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Essentials of Managing Your Chronic Illness
By Cynthia Perkins, M.Ed.

Managing your illness means to take responsibility for the actions that are necessary for you to cope and live life as optimally as possible within the limits you are faced with. It empowers you to improve the quality of your life, reduces helplessness and hopelessness and promotes self-confidence and self-esteem.

There are many steps one can take to manage their illness, and these steps may vary greatly from week to week or from individual to individual. But, there are several essentials that are fundamental to any health care path regardless of your diagnosis.

These essentials are:

1. Proper Nutrition 

You are what you eat. What you eat has a profound impact on your mental and physical health. Eating a healthy diet is essential for optimal functioning and healing. Depending on your particular illness, this may include incorporating new foods into your diet or eliminating some favorites. At the very least you should be eliminating things such as sugar, caffeine, refined foods and unhealthy fats and replacing these with whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits and fresh or frozen meat and poultry. Preferably your diet should be free of chemicals and toxins found in the average diet such as pesticides, herbicides, additives, dyes and preservatives. Healing can't take place in a body fed with unhealthy foods and neither can maximum functioning.

2. Exercise 

Incorporating exercise into your life is crucial for the mind, body and soul. The body's natural release of endorphins, which occurs with exercise, provides wonderful emotional uplifts and is also a fantastic pain reliever. In addition to reducing heart disease, building healthy bones and muscles and managing weight, it is an excellent outlet for relieving depression, anger, stress and anxiety and also boosts self-esteem and self-confidence. Regular exercise improves energy levels, help you sleep better and more deeply, promotes healthy bowels and boosts the immune system.

3. Soul Nourishing 

Feeding your soul healthy food is just as important as feeding your stomach. Find ways to nourish and replenish your soul. Participate in activities that make you feel whole, alive and one with universe. Neglecting your soul results in loss of joy and life fulfillment. Yoga, meditation, prayer, communing with nature, music, art, writing or deep meaningful relationships are some great sources of soul food.

4. Take an Active Role in Your Health Care 

You should play a central role in your health care treatment. Instead of passive compliance with doctor's orders this requires a partnership with your health care provider. You're with your body 24 hours a day, so no one knows how your illness or treatment approaches impact you and your life, better than you do. Be an active participant in treatment approaches, pursue all possible avenues, present your physician with options.

5. Communication 

Honest, direct communication with health care providers, friends, family etc., is vital to your mental and physical health as well as the quality of your relationships. You'll get the best possible care if your physician is clear about your symptoms and how the illness and treatment impacts you. Everyone gets their needs met more effectively when there is understanding of one another and this can only occur with communication. Communication prevents misunderstandings and promotes intimacy.

6. Educate Yourself 

Learn everything you possibly can about your illness and your options. Consult with physicians, nutritionists, alternative health providers, other individuals with your condition, etc. Go to the library or bookstore and read everything you can get your hands on, do research on the Internet. Saturate your mind with knowledge about all aspects of your condition so that you can make informed choices. Self-knowledge restores a sense of personal power.

7. Pace Yourself 

Set priorities with your time and your energy. Break down your tasks and activities into hard and easy categories and list them according to priority. Do the things that are urgent or most important first and then the others when you are capable. Break long-term goals down into several short-term goals. Permit yourself to achieve the goal in small steps instead of all at once. Always allow yourself to rest when needed and give yourself permission to leave the list unfinished. Be flexible and accept your limits. Allow yourself time to recuperate when you have participated in a draining activity.

8. Humor and Inspiration 

Humor and inspiration are good for the soul and the immune system and necessary to help us keep things in perspective and out of negativity. They improve mood and make life a little lighter and more manageable. Feed yourself with humor and inspiration daily. Keep quotes, nature pictures or jokes in your daily space for frequent viewing, with things like calendars, or if you have Internet access you can receive quotes of the day or jokes of the day delivered to your email box. You can also watch funny films, read cartoons or read inspirational magazines or books.

9. Nurture Primary Relationships 

Everyone needs love and support and it is especially important for those with chronic illness. It assists in the acceptance and adjustment process, helps you cope and relationships are what makes life worth living. There is nothing more fulfilling than loving and being loved. Chronic illness will undoubtedly be a strain and stress on relationships and has the potential to erode or destroy them if left unchecked. It will be necessary to make a conscious effort to nourish them. Make those most important to you a priority and reserve quality time for them. Encourage open communication of feelings. Deal with the impact the illness has on your relationships directly and honestly. People have a tendency to try and spare one another's feelings by avoiding these types of discussions, and although you may avoid the discomfort of the moment, in the long run this is destructive to the relationship. Seek friends who are supportive and understanding.

10 Reduce Stress 

Life is stressful and there is no way to eliminate it, but keeping stress to a minimum and finding ways to deal effectively with your stress on a daily basis is essential to preventing it from overburdening your already limited physical and emotional capacities. Delegate responsibilities and chores to others in your life if possible. Shorten duration of visits and activities when necessary. Participate in soothing, relaxing activities like, massage, meditation, prayer and exercise. Don't allow yourself to get caught up in the vicious rat race of life by trying to live up to others expectations. Most of society lives a very unhealthy pace of life. Keep life simple; enjoy the simple things of life.

See Also:

Dealing Positively With the Loss of the Loved Ones
Following are some beliefs or thought-forms, which can be very supportive in our effort to cope with the departure of a loved one.

Anger and Your Health
In one study, people with normal blood pressure who scored high on a rating scale for anger were nearly three times more likely to have a heart attack or require bypass surgery within five years.

Stress Management
All of the hustle and bustle we go through each day leads to undue stress. How do you know that stress is taking over your body? What are the symptoms? Here are a list of tell tale signs that stress could be taking over YOUR body:

Cynthia Perkins, M.Ed. is a holistic health counselor specializing in issues of living with chronic illness, chronic pain and disability as well as sexual intimacy. She is also author of the inspirational E-Book "Finding Life Fulfillment when Living with Chronic Illness-A Spiritual Journey". Services, Ebooks and a FREE Newsletter can be found at her website. http://www.holistichelp.net/

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