You wake up on the morning. You don’t feel well. Your heart starts pounding – you feel anxious, overwhelmed, stressed. You’re not alone. Many people struggle with their emotional health when physically ill. In fact, if you’re like me, what goes on in your mind and those associated physical symptoms are often times worse than whatever health problem you’re struggling with at the time. Whether it’s chronic pain that leads to chronic irritability or a bout of nausea that leaves you about to cry, it’s common to feel bad emotionally when you feel bad physically. But there are things you can do to lower these negative “side effects” of being sick.
- Talk to your healthcare professional. It should go without saying, but if you need medical intervention – seek it out. But this first tip is not about talking to your healthcare professional when you’re feeling bad physically, but rather when you start to feel bad emotionally. It’s not necessarily wise to memorize the potential side effects of every medication, but it is important to understand the risks versus benefits. If you start taking a new prescription and notice something going on with your mental or emotional health, check in with your doctor. It may be that the side effects diminish the worth of taking the medication, and you need to re-think your treatment. Or, you may receive reassurance that what’s going on is temporary and will go away either when you adjust to the medication or when you are done with your course of treatment.
- Use self-talk. Even with chronic ailments, there are good days and bad days – even good days and bad Work with your mind, instead of against it, to remind yourself that you will have some good moments again. I recall having surgery one time and taking great comfort when a couple of family members would remind me that I would soon be “all better” – they were right and I was – but in the moment I needed the reminder. Clearly, not everyone will make a full recovery from their physical trouble, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope for some brighter times ahead. Try telling yourself this: “I may feel terrible in this moment, but I will have good moments again.”*
- Accept where you are. Sometimes when we aren’t feeling well, we turn to the internet for help. I get it – we want to know what’s wrong with us, and there is great information on the internet about how we can take care of ourselves at home. So, by all means, check out websites like the Mayo Clinic. But stay away from chat rooms and the like that will do nothing but discourage and scare you. It’s possible to accept that you are not feeling well without knowing exactly what is wrong (Is it something I ate or do I have a stomach bug? Is this a tension headache or sinus pressure?) Certainly, sometimes we do need to know the cause of the problem (you don’t want to mistake appendicitis for a stomach bug!), but many times we can just treat the symptoms knowing we’ll be back to our old self soon enough. We can simply accept that in this moment we are not feeling well, and pray we’ll be back to our old self soon.
- Make good use of your down time. If you are to the point of needing to lie in bed or on the couch, take advantage of that time. First and foremost, get some rest! That is what your body needs to recuperate. It may be all you can do during your recovery, and that is perfectly fine. Don’t convince yourself that if you are not productive the day is not well spent – time spent letting your body heal IS productive! If you are up for it, take the time to do some things within your limitations that you enjoy. During a recent bout of illness at a “terrible time” (is there ever a good time?), I caught up on some saved TV shows, finished one book and started another, and enjoyed some Bible study and prayer. You can journal, color, catch up on the phone with a friend, watch a movie, knit/crochet, or even write a blog post about what you can do when you’re sick. Doing things you enjoy will help you feel better emotionally, despite how you’re feeling physically.
- Allow the Holy Spirit to comfort you. I don’t often read out of the King James Bible, but I love the KJV translation of John 14:16, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever…” This comforter is the Holy Spirit. The moment we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit indwells us. He abides with us – forever- and He can comfort us, regardless of the physical issues we’re facing.
Being sick is tough. Dealing with the emotional toll illness and injury can take on us can be tougher. But there are many ways we can cope with this emotional distress, even when we’re not at our best physically. Talking with our healthcare professionals about medication side effects, using self-talk to remind ourselves good times are ahead, accepting where things are with our current physical health, making good use of our down time, and (most importantly) allowing the Holy Spirit to comfort us are just a few.
Your turn: What do you do when you’re not feeling well to boost your emotional well-being? Please share!
*You might be asking yourself, “What about when someone has a terminal illness? How can you say they’ll have good moments again?” For those who are saved, there are most definitely good moments ahead! In fact, the BEST moments are ahead. Revelation 21:4 promises that in Heaven there will be no more “death, crying, mourning, or pain.” But the absolute best part of passing on from this life into the next, for the Believer, is dwelling in the House of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6)! So, yes, even the terminally ill person can (and should) remind him or herself that the current physical suffering is momentary. And, as Paul said in Romans 8:18, our present suffering is not even worth comparing to the coming glory. Amen.