Oftentimes folks living with a chronic physical illness are forced to make multiple lifestyle changes in order maintain a certain quality of life. For example, some people living with chronic illness experience excessive fatigue and pain, and require extra rest and sleep. Others, because of certain symptoms such as inflammation, or vitamin, hormonal or enzyme imbalances, may have to change their diet. Most of the time, people living with chronic physical illness, benefit greatly from a decrease in their daily levels of stress, and in particular chronic stress. Therefore, sometimes it may be necessary to lessen one’s work hours or take on fewer responsibilities. Although these lifestyle changes, as well as others, do not cure a given illness, they can significantly improve one’s quality of life and occasionally even decrease the frequency of uncomfortable symptoms. Everyone is affected in different ways and it is important for each person to try various things and find what works.It can be easy for people experiencing the effects of the illness from an outside perspective, such as a person’s family members, spouse, friends, or coworkers to overlook the importance of maintaining these lifestyle changes. Sometimes after seeing a significant improvement in a loved one’s health, some people may want to believe that the illnesses that their loved ones have been coping with are gone. There may be expectations for the person living with the illness to return to his or her previous manner of living. For example, someone may have increased their hours of sleep, decreased some work hours, and incorporated a light exercise regimen or meditation into their weekly schedule. Following these changes, this person may have more energy, less pain, and his or her activity level may resemble his or her level of activity prior to the illness. This person, in addition to his or her loved ones, may be so overjoyed with feeling well that these lifestyle changes may be easily forgotten. Sometimes when people feel better they might want to “take advantage of the time” and try to do a lot of what could not be done when they were not feeling well. Despite the pull for one to use his or her energy to engage in as much as possible, it is important to remember the experience of feeling better came because of one’s choice to take better care of him or herself.
Lifestyle changes are not a one shot deal. Sometimes they are cyclical; when people make them and then feel better, drop them and then feel worse, and pick them up and try them again. However, lifestyle changes are most effective when they are no longer lifestyle changes but rather become lifestyle…period. Even though lifestyle changes can at times remind the person with the illness and their loved ones, of the illness itself, they can also be reminders of control over the illness, active coping, and well-being. What is your lifestyle?