Introductory comments by Dr Sandeep Gupta:
I have recently been struck by the tremendous amount of suffering that those with a chronic disease may go through. In addition to the direct effect of the symptoms such as pain, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and depression, the additional burden of loss of employment, loss of financial security, isolation, loss of relationships and lack of understanding of chronic illness by those around the affected individual can also take their toll. I can feel the effect these factors also have on the chronically ill individual. This paints a pretty sad picture of chronic disease. However I have met several individuals who have managed to rise above this predicament, and find great meaning, insights, new friends and even contribution to the community through their brush with chronic illness. What separates an individual who succumbs to the suffering of chronic disease vs those who are able to rise above it? In this article nutritionist Blake Graham, himself a chronic disease sufferer, discusses some specific techniques which can help a person with chronic disease to move into the latter category.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of detached awareness of the present moment, specifically of your thoughts and emotions. It is a skill that one can learn. A person can learn to recognize the thoughts in the mind as just a story in your head rather than becoming identified with them. It is simply observing the thoughts without identifying with them or trying to change them. Mindfulness can be done both as a practice during the normal moments of life and as a specific meditation where you spend a period of time simply being mindful of your thoughts. When a person notices they are stressed they may simply observe that there is a dialogue of stressful thoughts going on in their head. See ‘Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn’.1
- Non-resistance/surrender. A great majority of our mental suffering comes not from the situations in our life but from our mentally resisting and fighting these things. Non-resistance or surrender is a practice and a skill in which a person learns to let go of resistance to what is occurring. In the long term you are proactive in making positive changes, but in the present moment you specifically choose to accept and not resist whatever is occurring. If you are stressed or upset ask yourself “what am I resisting right now?”. Once you have your answer chose to let go of this mental resistance and accept the moment as it is. See ‘Eckhart Tolle – Acceptance and Surrender’.2
- Meditation. Meditation when done consistently has a cumulative effect on reducing the intensity of our negative emotions. What may have previously caused you 7/10 stress response, now may cause you only 2/10. There are countless forms of meditation – breathing, mantra, visual, kinaesthetic, mindfulness, etc. and forms which have combinations of multiple elements. Or if you are not the type to sit still you may prefer tai chi, often referred to as moving meditation. The key to benefiting from meditation is to find a style that you enjoy and find effective, and do it daily so you can see the cumulative long term benefits.
- Connection. Illness may result in a person not being able to work and impact heavily on their social and family life. A key to human happiness is connection with others. It is key to cultivate meaningful relationships, which may be in person, via phone, Skype or online.
- Fun/pleasure. Some people with chronic illness fall into a bad pattern of spending their days surfing social media and watching whatever is on TV. It’s important to do an honest assessment of how you spend your days and plan your day to emphasize things that you truly enjoy and provide you a deeper sense of pleasure than following a path of least resistance.
- Meaning/productivity. Humans require some sense of meaning in their life. If you spend your days doing nothing but watching TV and checking social media, then you will likely feel an emptiness. It is important to do something with your time that gives you some sense of meaning, passion and productivity. This could be you use your time to continue to gain knowledge in areas that relate to your future career or a passion of yours. Read inspiring books. Take up something you have always wanted to, such as art or meditation. Work on healing your past and personal development. Grow emotionally and become more involved in your spirituality. This will give you a sense of making the most of the situation and giving meaning in your life which will lift your mood.
- Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn. www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc
- Eckhart Tolle – Acceptance and Surrender. www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9JgLgBtV-M
Closing comments by Dr Sandeep Gupta:
While the above tools are extremely useful, I would like to point out that despite the best techniques and best intentions there may simply be times in life where one simply isn’t OK. Despite realising that suffering is impermanent, or that we “aren’t our story” and that attitude is a critical factor, there may be times when we simply can’t see a way forward or hope on the horizon. I do encourage you to reach out to other people when this is happening. There is no need to berate ourselves if we aren’t able to adopt a higher view of the situation in some circumstances. This is simply how it is, and we may need to listen to ourselves, give self-empathy, and simply be with our pain. Reaching out for professional help is also worth considering in such situations. Lifeline phone support line, professional counsellors, and chronic illness support groups are also worth considering.