If you have a chronic illness you know that some of the symptoms you experience can really throw you for a loop, both physically and emotionally. Chronic pain, fatigue and brain fog can be some of the worst experiences to deal with. When you have lupus, these symptoms come and go in a very unpredictable way, so you may not feel prepared for managing these symptoms. Even celebrities like Selena Gomez, who lives with lupus, and Lady Gaga, who lives with fibromyalgia, struggle with coping with these difficult symptoms.
I want you to know that even though these symptoms are unpredictable and difficult, they CAN be managed effectively and even reduced through increasing your coping skills and using strategic coping techniques for specific symptoms.
What Are Coping Skills?
Coping skills are abilities or talents used to effectively respond to issues that result in disadvantage or adversity. We use coping skills every day whether we realize it or not, to help us manage physical, emotional or psychological stress. Some coping techniques are positive and some are negative and what might help one person cope, might not help another person.
What Happens When You Use Poor Coping Techniques
If you don’t ever take the initiative to learn how to effectively manage your illness, the cycle of symptoms can actually cause you more pain and suffering. Your symptoms will control you, instead of you controlling your symptoms. Depression, anxiety and fatigue can actually worsen with poor coping strategies and in turn, other symptoms like pain, can become more frequent and more intense. Maybe you don’t actively cope with your illness because it’s incurable and therefore nothing you try will work. Maybe you have tried some techniques but they didn’t work for you so you just gave up. In either case, it’s worth it to keep trying because your quality of life is important! When you decide to become an active manager of your illness, big changes can happen.
Taking Control of Your Symptoms
When you use poor coping techniques or simply avoid coping with your illness at all, you are allowing your disease to take control of your happiness. When you start to take necessary steps to manage your symptoms, you start to prioritize your quality of life. Prioritizing your own self care and wellness doesn’t make you selfish, it forces you to make decisions that allow you to live life on your terms. In turn, you are communicating your needs to those around you which helps them feel more useful. It also helps you find ways to do more of the things you love.
5 NEW Ways to Cope With Symptoms
Coping is more than just ‘dealing’ with it. Coping is making active decisions to reshape your life, body and mind to prioritize your wellness. In order to do this, we have to be honest with ourselves and what is good for us and what isn’t good for us and be willing to remove those things from our lives that are not good for us. Keep reading for my 5 coping techniques that will put you back in control of your life.
- Recognize the Problem & Identify Where it is – The first thing you can do is take inventory of what is causing us stress and how we are currently coping with it. Is it specific symptoms? Is it how those symptoms effect your relationships? Taking a good, hard look at what might be getting in the way of your wellness will help you set the stage for goal setting and making improvements. Click Coping-Analysis-Activity.pdf to download my Coping Analysis Activity to help you rate your stressors.
- Reduce Your Stress – The next thing you can do is try to eliminate those stressors completely or at the very least, reduce the stress they cause to your mind & body by changing how you respond to it. Stress can trigger a flare of symptoms or even make your worst symptoms more intense & frequent. There are many ways to reduce stress, starting with increasing self-care activities.
- Clean Up Your Mind – In my creative business, I often say, ‘It doesn’t matter what is real, it only matters what people THINK is real.’ Your perception is your reality, so having negative, irrational or unhelpful thoughts & beliefs can also lead to more intense & frequent symptoms and poor coping. Restructuring those thoughts and beliefs can help you create a habit of more rational, helpful and positive thinking patterns.
- Give Your Body Something to Do – Body movement & activity, even the slightest actions, can be helpful in managing symptoms. If you’ve ever read Mel Robbins ‘5 Second Rule’, you probably know that even small movements in times of stress or discomfort can mean big changes. Activity can lessen stress reactions and promote a general feeling of wellness, while regular exercise can improve your body’s ability to handle stress in general. Even everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning or doing laundry or self-care activities that you love like painting or dancing to music, can help reduce stress.
- Support System Overhaul – You’re only as good as the people around you. Taking a good, hard look at your support system is very important when you live with a chronic illness. If your immediate circle isn’t filled with people who are compassionate, empathetic & supportive, odds are you probably don’t believe in your own abilities either. Sometimes we have to rebuild our support system to make sure it’s filled with people who motivate us to do better and push us to accomplish our goals, while giving us the patience we need to get there.
Remember, Lupus, or any chronic illness, is a stressor that we (yes, I have it too!) have to live with every single day. The best way to manage symptoms is to make sure we have all the tools we need to fight them head – on. If you are in need of additional support, seeing a therapist or counselor who specializes in chronic illness or chronic pain & is trained to break this down into manageable steps is a great place to start. You can find one in your state by visiting PsychologyToday.com & searching ‘Chronic illness’.
If you are in the state of Florida, I may be able to help! Send me a quick message to tell me how I can help you manage your illness below.
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Amanda Pratt, LCSW
Amanda is a licensed clinical social worker & therapist specializing in helping people with chronic illness manage the ups & downs of their disease. She is a speaker, teacher & contributing writer for The Mighty (www.themighty.com). Her office is based out of St. Petersburg, FL and she sees clients anywhere in the state of florida both in person and online.