Caring for the most important part of you!
Caring for the most important part of you (your mental health) while simultaneously managing an unpredictable physical condition is nothing short of… complicated! I have a million other words I could use there…. adventurous, chaotic, intense, complex, confronting…. to name just a few.
It’s no mean feat, that’s for sure.
Looking after our physical health has been drilled into us by the media our entire lives. We know that we are meant to keep our bodies functioning by feeding it healthy food and making sure it gets some exercise. With the addition of a chronic condition, you can add layers of encouragement, instruction and threats, to that ‘conditioning’ that one should “look after yourself”. ‘Yourself’ in this context has always meant “body”… at least in my head, that is.
But what is equally as important, and even perhaps more so, is looking after our mental health. Without good mental health its near impossible to look after our physical health. How can you eat healthily, exercise, do your physio/physical therapy and occupational therapy activities if you can’t get out of bed, find the motivation to shower or get dressed?
That’s why I’m a firm believer in mental health awareness and helping people to understand the link between physical and psychological health states in chronic health conditions. In occupational therapy, we believe that a human is made up of mind, body and spirit (soul). We believe that these three are inextricably linked and cannot be separated. If that is the case, then we must nurture all three to maintain or achieve wellness.
In my opinion, mental health is the backbone of physical wellness. We need to have mental stability for the act of looking after ourselves to be easy or second nature. Otherwise, it’s like trying to do all those “normal” grown-up things with weights on our feet or by looking through fog. If you are struggling with mental wellness, low mood, anxiety or another psychological condition it can be SO HARD to do anything, let alone “look after yourself (body)”. On the flip side, if you’re feeling well, with energy, confidence and motivation, much more is possible and some of it might even be enjoyable!
With a chronic condition, managing the physical side of the condition can be burdensome. It’s heavy. It can be confusing, complicated and chaotic. We need mental capacity just to deal with the ADMIN side of the chronic condition, let alone the actual physical aspect. How many times have you put off making that appointment? How often have you called and rescheduled because you simply can’t cope with ‘that’ right now? How many appointments have you just missed because you forgot, the chaos in your head overwhelmed you, or you couldn’t bring yourself to go?
When we are feeling OK, we are more on top of those things. We are more able to cope. We can think more clearly; plan more logically; anticipate more realistically. When we are feeling well, we can deal with more.
So how do we improve or maintain our mental wellness?
Here are some tips (not exhaustive)
- Acknowledge it’s OK to not be OK all of the time
- Acknowledge that what you’re doing – this living with a chronic condition thing – is hard work
- Remember that it’s OK to ask for help
- Remind yourself that it’s OK to have time-out from your health (at times when it’s safe – no timeouts when you should be going to the ED)
- Talk to people – friends, family, online networks
- Engage a therapist to help you work through concerns
- Practice Mindfulness
- Practice self-care & kindness
- Use a gratitude diary/app
- Seek medical attention if your mental health is declining
- Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of depression & anxiety
- Do things you enjoy
- Spend time with family and friends who make you feel GOOD about yourself
- Say no to things which aren’t helpful and supportive for you
- Remember that no is a complete sentence
Of course, physical and mental health are very closely linked. Exercising helps mental health, and good mental health makes exercising easier. When we are feeling good in our skin, we often feel better in our mind. It’s all linked, all related. Today we’re just focusing on the mental health side.
There are so many more things you can do to help your mental health, and we will try to expand on some of these in the weeks ahead. Not all of these the suggestions above will suit everyone, and that’s OK – we are all unique.
However, we all need to work on our mental health & wellness. Everyone. Not just people living with chronic conditions. Everyone is vulnerable to poor mental health if they don’t look after their wellness. It’s normal for people to do things they enjoy, say no to things they don’t want to do, treat themselves to things, talk to family and friends. That is how we “human”. That is how we “be well”. So these aren’t “special people activities”… these aren’t just for the bendy tribe. No these are for everyone…
If there is something else you do that’s caring for the most important part of you (mental health), please drop it below in the comments, we’d love to hear about it!
Michelle is a Senior Occupational Therapist working solely with adults with hypermobility and related conditions. Michelle is the owner of Hypermobility Connect, an online platform for people with hypermobility to connect with resources, health professionals & each other. Michelle practices OT in her private practice and provides education to health professionals relating to hypermobility conditions.