When I was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, I not only deep-dived into everything I could about my illness, but I also gobbled up everything I could on how to live with chronic illness. Some of the advice I came across was helpful and some of it too general to be useful.
What I immediately distilled from all this advice, though, was this: Self-care is essential and you must learn to be your own advocate. Living with any chronic condition is a blend of of prioritizing your needs and learning how to not feel guilty about putting your health — your self — first.
This can feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be. As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” The more you practice saying what you need — without the need to justify — the easier it is for you to see that people may not actually mind as much as you think.
And anyone who does mind isn’t worth sacrificing your health for.
There are parts of your self-care practice that will be unique to you given your health status, but there are things I’ve turned to that may help you. These things bring more levity and optimism into my days. They remind me that nothing is all bad and that every day has some spark of something good if I’m paying attention.
I’m still learning about self-care, but I find it less challenging to practice the more I immerse myself in feeling good.
So here’s my list of 21 ways to feel good. Some things are small, some are bigger. Some I do every single day, some are done only as needed.
- Meditate for 10–20 minutes every day. This is the best way I know to release any stress, anxiety or sadness, and start the day on a positive note. I like to meditate first thing in the morning after I wake up and, sometimes, also in the afternoon.
- Jot down five things that made you feel good and what you’re grateful for every morning and every night. Nothing is too small or insignificant. (I use the Grateful app on my iPhone, but a simple Notes app or good old-fashioned pen-and-notebook will do. You can even use a Voice Memos app for hands-free gratitude-keeping.)
- Exercise regularly. Choose an activity that feels manageable and enjoyable. There’s nothing I love more than a sweaty cardio session at the gym, but on days when I need to be gentler with myself, I trust Yoga with Adriene.
- Nap when you need to. Listen to your body when it’s telling you to rest. I take a short nap most afternoons.
- Cook up healthy meals in batches when you have the time and creative energy. For inspiration, I ask my mom for recipes or I flip through cookbooks and put my spin on new dishes.
- Read for pleasure. Choose stories to delight in, no matter the genre. Pleasure is never guilty.
- Spend time with your loved ones. And if getting out is hard for you, ask them to come over to your place and cozy up on the couch.
- Grab a coloring book and get lost in intricate designs. It’s easy, soothing and meditative.
- Curate feel-good playlists so the right reinforcement is on standby when you need it.
- Watch comedy. Comedy specials, buddy flicks, slapstick, rom-coms, YouTube videos — whatever makes you laugh. When I need an instant pick-me-up, I turn to Madea or Will Ferrell doing his best Beyonce.
- Take a hot shower. Bonus points if you have aromatherapy shower bombs to help you relax.
- Massage yourself with CBD lotion. I like CBD shea butter for when my muscles are sore or this pain cream to help with more acute pain.
- Journal. Write out your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Don’t think about grammar and punctuation or what people will think. Write. It. Out. Just for you.
- Get dressed in a favorite outfit, even if you’re not going anywhere. It may seem superficial, but sometimes, working from the outside in can work wonders.
- Listen to a podcast while doing chores. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn or laugh and how much a cleaner living space boosts your mood and makes you feel capable.
- Immerse yourself in a passion project. Doing something just for the love of it will help you feel more present, capable and powerful than you may otherwise feel.
- Book an acupuncture session. Best case? It alleviates the symptoms of your chronic illness. Worst case? You have about an hour of relaxation.
- Work with a therapist. Even if you have the best support system in the world, the chronic illness journey can be a lonely one. There are times when you don’t know how to articulate your thoughts and feelings to loved ones without worrying them or feeling like a burden. Having an impartial guide and witness to openly speak to is then an invaluable addition to your team.
- Sip a hot beverage. My go-tos are rooibos tea, this healthy hot cocoa or mixing this turmeric tonic blend with soy milk. Yum!
- Take a break from social media. Seriously. Stop the passive, mindless scrolling. Instead, give your eyes and mind and heart a break, and do what feels good and right for you right in this moment. (Like something from this list!)
- Go outside. Stand in your backyard or on your terrace. Take a neighborhood stroll. Spend time in a park. Be gentle with yourself and let a change of scenery soothe your soul.
I know these practices aren’t cure-alls. Far from it.
But they are kindnesses you can do for yourself with relatively little effort to help you find moments of peace and perhaps even joy, guiding you back to your strength.
Because you are strong — you just need to be reminded of that from time to time.
Note: This piece was first published on my blog on August 28th, 2019.