Lisa was in her mid-twenties when she suddenly came down with asthma. She had never had allergies or wheezing as a child—the time when this sort of disease usually strikes people. But now she was desperately sick, struggling for breath on a daily basis, often needing to go to the emergency room for intravenous medication that would open her lungs and allow her to breathe again.
Her doctors told her this condition was chronic, that she would have to take medication for the rest of her life, and she’d have to be careful about all the things that could trigger an asthma attack. There may even be things that she would never be able to do again. Dancing, for example.
Like many people who are diagnosed with a chronic medical condition, Lisa was devastated. She became depressed, gained weight, and developed other health problems, all of which left her feeling out of control and helpless.
One day, however, she learned about a class at the children’s hospital for people newly diagnosed with asthma. She decided to go. Even though it was aimed at kids and their parents, that class changed her life.
She learned what was happening to her body when she was having an asthma attack and what she could do about it. She learned about changes she could make to her home to reduce things like dust and mold and feathers that triggered wheezing. Most importantly, she came away from that session feeling empowered. She wasn’t as helpless as she thought.
That class set Lisa on a path toward wellness. She studied everything she could find about self-care and holistic options for treating chronic conditions. She changed her diet, started exercising more, saw a therapist, started meditating, and spent time in nature. Lisa was determined to prove those doctors wrong.
It took several years and a combination of mainstream medicine and wellness practices, but it happened. Lisa gradually decreased the amount of medication she was taking, and one day she realized that it had been years since she’d had an asthma attack. She could even forget about that inhaler that she always carried with her like a lucky rabbit’s foot “just in case.”
While not everyone who lives with a chronic condition can completely leave it behind in this way, most health problems can be improved by actively taking charge of the things in your life you do have control over. Here are some important areas to address:
Take care of your body
This includes getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough exercise. In fact, paying attention to these practices puts you way ahead of the curve for all healthy living habits. All three help you think more clearly, lower your stress, improve your mood, and feel less fatigued. They can also help you control your weight, which can reduce your risk from other health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. And they all have a positive impact on your immune system and can reduce inflammation.
And while you’re doing good things for your body, don’t forget the things you shouldn’t do that are toxic to your health. Smoking, for example. Quitting is the single most important thing you can do to get your health on sound footing. Taking it easy when it comes to using alcohol and caffeine is also a good idea.
Mind your mental, emotional, and spiritual health
You are more than your physical body. Paying attention to how you are feeling, your mental space, and your spiritual wellbeing can have important influences on your physical health. You may be surprised to see how effective it can be when you take steps to control excessive stress, toxic thoughts, and harmful emotions like anger and anxiety.
There are so many ways to do this: See a therapist or talk to a friend. Start a meditation, mindfulness, or yoga practice. Keep a journal. Pray. Cultivate gratitude and find joy in all that is around you. Take a walk in the woods. Be creative. Cuddle with your furry friends. Make time on a regular basis to do what makes you feel good and helps you connect with the Divine.
Don’t forget your peeps!
Research shows that a strong social support system is extremely important for staying physically and mentally healthy. Having positive interactions with the people in your life makes you more resilient to stress, decreases the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), reduces the impact of disease, and helps you live longer. Studies also show a positive impact on mental health, immune function, cardiac health, and more. And having the support of friends and family enhances your ability to go along with good health habits, such as eating a nutritious diet, exercising, and smoking cessation.
It’s not just being on the receiving end of support that has an impact. Helping others helps you, too. Lending a hand has been shown to lower stress, disability, and mortality in the giver as well as the receiver.
But beware: poor social support can have a negative impact on health. If interactions with the people in your network cause conflict, criticism, and excessive demands, that’s a cause for concern. You may want to distance yourself, choosing instead to interact with the positive people in your life.