5 practical ways to improve your day when living with a chronic condition

·5 min read
Chronic conditions take a toll on your physical and mental health, but community, consistency and small lifestyle changes can help. (Getty Images)

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Living with a chronic condition might require all kinds of changes to your day-to-day routine, from rethinking your work schedule and hours, to remembering to take your medication regularly or doing your stretching exercises every day.

Support and community, along with other lifestyle changes, can help improve the physical and mental outlook of those living with chronic conditions. There are various practical things you can do to make each day feel easier. Read on for five practical tips on lifestyle changes and ideas to try now.

Ditch the ‘fixed mindset’

Changing from a “fixed” to a “growth” mindset can yield all sorts of positive benefits for mind and body, as Gail Muller, author, adventurer and speaker, can attest. When Muller was managing her chronic pain and her back and legs were too painful to move, she felt bereft at being unable to do what she most enjoyed: running.

“It felt like I couldn’t do anything, and all options were closed, because I couldn’t do the obvious thing I love, which was putting my sneakers on and going for a run or a hike,” she says.

Muller started doing home workouts focusing on her arms and upper body strength, and even tried swimming, which she’d long dismissed as boring, to build her core muscles while other body parts were in pain.

“What I didn't realize was it was actively rebuilding my mental confidence about how my body moves. When you have a chronic condition, from Crohn's to chronic pain, whatever it might be, you start to mistrust your body a little bit, even subconsciously, because you don't really know when it's going to get bad again. Finding something like swimming or slow stretching, where you can begin to feel and inhabit your body again, is very restorative, and it helps you heal quicker generally,” she says.

Fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods

While you’ve likely heard it a thousand times before, nutritional interventions, such as changing your diet in ways to better accommodate your condition, really can make a difference, specifically when it comes to regulating things such as inflammation or feeling better day-to-day.

For example, low-carb and low-GI diets can help with Type 2 diabetes management, while Mediterranean diets high in olive oil can help regulate those with cardiovascular conditions. There’s a mental health component to this, too: Certain diets high in leafy greens and oily fish have been linked to a reduction in depressive symptoms.

Seek out a supportive community

When you have a chronic condition, meeting new people can feel challenging. It can even feel challenging to meet up with an old friend. You might not want to make plans, because you’re unsure of how you might feel. But community can help you feel less isolated and provide a space to talk, as well as a new perspective. And you don’t need to leave your home to expand your community. Following social media channels, joining listservs or considering a virtual support group can all be ways to meet new people. Pay attention to how you feel after each interaction. For example, in the moment, it can feel cathartic to commiserate, but you might feel even more depleted after. Figuring out which communities lift you up and checking in on them can be helpful.

Focus on the parts of you that feel good today

It can be all too easy to dwell on the pain, discomfort and exhaustion that can feel overwhelming when you have a chronic condition, but, as Muller says, “The more you look for the pain and look for the problem, the more you'll feel like you're defeated in every way. What I learned, that made things much better, was that you need to focus on the parts of your body that are working and that aren't in pain, rather than the parts that are. At any time, there is a part of you that is well, that has peace and feels calm.”

This useful mantra can extend beyond what you’re doing physically. Find things that you enjoy and that you can do on any given day, whether that’s cuddling with your dog on the sofa or joining an online community of crafters you feel connected to. Indulging in something that feeds your sense of purpose will take your focus away from the negatives towards what’s good about today.

Stay social, but be upfront about what you’re dealing with

It can be easy to start opting out of things if you’re worried your condition will make your attendance unreliable, but then you could be missing out on the healing power of friendships, nature and joy that comes from movement and social interactions. Muller thinks the best way to keep yourself involved in local groups — swimming, climbing, rambling, whatever — is to be honest.

“If you open with ‘Hi, I'm really happy to be here. I'm suffering with a bit of chronic pain at the moment — or whatever it might be — and I'm really excited to get involved, but I might not be able to do too much to begin with,’ you'll find that people will be so kind and welcoming, and they will do whatever they can to help you access whatever that group is, even if you can't do it fully,” she says

Nothing exists in isolation, so you need to consider all aspects of your life when it comes to healing and daily management of your condition. “Don't isolate yourself from the very people that you'd like to be involved with, just because you can't fully engage,” Muller says. “Just lead with honesty.”

From This is Living:

For more information and resources for living with chronic conditions, check out This is Living Today

This article was paid for by Boehringer Ingelheim and created by Yahoo Creative Studios. The Yahoo Life editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.