If you’re dealing with a chronic illness, then you’re not alone. According to the National Health Council, around 133 million Americans suffer from some kind of chronic illness. That’s more than 40% of the population! And even if you don’t currently struggle with chronic pain, illness, or mental health challenges, there’s a good (read: probably 100%) chance that you will eventually come face to face with a mental or physical health challenge that will test you to your limit. Whether chronic or not, we all experience pain, sickness, and frustrating limitations – it’s a shared part of the human experience.
But the good news is that there’s a lot we can learn from these experiences, and the potential for growth they present is nearly unlimited. Though no one wants to endure a chronic mental or physical illness, we can try to see them through the lens of growth and change for the better. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the positive psychology traits you can cultivate to help you meet your health challenge head-on and come out the better for it.
Step 1: Know Your Strengths And Talents
Sometimes the frantic pace of modern life can keep us from discovering important things about ourselves, such as our character strengths. In fact, we can become so focused on our mile-long to-do lists and never ending responsibilities that we can end up focusing on our inadequacies, rather than the many things that we do well. The first potential upside of a chronic illness is that it can force us to slow down. Though this might be devastating at first, it may lead us to discover newly found strengths that we didn’t know we had – or had all along but might not have been able to fully use. It may feel like a backhanded gift, but it can be a gift nonetheless!
If your illness or injury (whether chronic or not) has given you more time to reflect, we suggest delving into your strengths and talents. This can be especially life and spirit-saving if your situation has upended your career and/or hobbies. What have you been interested in but have never been able to explore? What kinds of character strengths do you have that can lift you through this time? What kinds of characteristics do you want to use this event as an opportunity to work on? To help you get started, we recommend taking a science-based character strengths quiz like this one here. You can also talk to a trusted family member, friend, or therapist. In fact, we recommend you do both!
Develop Kindness And Compassion
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can lead to a myriad of overwhelming feelings for both you and your loved ones. However, as those feelings become more manageable, you may find yourself becoming more kind and compassionate towards your fellow men and women. There’s nothing quite like a life-shaking diagnosis or injury to help us appreciate the gift – and fragility – of life. And once we’ve experienced the pain, fatigue, mind-fog, nausea, and all-arond brutality of a chronic mental or physical illness, our sense of compassion for those around us tends to skyrocket.
Though it may not feel like such a big thing to you, your example of compassion for those around you can do wonders for them. Nothing helps a suffering person more than a reassurance that they aren’t alone in the world, that someone understands and respects their struggle, and cares for them anyway.
Perhaps most importantly, a chronic illness can teach us how to be kind to ourselves. Across the board, this is one of the most difficult lessons to learn for most people. Your condition can help you learn to speak kindly to yourself, to show mercy to your body and mind, and to pay attention to your needs and, yes, your wants as well! When you’re frustrated with yourself, question whether you would say the things you say to yourself to a friend who was similarly suffering. How would you treat them? What would you say to them? Would you drive them the way that you drive yourself? If the answer is that you have a double standard when it comes to your own suffering (and that’s exactly what it is: a double standard. You’re a human too!) then use this opportunity to practice kindness towards yourself. It may be one of the most important lessons you ever learn – and that you’ll ever share with others.
You Can Learn To A Strong Advocate For Yourself
In a demanding world, it’s easy to get swept along in the tide of others’ needs and expectations. When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, it can be overwhelming. While we all need support, especially during times of trial and fear, this can also be an opportunity to practice advocating for yourself and your needs. You can take charge of your diet, your exercise, the therapies used to manage your condition, your schedule, etc. Our free will is one of the most powerful tools that we have. When you find yourself using it – even if it seems against all odds – it can help you manage your condition and come out feeling stronger, more empowered, and more confident.
A Final Note
We hope that this article will help you manage your chronic illness and feel that you can come out triumphant. Every person’s situation is different, and if all you can do is get out of bed one day, then that might be enough! You don’t have to become an inspiring public speaker or social media influencer to have a successful life with a chronic illness. Take a moment to examine what success means to you. With the help of your doctor, physical and mental therapists, and other trusted counselors in your life, work to gain a set of realistic expectations. Then you can work within those expectations to create a life that is fulfilling to you! Above all, please don’t compare yourself to others! Your life is your own, your circumstances are unique – there is no one exactly like you and any comparisons you make will automatically be apples-to-oranges.
If you would like help managing chronic pain or mental health issues, we would love to hear from you! Please give us a call at 307-631-5574 or reach out to us on Facebook.