Why Health Goals When Living With Chronic Illness Are Still Doable & Important
Whatever your situation and condition(s), health goals when living with chronic illness can still be doable and provide benefit to your overall wellbeing, mentally and physically. We’re not talking huge resolutions or untenable sacrifices or achieving the impossible here. We’re talking small things that can add up and routines we can set up, all of which will be unique to each individual.
The goals here are just a couple of basic examples of places you might want to get to, such as having a healthier, more comfortable relationship with food or resting enough. The types of goals, the way you break them down, and how you want them to look will depend on what’s important to you, what you can manage and what will benefit you personally. Once you know roughly where you want to get to or what you want to focus on, you can pinpoint what aspect(s) are most important to you, and break down all the small, doable steps to help you get there and maintain it. Here are just 5 health goal suggestions as an example.
1. To Have A Comfortable Relationship With Food
One element of a healthy lifestyle is, of course, what you’re eating and drinking. With chronic illness, nutrition is important but the way we get it and what we can get may change, for instance due to dietary restrictions. You might need supplements, replacement shakes, or find smoothes a good way to pack in nutrients you could otherwise lack through diet. So a healthy, balanced diet is a really important goal for giving our bodies the best chance at maintenance and development. Eating well isn’t a fad diet or new year’s resolution, it’s an ongoing task to work at.
There may be things you can try to make eating well easier and more doable, such as If you think it might help to create a meal plan at the start of every week, work on meal prep at the times when you’re most capable of it, try cooking subscription boxes, put together a list of meal ideas for when you get stuck, organise your kitchen so it’s illness-friendly, and invest in whatever gadgets may make certain tasks easier.
You might want to set larger goals here, too. Like cooking from scratch more often, getting more protein, trying new things, aiming for a certain amount of your 5-a-day fruits and vegetables, etc. Think of the ways in which you might motivate yourself, what help you may need, what nutrition your body will benefit from.
However, the mere relationship we have with food is also vitally important. How do you view food? Are you very restrictive, do you ascribe labels of “good” and “bad” to different food groups, do you feel guilty if you do or don’t eat particular things? Do you find yourself comfort eating or avoiding food? Our relationship with food and how we approach eating may not be at the stage we want it even without a chronic condition. The illness, pain or other disability may just complicate matters further, putting increased strain on what should be an enjoyable experience that’s also crucial for your body. Try to think about how you approach food and whether you’re happy with how things are. If not, dig a little deeper and see why that is. If you need help, please reach out for it or see your doctor for further support.
2. To Care For Your Mental Health
Mental health is a complex issue, whether you have mental illness or not. If you are experiencing mental illness and don’t have help, again, please consider seeking further support, whether it’s through a loved one, doctor, therapist or mental health charity.
Taking a basic view here, mental health is something we all have and need to look after, doing what we can to keep ourselves well in a more holistic sense. Stress, anxiety, grief, depression, addiction. There are many aspects that can be involved when we think of mental health. While many experiences and emotions are part of the human condition, it doesn’t mean they’re easy to manage and prolonged experience can make it harder to live with, with potential ramifications to our home lives, work, relationships and physical health.
Stress is a big one for many of us. In many cultures, stress has almost become a target to achieve because being stressed means you’re busy and productive, and it’s a pretty sick cycle of overwhelm and burnout that feels almost expected of us. But we can break that cycle and choose to take another route, one where we prioritise self-care and work on tamping down stress-levels where possible. You might want to collate various tools and ideas for how to go about this, such as spending time in nature, walking, CBD patches, yoga, meditation, acupressure mats, socialising, online support, comforting routines, and so on.
You might want to set overarching goals, like getting into regular journalling, finding an outlet for self-expression, seeing a therapist, getting regular time-out to yourself. Think of the small steps that can get you to where you want to get to, and look at what might best support your needs.
3. To Have An Effective Dental Routine
Looking after our oral health is about more than keeping teeth clean and preventing cavities. Oral health includes teeth, tongue and gums, and the build up of bacteria can have wider implications beyond your mouth, even to the likes of heart disease.
The routine of brushing twice a day is known and practised by many, and it’s a great start. Use a toothbrush that suits your needs, or consider an electric toothbrush with a small circular head to get to the back teeth if you can’t do so with a manual toothbrush. Use a good toothpaste that targets any problem aspects, like gums or sensitivity. Consider adding in a mouthwash and flossing as and when you can. There are different ways to floss, including regular round or tape floss, dental picks, water flossing and so on. It can take time to get used to and get into a routine with, but every little helps. Investing in your teeth, gums and overall oral health is worth it in the short and long term.
4. To Get Enough Rest
Whether you have a chronic illness or not, getting enough rest is important for everyone. There’s rest (getting downtime, chilling out, resting your brain and/or body, doing something enjoyable with less exertion required) and sleep (Zzzs). They’re two different things but you need both to different degrees, but the amount you need and when you need it will be different for everyone.
Whether you’re someone who finds 6 hours or 9 hours of sleep works better for them, try to get the time you need on a regular basis. Break up what you’re doing during the days so you can get the rest you need, and you can decide how those breaks look. Pacing is vital for many with chronic conditions and having breaks can help you better manage any health conditions and prevent burnout (or take the edge off it), while also helping to support your mental and physical health. It’s not always easy to find the time so we can get the rest we need, but if we keep pushing ourselves beyond what is doable then it creates a vicious cycle and at some point your body may end up forcing you to take a break. Prioritise your needs and see if you can make adjustments so that you can pace and rest as required, even if they’re only brief throughout the day.
5. To Get Regular Movement
Being a regular exerciser is often touted as a goal to aspire to, but for those with chronic conditions and/or other disability, taking a run or hitting the gym isn’t just laughable, it may be impossible. Exercise doesn’t have to be the stereotypical stuff to have widespread benefits to our health. You might want and be capable of setting a larger overarching goal here, like taking part in a sponsored walk or getting into running, but if that’s not on the cards, that’s okay. Simply getting more little movements throughout your day can help, so tailor it to whatever suits you. Sitting for long periods over an extended period of time isn’t good for our health, so if you can, try getting up regularly so you can stand and pace. Try sitting exercises, dancing around your room to cheesy music, stretching it out, taking regular breaks to move a little.
If you’re able to, build in more walking and tailor it to what you’re capable of doing, whether it’s 5 minutes very slowly every day, 20 minutes of moderate pace a couple of times a week, or an hour of hiking on a weekend. Walking can confer various health benefits, so breathe deeply, relax your shoulders, get some fresh air, appreciate the scenery and use the walk to refresh you mentally and invigorate you physically. Make sure to rest afterwards as required. Little movements of any kind can and will add up.
Setting goals isn’t for everyone, but it might help to give you something to aim for and some direction so you can start breaking down the steps to get there in more manageable ways. Goals when living with chronic illness, pain or other disability are likely to look rather different to what others aim for or what society implies you should be desiring. Choose what works for you, what interests you, what you can manage & what might benefit you personally.
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