There are two simple strategies for self-care that you can use to reduce anxiety and improve your well-being.
Take care of yourself. How many times have you heard this expression? If you’re chronically ill, I’ll wager that you’ve heard it a lot. But what does it really mean? How do you define self-care?
Chances are you’re minding the “housekeeping” – taking your medications on schedule, going to your doctors’ appointments, allowing (and it’s not easy!) others to do the things that you can’t do for yourself no matter how hard you try. In my case it was letting my family help me with basic stuff like putting on a pair of socks. Or adjusting my pillow because my muscles were too weak for me to do it myself. I needed to feel like I had some control – like I could take care of myself. So I found two simple strategies for self-care that empowered me to do that.
Self-care addresses emotional, psychological and social needs.
The truth is that we all have different needs when we’re healthy, so it stands to reason that we’ll have different needs when we’re ill. I was in the hospital when I was finally diagnosed with myositis. When I was released, I was sent home with an arsenal of prescriptions, a bevy of appointments with various specialists and a crushing sense of uncertainty.
Physically, I couldn’t do much at all. I didn’t have the mobility, strength or energy. My body wasn’t working. I felt like my “on” button had been disabled. On the other hand, my brain was in overdrive. Will I ever feel better? How much better? How long will it take? What if the medications don’t help? How did I end up with a rare disease? Oh, I could go on with my list but you get the point.
Start small and celebrate the wins.
It wasn’t hard to see that if I was going to heal at all, I needed to put the same amount of effort into my mental well-being as my physical well-being. I learned that autoimmune diseases are pretty unpredictable. I’d notice that on some days I’d feel better than other days for no particular reason. I also realized that it didn’t make any sense to try to think too far ahead. My two strategies for determining my self-care needs were simple. Every morning I asked myself two questions:
1. What will give me peace today?
2. What one thing do I want to accomplish today?
The beauty of these questions is that they encouraged me to think about how to nourish myself emotionally in a practical and actionable way. And the list is short so I didn’t feel too stressed by having two “tasks” to complete. So at the end of each day, while I was lying in bed, I’d ask myself if I had succeeded in finding some peace and in doing one thing that made me feel productive.
I encourage you to do the same. Make it a habit. There are no rules or big expectations. I found peace in the simplest things: spending long stretches of time listening to music; taking an afternoon nap, accompanied by my cat, of course; making an “executive” decision to ignore phone calls for the day. And my accomplishments? Early on they were simple: trying to get dressed by myself, giving myself a manicure, or writing a thank you card to someone who had sent a meal.
Find your peace and claim it. Applaud whatever it is that you managed to accomplish today. Reflect on your progress. Rest a little easier knowing that you are living forward.