Loving your body with a chronic illness #bebodykind #mentalhealthawarenessweek
The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies. With 1 in 5 feeling shameful about our body image. I thought I would address the relationship we have with our body image if you have a chronic illness, and how that can impact your mental health.
What is a chronic illness?
A chronic illness is something that is determined by the length of time you have an illness, such as asthma. People can be born with a chronic disease or fall ill later in life with a long term illness.
Body dysmorphia, anorexia, and bulimia affect how you feel about your body and are mental health conditions. Chronic illnesses can also have an impact on your mental health.
1. Throw away the scales
I threw away my scales years ago. My weight fluctuates. When I am stressed I lose weight. When I have exacerbations of asthma, especially on steroids, I put it on again. Your confidence can easily be affected by sudden fluctuations in weight, but obsessing about your weight will only have a negative impact on your mental health.
I have recently been on prednisolone steroid tablets due to my asthma. I always put on weight when on steroids. I am unable to exercise or go to the gym during times like this. Even walking to work can feel like a challenge. I am incredibly fatigued too. I decided to give away my clothes to charity this time – the ones I can no longer fit into – rather than put myself on a diet. As Gandhi said, your health is your wealth.
A number of drugs for depression (SSRIs) like Prozac have also been known to affect weight gain, as well as mood stabilisers such as Lithium. Water retention can also be problematic. Whatever drugs you are taking which affect your weight, don’t let this impact your self-confidence.
Despite the fact that I try not to let my asthma affect the way I feel about my body image. I hate photos being taken when I am not feeling my best. My eyes don’t sparkle. I have dark circles under my eyes from not sleeping too well and I can see the weight gain in my face. I am not a vain person, but not feeling your best does impact how you feel about your body image. However, throwing away the scales was one of the best things I have done.
2. Do small things to stay active
Many people have openly criticised me for not going to the gym every week. Granted, exercise helps your general wellbeing and long term health. If your chronic illness means you are in pain or can’t exercise for long periods of time due to health issues. Then fill your day with more gentle exercises. A simple walk in the park can really benefit your mental health. Buddy up with a friend and sit outside (weather permitting of course). Do small things to keep yourself active and then build up over time.
3. Acceptance is key
For anyone else who has a chronic illness, it is incredibly frustrating and even traumatic at times. I know that I suffer from anxiety living with a chronic illness. I am often treated for panic attacks when admitted to hospital with asthma.
Acceptance that you have a chronic illness is key. It is important to take your medication and understand what will trigger ill-health. Your body also needs time to heal. Both physically and mentally. When you have a chronic illness, it is often incredibly exhausting. Chronic pain can prevent you from sleeping, and a lack of sleep can also exacerbate anxiety and depressive symptoms. I hate slowing down and what feels like admitting defeat. I worry about work, money, not doing enough. Yet sometimes you just have to take a break, both for your physical and mental health.
4. How to cope when feeling lonely
It is very easy to become isolated when suffering from a chronic illness – especially when living in the city. You can go under the radar for months without people checking in. Feeling lonely has a major impact on your mental health. So you need to put in some coping strategies for times like these.
You may also not be earning so much when faced with a chronic or long-standing illness. Money worries will add more stress to your life. If you feel unable to socialise or meet up with friends, due to not feeling good about how you look or lack of money, you will start to feel lonely. Avoidance may in extreme circumstances lead to agoraphobia.
If you are feeling isolated and lonely, reach out to a couple of people who understand you. Confide in them. If you suffer from anxiety/depression you may feel that everyone is better off without you in their lives. It’s important to remember that if you feel like this, the mood will pass. If it doesn’t you must check in with a doctor or mental health professional. Your mental health is important.
5. Don’t put self-care on the back burner
Practicing self-care when suffering from a chronic illness can sometimes be difficult. So keep it simple. Tired? Then sleep. Drink water. Your body may be dehydrated and it helps with water retention. Take a bubble bath. Bathe in magnesium salts. If you are bed bound for periods of time, then keep your bed linen and clothes fresh. Moisturise. What’s more, if you feel better about yourself physically, then your mental health will be better too. It’s important to add some rituals to your day. Shower in the mornings. Take your medication with breakfast (don’t skip). Don’t put self-care on the backburner.
I like to share a motivational quote or message of positivity on social media. Anything which will have a positive impact on my mental health. Anxiety is often at an all-time high when faced with a chronic illness. So do anything which soothes the mind and body. Netflix is my new BFF.