Stress creates anxiety, anxiety increases pain, pain increases stress. Stress, anxiety, and pain decrease happiness. It’s the circle we live in when we live with chronic illness, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s so easy for me to get caught in that circle though, even though I know I don’t have to live in it. Stress is the bane of my existence. I don’t deal well with stress, and yet I get stressed out easily.
I’ve found a few things that I know I need to remember in order to reduce my stress levels. These are important even if chronic pain isn’t part of your existence, but they are even more important when you live with chronic pain and illness. I’m going to be honest here, knowing these truths mentally doesn’t always help. But, sometimes reminding myself of them as the natural thoughts occur does help me refocus and calm the anxiety.
1. Remember that you don’t need to please anyone – This is a really hard one for me. I’m a people-pleaser. Nothing makes me feel worse than knowing I let someone else down. I can let myself down all day long and not think twice about it, but let someone else down and I feel guilty for a week (or more). When I feel that guilt overwhelming me I have to remind myself that I don’t have to please other people and that I’m probably more upset by letting them down than they are. Most of the time the people around me are very understanding… I just tend to read more into their thoughts than is really there. I’m betting I’m not alone.
2. Remember that Everything doesn’t need to be easy – Some of the best things in life are things we have to work for. It’d certainly be nice if i could take a magic pill and suddenly feel better with no side effects. But, that’s just not the case. It takes work to feel better, it takes major changes in life, and a great deal of effort. And, that’s true for most of the best things in life. Relationships are rarely easy, we can’t just sit back and expect relationships to stay the same without any effort or input. The best things in life are worth a little (or a lot) of effort.
3. Know that there are no guarantees – I think the lack of a guarantee is the biggest thing that keeps people from being willing to put in the work that #2 above requires. We don’t want to put forth effort when we aren’t sure that something will work out. But, there are no guarantees with anything we do in life. We take the easy road and often there are consequences or side effects that make the easy route harder than had we taken the one that required more effort. Many times, though, you have to take a risk to get the things you want.
4. Stop comparing yourself to others – Oh how much time I’ve
spent wasted in my life comparing myself to others. My looks, my circumstances, my outcomes, my efforts… and for what? What has all that comparison gotten me? I admit there are times when comparison can be good, it can help us see what is possible and make us work a little harder to get it, but most of the time it doesn’t matter what someone else is doing. What matters is knowing what is right for me and doing it regardless of what others are doing around me. I know so many spoonies (and I’ve done it myself) who spend their life feeling guilty for feeling bad about their circumstances because someone else has it worse. Or, they see someone else and think they are doing so much better, but they don’t know the whole story.
5. Let go of the need for control – I’m just a little bit of a control freak. Not totally but there are times that I have issues. I’m learning to let go of that need for control. I’m learning to laugh at it and realize how silly I’m being. The towels don’t have to be folded my way, but the toilet paper still needs to go on in the “over” position (just sayin’!) The need for control is the root of so much stress and anxiety. I know that and it’s because I know that I try to let go and just let things be. It doesn’t mean I give up and never do anything, it just means that I learn that it’s OK if things aren’t “my way.”
6. Celebrate the small moments – In just a couple of months I’ll be 40 and I’ll finally finish my undergraduate degree. These are both pretty big deals and I’d love to make a VERY big deal out of these events (they will happen within days of each other). Last year we went to Mexico and I’d really love to go back. It was an amazing trip. But, it was fleeting. Already when I look at the pictures it feels like it isn’t real that we were there. It would be easy to get wrapped up in these big events, to get so focused on the finish line of school, or on turning 40 that I miss a million small moments in between. But, that’s just it there will be a million small moments between now and December, and my happiness is built on those small moments, not on the big trips, or the major events. My happiness is built on moments with friends, an A on a test, a smile, the smell of the outside on my husband after he runs. These are the moments to celebrate, so why wait?
7. Bring your own happiness – BYOH! Should be our new slogan. So often we rely on others to bring us happiness. We allow others to destroy our happiness. A stressed out spouse coming home can ruin what was a perfect day because we let it. When what could just as easily happen is that we BYOH and turn that spouses day around.
8. Be Real – Too often we try to create a reality that doesn’t exist by faking it. We don’t speak the truth because we want to avoid confrontation and eventually we hold it in so long that it explodes. Had we just been real to start with we’d have saved ourselves mountains of stress and the situation would already be resolved. When it comes to chronic illness this is huge because not only are we creating anxiety and stress by holding things in but we are so often not “real” about who we are or what is going on that we are creating stress. All those times when you respond with “I’m fine” and you aren’t create anxiety. Stop increasing anxiety and stress and start being real.
9. Remember that no one is happy all the time – We can BYOH but no one is truely happy all the time. Even the most positive and motivated people on the planet have bad days, and that’s OK. Everyone is allowed to have bad days. So, cut yourself some slack, find something to help give you a good cry, then a good laugh, and then move on. Accept that it’s just part of life, and happiness will return.
10. Live in the Moment – Stop comparing your life to yesterday (or years ago). Stop focusing on some magic happy moment. Chances are if you went back in time and actually saw that moment you’d realize that it wasn’t as magical as you remember. You just happen to remember the best parts (and that’s OK). Instead of focusing on the best of yesterday, focus on the best of today. If you find that difficult start a gratitude journal and begin writing down just 1-3 things each day that you are grateful for. As you do this you will find that you have many more small happy moments in your life than you think you do.
So the next time I find myself worrying about what others think, or faking how I feel, I need to remember to be real, and that it doesn’t matter what they think. I can only do what I can do and trying to please everyone else only adds stress to my life. Stress that causes pain. And, why on earth would I want to add more pain to my life?