Every January, many of us make New Year’s resolutions. We look back on the previous year and ahead, resolved to make positive change in our lives – read more, exercise more, eat less sugar. But to make that positive change, we need to have the right tools. We have to know not only what to change but how.
Having tools to cope with lupus in the coming year is important in order to have a good quality of life. It is a good time to take a peek into your coping toolkit and figure out what is already in there and what tools you can add. What is in your coping toolkit? What were some of the coping skills you used in 2013 to help make life easier for you? What would you like to add to your 2014 coping toolkit? Here are the top five tips that I have learned from our support group members:
- Gratitude is not only a feeling, but an action. Some people keep mental gratitude lists or keep a gratitude journal. Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. One fun activity is to start a gratitude jar in January. You can find great ideas on Pinterest and Google on how to decorate your jar. Every day, write down at least one thing you are thankful for. Keep doing this for the entire year and on December 31st 2014, open the jar and read the hundreds of things you have in your life that you are thankful for.
- Nutrition and wellness are important tools. Use techniques to de-stress like journaling, yoga, meditation, and low-impact exercise. Reconnecting with nature or a new or forgotten hobby can also be helpful. Be mindful of what you eat. Nutrition can only increase your chances of feeling good. Junk food can make you feel worse, and is certainly not helpful for your body.
- Practicing open and honest communication with your doctor is important to receiving the best care possible. Holding back because you are afraid that your doctor will not like you or because you do not think it’s important can be dangerous to your health. Communicating well helps you feel validated and heard, but it also helps make sure that your doctor is aware of all important details related to your medical condition.
On that note, keeping a symptoms journal can help make the best of doctor’s visits, which are usually only about 10-15 minutes long. The journal can help you remember everything you wanted to share. It can also help you notice important patterns. Some people track their sleep habits and what they eat, too.
- Don’t be afraid to admit you’re having trouble remembering things or often feeling down. There can be many reasons for both, ranging from medication side effects, the lupus itself, or coping with the many challenges that lupus brings. A recent talk we sponsored by Dr. Beverly Johnson, MD, MS gives suggestions for coping with these issues and emphasizes the importance of telling your doctor what’s going on.
- Make the best of good days, but do not push yourself beyond your limits. If you do, you may end up in bed recuperating. Listen to what your body is telling you. But you should have a plan for bad days. Make a list of relaxing and enjoyable things you can do, like watching marathons of your favorite television show. Have compassion for yourself and don’t beat yourself up for not being able to complete everything on your to do list while you are regaining your strength.
- Bonus Tip: While I know this one is much easier said than done, it is important to do your best to forgive people in your life who do not understand what you are going through. Sometimes our loved ones are our worst supporters. This can be heartbreaking and disappointing for the person who is doing their best living with lupus. However, as my dad always said, “resentment hurts you more than the other person because you are the one feeling it, not the other person.” Support is very important, and if you cannot get it from your family, it is important to find other people who understand what it means to live with lupus or chronic illness in general. Support groups can be life changing experiences, especially for people who have been recently diagnosed or who feel that they are managing the illness alone.
If you have a long way to go to building up your coping toolkit, simply pick one of these. Which one is most important to you this year? And when you are ready, you can move onto the next, at a pace that works for you. Best wishes for the New Year!