This is the second of two blogs looking at the grief and loss associated with loss of health – this blog looks at ways of adapting to loss of health. My first blog is here. A serious health problem can disrupt all aspects of our lives, whether it’s a chronic or life-threatening illness, such as cancer, or a major health event such as a stroke, heart attack, or debilitating injury. It may be less serious, not life threatening, but nevertheless, have a major effect on our day to day lives.
Be open to change
Rationally, no one would consider having a heart attack or receiving a cancer diagnosis as ever having any positive consequences. But some people diagnosed with life-threatening conditions do undergo a change in perspective that forces them to focus on the important things in their lives—those things that add meaning and purpose. Negative emotions such as anger or guilt can even sometimes have a positive effect, motivating the individual to meet treatment goals, for example. Keeping the mind open may help us to find the positives and better cope emotionally in even the darkest situations.
Reach out for support
Facing a life-threatening illness can leave us feeling alone and cut off from even those closest to us. We may feel that other people can’t understand what we are going through. Or perhaps those around us are trying to be so positive that we don’t feel able to open up and express how we really feel. Or perhaps we worry about being a burden to other people if we talk honestly about what we are experiencing. Whatever our situation, now is not the time to retreat into our shells.
Social support can have a huge impact on our mental health when we are facing the stress of a serious medical condition. As well as providing practical assistance, such as providing transport to medical appointments or helping out with household chores, having people to lean on is essential to our emotional well-being. Staying connected to others and continuing to enjoy social activities can make a world of difference in our mood and outlook as we undergo treatment or adjust to our changed circumstances.
Some self care suggestions
- Adopt a relaxation practice
Practicing a relaxation technique such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or deep breathing can help us feel calmer, lower blood pressure, and ease stress. for more information, click here:
- Get enough sleep
A lack of sleep can exacerbate stress just as stress can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. It’s possible to break the cycle and ensure we get enough good quality sleep at night by modifying our daytime habits and developing a peaceful bedtime routine. For more information, click here:
- Be as active as possible
Exercise is an effective way to burn-off tension and relieve stress, and it can leave you feeling more relaxed and positive throughout the day. Obviously how much we are able to exercise depends on our individual circumstances but even if our medical condition has limited our mobility, there may still be ways for us to get active and reap the benefits.
- Pursue activities that bring a sense of meaning and joy
Whatever medical condition we are facing, it doesn’t have to define who we are as a person. By continuing to pursue those activities that bring meaning, purpose, and joy to our lives, we can reaffirm that it’s these things that define us as individuals, not our illness or injury or chronic health complaint. We might spend more time in nature, take up a new hobby or go back to something we have enjoyed in the past such as reading, painting or photography. These types of activities will also help to lift our mood and give us a reason to get up in the morning. For more information, click here:
It’s hard to imagine that anyone who’s faced a life-threatening illness hasn’t worried about “what if” scenarios at some point. When we are fighting for our life and faced with great uncertainty, worrying can even seem like it’s giving you some control over your situation. It doesn’t – it just consumes us and makes us feel worse! Yes there may be tricky issues we need to think over, talk over with loved ones, find solutions for – this is taking control. For more information, click here:
As with all anxious thoughts, there are ways to calm a worrying mind and take a more balanced view: Tell someone what we are thinking even if it sounds ridiculous and over-dramatic. Saying our “what if” out loud can help us put things in perspective. If our fear is unwarranted, verbalising it can often help us expose it for what it is—an unhelpful worry. For more information, click here:
If necessary we can talk over what’s the probability that what we’re scared of will actually happen? What are some other likely outcomes? What would WE say to a friend in our situation who had the same worries?
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!