself up about it. Not doing exercise is also a way of showing your body the right attention, particularly if exercise makes you feel worse or has a negative impact on your health.
4. ALLOW YOURSELF TO REST
When you live with chronic pain or any chronic illness, it can feel as though you do more “resting” than “doing”, but that’s not a bad thing.
Personally, I know that if I don’t rest or have a good night’s sleep, my pain is more likely to flare up.
So when you find yourself at wits’ end, take a moment and prioritize rest; curl up on the sofa or stay in bed for a few days if that’s what your body needs.
5. MEAL PREP
Meal prepping can be really beneficial and it’s one of my top self-care tips.
The whole idea is, rather than scrambling to find something to eat whilst you’re not feeling your best, have it already prepped and avoid making your pain or symptoms worse by forcing yourself into chef mode.
You can also use a meal planner to make things easier. It can be an app, notebook or meal planner sheet. There are so many options.
You can use a meal planner to write out your meal plan along with all groceries needed, all in one place. It takes away the stress of getting home from the grocery store then realising you forgot something.
6. BE SOCIAL
Living with chronic illness can have an enormous impact on your social life. You may not go out as much, out of fear of making your symptoms worse, or, you may feel like a burden to others so you withdraw from social interaction and activity.
Whatever it may be, staying social is still really important. We as human beings thrive off social interaction.
Where possible try to maintain a social life, whether that be via phone, zoom, inviting friends over for movie night or going out for a coffee.
7. DON’T FEEL GUILTY
Often those of us with chronic illness and chronic pain struggle with the burden of guilt, which has a major impact on both our physical and mental health. As much as we’re constantly trying to be proactive and positive, sometimes all we need to do is nothing – without guilt!
Don’t feel guilty about listening to your body and prioritizing rest.
Instead, think about how much better you’ll feel once you’ve given yourself a break. It doesn’t matter if that means resting every few minutes or every few hours.
8. ASK FOR HELP
You don’t have to go through everything alone. Living with chronic pain takes a toll on you mentally, physically, and emotionally, which is why we need a little help from time to time.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, no matter your circumstances we all need help at some point or another.
If you find yourself at a low point and in need of support, reach out and ask for it. Whether it’s emotional support from friends and family, financial support from your local authority or health insurance, or physical and medical support from your doctor.
Whatever you need, allow yourself to get that help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or incapable; it means you are human.
9. SET BOUNDARIES
Setting boundaries and learning to say no is something I’ve struggled with quite a lot over the years. But it is key when trying to manage your illness, stress levels and mental health.
Saying no, especially to people you care about, is hard but look at the bigger picture.
Saying no is a reminder to yourself that you’re attempting to practice self-care and make your well-being a priority.
10. TREAT YOURSELF
Living with a chronic illness often means that our lives revolve around health visits, tests, medication and trying not to scream every five minutes and often the things we enjoy fall to the wayside.
But it’s still important to treat yourself and make time for things you enjoy. It will not only make you feel good, but can also act as a healthy distraction.
You could treat yourself to a sweet treat, get your nails done or watch your favourite movie, do whatever brings you joy.
As much as chronic illness and pain consume a lot of our lives, it doesn’t have to suck out every part of joy and enjoyment, don’t give it that power.
15 ENERGY SAVING SELF-CARE TIPS FOR THE CHRONICALLY ILL
- Take your medication
- Netflix and chill
- Sit out in the sunshine for a few minutes
- Create a night routine
- Take a break from social media
- Listen to a podcast or audio book
- Say positive affirmations
- Put on a face mask
- Treat yourself to your favorite meal or sweet treat
- Do NOTHING!
- Tidy up your home
- Soak in a bath with Epsom salts or essential oils
- Cuddle with your pet
- Write 10 things you love about yourself
YOU DESERVE IT!
Living with chronic pain and illness presents so many challenges, so the least you can do is take time out to look after yourself. It doesn’t have to be costly, time or energy consuming either. Often we focus our efforts on pushing through our pain so we can get things done and as a result we can forget to rest and practice self care.
Self care is so much more than pampering yourself or treating yourself to indulgent gifts, it’s all about taking time to look after your health and prioritise your well-being.
Don’t feel guilty, you deserve it!
What self-care tips or ideas would you add?
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