Our physical health can affect our mental health in so many ways. My dad was recently in a very serious car accident and suffered a severe neck injury, so in addition to my counseling and psychology jobs, I have taken up nursing on the side! As my dad adjusts to his “new normal”, I have been trying to help with encouraging him to stay positive and to use some psychological techniques to keep his spirits up and to encourage both physical and emotional healing. I wanted to write this article because I also have clients who struggle with anxiety and depression due to illness and injuries. Being sick or hurt is scary and can evoke so many emotions. Here are some tips that I have been using as “Nurse Karah” these past few days that you can try if you are struggling with physical pain, illness or injuries……
You can control very little that happens to you in life but one thing that you can always control is how you react: You can always control your thoughts and your reactions. Even though it is extremely challenging when you are faced with tragic news or physical limitations, you can still decide to focus on the positive and use positive self-talk about the situation. Remind yourself of the facts, be hopeful, and focus on the probable outcome. Avoid catastrophizing and negative thinking. Be willing to try and listen to what your health care providers say.
Practice positive affirmations: “I can do this”, “I am strong”, “I can recover”, “I’m not alone”, “I have support”.
Use visualization strategies: Visualizing and manifesting a goal are powerful tools that we use in therapy. Set a realistic goal for your recovery and then visualize yourself healing and achieving that goal. Close your eyes and picture a healthy and happy you in a few months. Picture the injured part of your body healing. Do this for five minutes each day.
Remind yourself of what you still have or can do: We all have so many talents and gifts that when we are sick or have physical limitations, it is very easy to focus only on that. Make a list of the things that you still can do and try to do things that bring you joy.
Be mindful: Try to stay in the moment and not worry about the future or be stuck in the past. Even though you may be in pain, try to stay present. Use your senses to explore what is going on in your environment. Notice the little things that are going on today. Try your best to live in the moment and not worry about the past or the future. If you start worrying, remind yourself to come back to the present. Try to meditate for a few minutes each day and if you can, take some deep breaths.
Reflect on your support system: One of the beautiful things about a health crisis is that you realize how great your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and even strangers can be. This is a good time to reflect on the beautiful qualities of humanity and how many people love and support you. Do not worry about being a burden to others. Do not be afraid to ask for help or receive help when you need it.
Practice gratitude: Each day name or write down five things that you are grateful for or that bring you joy. Your dog, a good cup of tea, a nice sunset, that squirrel on your porch, a funny commercial on television, etc. can all make you smile. Each day there is so much good that surrounds us. Focus and learn to value the small stuff. When you are sick or hurting this is challenging, but if you practice this daily it will make a difference in your mood.
Laugh and smile: There is research about this. Laughing and smiling release chemicals that will boost your mood. Even if nothing is funny, fake it and laugh!
Talk about your feelings: Name and state how you feel multiple times a day. Just do not judge or criticize yourself for your feelings. It is normal and anticipated to feel angry, sad, anxious, depressed or scared if you are sick. Comfort yourself with your self-talk. Tell yourself it is okay to have these feelings and that you are sorry you are suffering. In addition, find a trusted friend or family member to talk to about your illness. Try writing about your feelings, do not keep them inside. If you do not have a therapist, you may want to consider finding one. If you are too sick to go to counseling, many therapists offer telehealth options.
Do not Google your illness!: Ask the doctors who are treating you questions about your condition, treatment, and prognosis. Anyone can publish anything on the internet and not all information is correct or applies to you. Googling information about your medical diagnosis can produce unnecessary anxiety, fear, and worry. Only a physician can diagnosis and treat you, you cannot diagnose or treat yourself, so do not try.
Lean on your higher power: Pray, talk to your pastor, ask a Saint to intervene on your behalf, go to church, mosque, or temple, and ask others to pray for you. Whatever healing rituals, services, or energies you believe in, now is the time to practice them. Try to ask your higher power for peace, healing, acceptance, courage, strength, and patients.
Find a support group: There are so many support groups online and in person to help people and families struggling with illness and injuries. Sometimes people who are in your exact situation understand and can support you best. Do not hesitate to join a support group, most are free. If you cannot find one, ask to talk to a hospital social worker for help.
Find what soothes you: Think about what makes you feel calm and peaceful. This can be classical music, watching funny movies, petting your dog, journaling, knitting, or crossword puzzles. Try to do something soothing for yourself each day. You deserve to be kind and take care of yourself daily, and especially when you are sick.
Be smart about caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and drug use: Many people use substances to cope with bad news and physical pain. Once you come down from the high, you will probably feel worse. I am not a physician, but many of these substances probably will not help your medical condition. If you are sick, please talk to your doctor prior to using any of these substances. Try to find healthy ways to manage your stress and emotions.
Be patient and accept where you are at: This is easier said than done. Illness can require multiple treatments and surgeries and recovery can be long. Take things one day at a time. Frequently reflect on any progress you made, no matter how small. Celebrate small victories and try your best to stay positive. Try to find peace with your current situation and accept your condition or diagnosis. Suffering is an unfortunate part of life but often provides us with an opportunity to grow spiritually and emotionally.
Wishing you and your loved ones the best as you recover and manage your illness.