Let’s face it. Living with a chronic illness isn’t for the faint of heart. Every day, you’re battling pain, fatigue, and uncertainty. On top of this, you have the disconcerting knowledge that, without some kind of divine intervention or miracle cure, your condition is never going away.
You likely feel afraid, angry, and even powerless. But don’t. You are far stronger than you know, and you have more help in dealing with the stress, managing the emotions, and contending with the physical effects of your illness than you may realize. Meditation, for example. It can be just the weapon you need to fight–and thrive–another day.
Connecting with Mind, Body, and Soul
When you have a chronic illness, one of your first instincts can be to shut down, to deny the reality of what’s going on with your body and how your mind and spirit feel about it. This is normal, particularly at first, when you are learning to accept your diagnosis.
Reconciling yourself to life with a chronic illness is very much like navigating the stages of grief. After all, you are mourning the loss not only of your “healthy” identity and ordinary life, but also of your vision for your future and that of your family.
The danger comes, though, when you get stuck in the grief stages. When you can’t let go of your anger, move beyond your depression, or give up the denial. Meditation can help you move forward from bereavement to acceptance by helping you find yourself–your whole self–again.
For example, meditation requires you to be present in the moment, to get grounded both in your body and your mind. It forces you to stop running away from those thoughts and feelings that scare you.
Regaining Your Power
At first, confronting your pain, both mental and physical, can be terrifying in and of itself, which is why some people report having negative experiences as they’re trying to benefit from meditation. This is why, when you’re first starting out, it can be a good idea to look to guided meditation either from an in-person teacher or through the use of a meditation app.
This will teach you how to confront and move beyond those negative thoughts and feelings that may arise while you meditate. In the process, you will be learning how to recognize and defang them by refocusing and re-centering.
What this means, in the long run, is that you will no longer have to hide from or repress your anger, resentment, or fears (which, at the end of the day, only serve to make them stronger). Instead, you will learn to use meditation to stand up to them, understand them as having only as much power over your life as you allow them, and then transform them into something healing and productive.
For example, as you attempt to meditate, you may find that a persistent worry continues to crop up and disturb your peace. Perhaps it is a fear you have been trying to avoid because you don’t know how to address it. Sitting down in silence and solitude can give you the time and focus you need to find solutions to a problem you have unconsciously been ruminating on since your diagnosis.
You might, for instance, discover that your greatest source of anxiety concerning your illness has nothing to do with you at all. Rather, you may find that you’ve been worrying all along about what will happen to your children should you become disabled or debilitated. Once you understand your feelings and your fears, you can be proactive in addressing them.
This ability to gain self-knowledge and self-efficacy through meditation, in turn, helps you to combat the depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress that can so often accompany chronic illness.
Meditation and Preventative Health
If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you might fear that the ship of preventative health has sailed on without you. The truth, though, is that prevention is just as important after your diagnosis as it was before, and often even more so.
When you have a chronic condition, not only can the illness itself leave you vulnerable to co-morbidities, but so can the chronic stress of living with a persistent health issue. Meditation is an ideal way to help you mitigate the physiological stress response and, in turn, reduce your risk of developing an array of stress-related illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease.
Using meditation as a preventative health strategy is also a great way to help you stay as healthy and productive as possible, no matter what your chronic illness may bring. Staying productive in the face of chronic illness, even if it requires some reshuffling of your life priorities and renegotiation of your old ways of doing things will help you build the happy, fulfilling life you deserve, the life that no chronic illness has the right or ability to deprive you of.
Living with a chronic illness isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. There is still hope, joy, and promise after a diagnosis. Regular meditation can be a powerful ally in your fight for the life you want and deserve.
Want to get started meditating? Check out these short but sweet how-to guides on doing a loving-kindness meditation, performing a mindful body scan or adding simple mindful practices to your daily routines.