15 Self Care Practices For Those With An Autoimmune Disease

20% of the population has an autoimmune condition in North America. If you're part of that 20% you know the toll it can take on your day to day life. Self care is important for everyone, but even more so when you're living with a chronic illness. Even if your disease is in remission or falls on the mild spectrum it's still important to take care of your well being.

What does self care mean? Self care is care provided “for you, by you.” It’s about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you. Self care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. 

When you have a chronic health condition you often need to take more time for self care. Don't let that make you feel inferior or guilty. When you take care of yourself first it makes you a more joyful, happy and healthy person and everyone around you will love to see you feeling your best. 

1. Pamper Yourself
Whether you like getting a massage to help with the stress or pain of your illness or like taking hot baths pampering yourself a little bit can reduce your stress. Having a spa day (save money by doing it at home!) may sound frivolous, but a little fun, face masks and nail polish (non toxic of course) is a fun way to relax. 

2. Plan ahead
If you need to schedule self care then so be it! Find a time of day that isn't busy and take that time everyday to do something that makes you happy. 

3. Stop with the guilt
True self-care is about honoring ourselves, caring for ourselves, nurturing ourselves, and loving ourselves — both for our own benefit and for the benefit of everyone around us. When you're feeling better and taking care of your own needs and health then you can be your best self with others. If you're putting everyone else's needs above yours all while trying to deal with chronic illness symptoms that can feel overwhelming. For myself I would feel guilty in the past that others were having to accommodate their lives around my illness and that I should push myself past my limits to counteract for what limitations I was putting on the relationship. I realize now that was doing nothing but hurt both myself and them. 

4. Surround yourself with loving people  
Those in your life that are loving and supportive will understand that you need to take time for yourself. Positivity is contagious, so spend time with people who make you feel your happiest.

5. Love your body just how it is
It can feel as though your body has betrayed you when you have an autoimmune condition. I love that quote that says "the only thing strong enough to fight me is my own body" . This frustration and angry towards your body happens to many of us with chronic conditions. Getting into the mindset of acceptance can help you move forward. 

6. Avoid the rabbit hole
Questions and uncertainty pop up when you think of your autoimmune condition. What will my future look like? Will I get another autoimmune disease? Will I be able to feel good as I grow older? It can be so overwhelming. I remember obsessing about how when I was in a care home as an old lady that they would cross contaminate my food. Adding stress about the future isn't what you need. Those toxic thoughts fill your day with worry and learning to let them go will release so much stress. 

7. Make a unwind playlist
Pick some music that calms you or lifts your spirits and play it while cooking or relaxing. I love to play music when I cook, it makes the process more enjoyable! 

8. Walk Outdoors
I've found that even just trying to get out for a short walk everyday helps me feel better on days when my symptoms are bothering me. If the weather permits it walking outside and getting fresh air and being out in nature helps reduce my stress levels. 

9. Have fun with scents
Try using essential oils to help relax or reduce pain. Lavender essential oil can reduce stress, clary sage can reduce muscle pain and chamomile can help you relax. Remember to always mix with a carrier oil like coconut before putting on your skin. I like putting lavender and vanilla in my essential oil diffuser at night.  

*avoid any Essential Oil that might boost the immune system.  For this reason, it is a good idea to avoid Essential Oils such as Palmarosa, Rosalina, and Thyme.

10. Reach out and help someone with your illness
Whether it's a kind comment on social media or helping someone in your hometown, showing some love to someone with your condition can lead to a wonderful connection.

11. Get a cuddly pet  
It's been proven that spending time with animals can reduce stress. Get a cat or dog or visit someone who owns one.  Have a cuddle to help unwind. 

12. Ask for help
Trying to prove to yourself and others that you can do it all despite your illness isn't helping anyone. Allow yourself to get help and take that time to care for yourself. 

13. Let it all out every once in a while
Sometimes it feels nice to let it out and have a good cry or vent. Let the negativity out and then move on. Letting fester inside just increases long term stress. 

14. Learn what's best for your body
Learning what's best for you is one of the most important things you can do for your health. With so much information out there is can be confusing on what to do to feel healthy. Learning what makes you feel your best is a process but well worth it in the end. 

15. Self love
This is an important and most often overlooked component of treating any chronic health issue, including autoimmune disease. Loving yourself means making a deep commitment to heal any part of you that is wounded or broken. This includes toxic emotions (like anger, grief, and shame), unforgiveness toward yourself and others, and negative, self-destructive thoughts, feelings or behaviors.

What are some ways you like to show yourself some self care? 
 

How to Find The Inspiration To Get Healthy With Chronic Illness

As a nutritionist one of the most glaring problems I see in others and in the past myself is regardless of the suffering associated with the poor health, why is it that we can't break unhealthy patterns in order to regain health? Is it because of food addictions? lack of motivation? learned habits? or the belief that these changes won't really help? I struggled to find the answer until I looked back at my own experience. 

What do I mean by that? Lets say you're struggling with symptoms from any chronic health concern. You want to stop being worried where the nearest bathroom is or feel what it's like to have a period of time without pain. Regardless of your symptoms you want to stop suffering. Because what is suffering doing? It's taking away the life you want to have and replacing it with one you feel stuck with. Like your suffering is making the decision for you. 

I want to ask you, what does a life without your poor health look like? How does it feel to live a day without asking your health permission? Without pain? Without the anxiety? What would look differently and how would that change things for the better? That right there is your motivation to live a healthier life. That's what will keep you going when you feel like giving up healthy habits. It's hard to live with chronic symptoms, but it's also hard to live a healthy life. There is no hack, it takes work and effort. But so does illness. 

See where I'm getting at is in order to live the life you want and free yourself from what's holding you back (your symptoms), then you have to realize that taking care of your health is a non negotiable.

For a long time I was stuck in this pattern of trying to avoid the end result. After a health scare I would tell myself, it's time to get it together because you don't want to end up back in the hospital. Then as my health improved I would fall back into old habits. Then back to the start, I would end up sick and then tell myself the same thing. What changed for me was realizing it isn't about the end result. Its about the why, its about why you want to be free from your symptoms and keeping that the focus everyday. Then sticking with your healthy lifestyle suddenly becomes easy because everyday it's giving you the life that you want. A life that is no longer controlled by your illness.  

How do you improve your health? Be mindful of your food choices, eat things that make you feel your best, have fun, learn how what you do affects how you feel. Stick with what works and avoid what doesn't. Most of us know what they need to do to get healthy, but digging deeper into the why is your answer to staying motivated long term. 

5 Mindset Tips For Overcoming Chronic Illness

Having a chronic illness or long term health condition can create a lot of inner battles. There is a seemly endless fight between what you should be doing and what you can do. Sometimes it can feel like life is passing you by while you're missing out on major life events. It feels like you're caught between trying to be realistic without being depressing all while still grasping onto your dreams, wondering if they're still possible with your limitations. The mind of someone with any chronic health concern is a complicated place.

I sit here trying to think of good advice to give someone who is struggling with an illness and wonder how can I give advice when I still struggle with many of the things I just mentioned? Staying in a mindset of positivity isn't easy when you're suffering. It takes work everyday, and there will be set backs. I like to write down 5 good things from everyday. It's a simple way to make hard days feel a bit easier.

The quote below is one of my favourites. You never know what storms may or may not lie ahead, but often you come out the other side a better more compassionate and appreciative person.

1. Take It Day By Day
Those negative feelings of fear about your future capabilities are only holding you back from seeing the positive of today. Do your best everyday and be proud of those victories, whether they're big or small.

2. Let Go of The Obsession With Control
When you have any chronic illness it often brings a sense of uncertainty and loss of control. Being fixated on control won't change the outcome. When you're health is failing it's easy to hold tightly onto trying to control over aspect of your life. That obsession with trying to control every aspect of your life only holds you back. It's freeing to let go and accept.

3. Don't Make Assumptions
As my health worsened I starting to make assumptions about my future. I thought that I could never work, no one would ever want to marry me and I'd spend the rest of my life with 20 cats alone. If I could go back I would say assuming the worst case scenario doesn't do anything but lead you towards a self fulfilling prophecy. When you believe something to be true, the small choices you make everyday lead you there. If you are going to make assumptions believe in a better healthier life for yourself and take the steps to get there.   

4. Don't Worry So Much About Others
If you have a chronic health condition, chances are you’ve dealt with people who refuse to believe that you suffer from your illness or down play its effects. When you cancel or pull back on your busy schedule, do so with the utmost love for yourself and with self-care. Lose the guilt and especially lose the worry of what others will think. Do not let other people’s opinions of how you should feel about your illness sway you from the personal path of healing following a diagnosis.

5. Accept The Now
Stop fighting every single aspect of your illness and accept it. Accepting your illness doesn't mean not taking the steps in the future to improve your health, it just means accepting the moment now for what it is. We spend so much of our lives regretting the past and worrying about the future. Try to accept the circumstances for what they are and battle through each day in the best way you can.

“When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” — Dory, “Finding Nemo” (Yes this is from a kids movie, but it's a great quote for anyone struggling with an illness). 

How To Use Meditation To Cope With Autoimmune Disease

As any chronically ill person can relate to, there were times during my illness that pushed me past my breaking point. I needed to find a way to cope with the pain and stress of my autoimmune disease when conventional treatment wasn't helping. After some research I tried meditation. At first it was difficult and I found my mind filled with thoughts, but the more I practiced the easier it became. Meditation brings you beyond your suffering to a place of peace and silence. It helps calm your mind and as a result your body. When I was experiencing terrible pain, unbearable symptoms, stressful social outings or upcoming doctors visits, meditation would help me temporarily escape so I could better handle the situation or symptom at hand.

Stress Relief
Meditation allows for you to respond to the stress that results from your illness instead of reacting to it. I found myself in a habit of letting my illness consume all aspects of my life. The clarity I got from using meditation helped me break that habit. It's so easy to get caught in the cycle of stress from your symptoms. It's a viscous circle that takes a mindset change to break out of. When researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, they found 47 trials that addressed those issues and met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.

Healthy Thoughts
As philosopher and psychologist William James said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Having the ability to sort thoughts between helpful or destructive could be the difference between healing and not. When you're chronically ill, thoughts filled with anxiety and sadness can become the only ones you experience. I would always live in a world of worst case scenarios. I remember obsessing over the fact that I wouldn't have the ability to be a good mom to my future kids, or that I would lose my close relationships. Thoughts like these were destructive in my life and I became very insecure and unsure of myself. Using meditation helped me have appropriate thoughts and actions in response to the challenges from my illness.

Change in Mindset
The repetitive pattern I was in meant I needed a change in mindset. The definition of mindset is, "the established set of attitudes held by someone". Having the attitude of negativity towards your chronic illness prevents you from living a whole life. If you fight against acceptance of your diagnosis, your mindset will remain focused on all you feel you cannot do. I would often spend all of my time focused on trying to suppress the thoughts I was having. Which ending up making them stronger and more controlling. By focusing and rationalizing these thoughts by being in a calm and more stable mindset I was able to realize how destructive these thought processes were and eliminate them.

So now that you see how helpful meditation can be, how do you actually practice it?

How To Meditate

Since I am no meditation expert these tips are more of a way on how to get started meditating and actually stick with it. You don't have to sit any special way or say a special words. You can start with just sitting on your couch or a comfy chair.

Just start with 2 minutes a day, every day, for one week. Set a reminder on your phone, because it's easy to forget. So after you're comfortable, count your breaths. Turn attention to your breathing, try counting one as you inhale and two as you exhale. Don't worry if your mind goes to other things, because it's almost inevitable. Don't see these thoughts as a mistake or a failure, just practice focusing your attention. Try to come back after your mind wonders. When you notice it happening simply gently return to your breath.

It can be helpful to do a scan of your body. Meaning you focus on your feet, how to they feel? Try relaxing them. Now move to your calves and do the same. Slowly move from the bottom of your feet, all the way to the top of your head.

If you want some help when you're just starting out, using guided meditation can be a really good place to start. It gives you something to focus your mind on. During guided meditation you usually listen to a recording of a voice that guides you through your meditation.

Meditation isn't always easy, but it has some truly amazing benefits. As someone who's struggling with a chronic illness you probably have a lot on your shoulders. By simply adding meditation to your routine you can relieve some of the tension in your life and start your healing journey.
 

How to Stay Brave When Faced with Chronic Illness

Bravery

ready to face fear or endure pain; showing courage.

When I was a little girl I dreamed of a fairy tale life where everything was perfect. Now that I'm entering adult life it seems as though life can be very unpredictable and scary. There are many times in everyones lives where the unexpected happens and you need the courage to face it. It can be something small like starting a new job or something huge like facing cancer. It all takes bravery. Even sometimes it means being brave for someone else. 

Life can be both beautiful and cruel. So what does it take to be brave? When you're faced with a challenge, a diagnosis or a fear? 

Admit that you're scared

Being brave doesn't mean that you aren't scared, it means that you're scared but you face the fear anyways. Don't try and hide the fear or push it away. Embrace it, accept it. 

Write it out

Journal about your fears, your hopes, and be honest, not judgmental. It can feel good to write down your feelings and emotions. It seems to help the mind express and feel more at ease. 

Read Similar Stories

Find stories either in a book or online that are similar to yours. Where the person may have faced what you are about to with bravery. Showing you if they can do it so can you! It can feel good to read success stories. 

Control what you can accept what you can't

It's so easy in life to focus on the negative and what you can't change. No matter how much time you spend worrying or trying to change something that you can't, you are wasting your time. 

Practice Mindfulness

Practicing mindful acceptance of the present experience, without judgment, can help you accept negative emotions as well as the positive ones, which can help you feel braver.

Keep Trying

Things may not always go smoothly. Bravery is getting back up when you fall down. You can help yourself become persistent by defining what actions you need to take every step of the way. It’s much easier to face a setback if you know that the next step you need to take is achievable, rather than a monumental task.

Distance yourself from your fears

 Sometimes, it can be helpful to view your fears as something separate from yourself. Visualizing your fear as a separate creature or thing can help you feel more in control of it.

Ask your friends for help

Sometimes, a word of encouragement from a friend or loved one can help you when you’re feeling less-than-brave. Surround yourself with people who are also committed to vulnerability and bravery, rather than those who allow fearful thoughts to dominate them.

Remember courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is having enough strength to get up and try again.  When you need to summon up courage, remember other challenges you overcame. Everyone has been brave at some time. You can be brave again.