By Paula Sicord
Let’s face it, living with chronic illness can be emotionally draining and difficult. Bestselling author, Glennon Doyle, says, “We can do hard things.” Let’s look at how we can thrive with migraine, and add joy to our lives.
Connection to others is vital to happiness. We were made to connect. If this is missing, everything will seem off. Finding time to be social is very difficult when you don’t feel well, but it’s essential that you connect, even if it’s only through a phone call.
Align Yourself with Your Life’s Purpose
If chronic illness is diverting you from your life’s purpose, you will feel even more drained. For some people, their life’s purpose is friends and family. For others, it may be volunteering, career, or spirituality. Spend some time identifying your purpose, and then explore what you value. It may look different than it did before migraine, but it can still be enriching and valuable.
Grateful people are happy people. I know it’s very easy with chronic illness to focus on all the difficulty around us, but that is not good for our brains. Take the time to share three things that you are grateful for daily. One could be as simple as a comfortable pair of shoes. Think outside of a loving family, a nice place to live, a job or food on the table. What are 3 things that don’t come to mind quickly? Harvard trained happiness researcher, Shawn Achor, says if you do this for 21 days in a row you will be much happier. It’s so powerful because you are training your mind to look for positive things daily, and this leads to optimism. Think about starting a gratitude journal if you don’t do this already, and noting 3 things that went well that day. Another option it to share 3 things verbally with a friend or family member.
Did you know that daily exercise makes us happier? Chronic illness makes many types of exercise difficult, yet it is essential to well-being. When we move, endorphins are released in our brain, and add to happiness. Research shows that the greatest benefit emotionally from exercising comes in the first 20 minutes. You don’t need to train like an athlete. Adding a short walk daily or a little weight training is all it takes. We just have to start somewhere. Here are a few tips for making it easier:
- Start easy. Aim for a goal that you know you can handle. Ten minutes, four days a week is a good start. You can increase it every week.
- Get your exercise clothes ready the day before. It will set you up to meet your goal.
- Log your workouts. You can do it in a notebook or on an app.
- Reward yourself for meeting your first week’s goal–buy that book you’ve been wanting or a new piece of exercise gear.
- Walk where you can, stand at your desk, do seated chair exercise videos, take the stairs, limit screen time (it robs us of time to move), wear a fitness tracker
- Do something fun! Dance if you love it, throw a frisbee, or play tennis with a friend. If it’s fun, you will do it more often.
Use Your Personal Strengths
Using our strengths purposefully on a daily basis is proven to make us happier. According to Dr. Ryan Niemiec of the Character Strength Institute, daily intentional use of our strengths adds to our joy. These are the things that we are already good at subconsciously. We may not even notice, because they are inherently part of who we are. Consciously thinking about it, and choosing tasks to grow these areas, feels wonderful. For example, if curiosity is a strength, it could be as simple as driving home a different way each day. If gratitude is a strength, send a text to someone different each day telling them why you appreciate having them in your life.
We are so hard on ourselves, even though chronic illness is not a choice. Make sure you practice self-compassion. Notice what you are feeling. Remember that you are human, and treat yourself like you would treat a friend. So many of us give so much grace and compassion to others, but are so hard on ourselves. Think of a situation in which you are currently being tough on yourself. Would you be that hard on a friend? You deserve compassion and forgiveness. Take a deep breath, and tell yourself you are worthy. Remember, you are made to be you, just as you are. Show up for yourself every day. You may be broken in places, but you are beautiful inside and out. You don’t have to strive to be more worthy, you already are worthy. You are deserving of love, kindness, goodness and joy. You are enough.
Clearing the Clutter
Clutter. Most of us have it somewhere in our life. Our cars, our closets, our drawers are full of it. There is also emotional clutter, relationship clutter, and many other types of clutter. Did you know that the act of clearing out clutter can be VERY calming and add to our joy? Our bodies take cues from our environment on how to act and feel. One of the things that is so great about going away on vacation, is that there is no clutter staring us in the face. Getting rid of clutter gets rid of excessive stimuli that makes it difficult to relax, because our brains get a signal that there is more work to do. Pick one small thing to declutter. Clear one small pile on the counter. Organize one drawer. Spend ten minutes clearing out your email. You will feel lighter.
It’s proven that getting outside increases our happiness. It lowers stress, heart rate, blood pressure, and improves mental health. Take three minutes to stop and soak in a day. Look at something beautiful outside, then take a deep breath in and slowly exhale. Do this three or four times. Do you notice any changes? It only takes a few short minutes.
Go after life! If you want things to be different, you have to do them differently. If you do the same things that you’ve always done, you will not get new results. Push yourself to overcome fear and approach life with ENTHUSIASM. Try doing the opposite of what you would normally do in a situation. If you force yourself to act more enthusiastically, you will eventually be more enthusiastic. It has been found that if people spend 15 minutes a day doing something they love, their enthusiasm will grow.
Believe it or not, YOU reaching out to someone else will bring you happiness. It is proven that the more you focus on making others happy or focus on bringing value to other people, the more it comes back to you. Happy people make others happy. This is because we have to put our brain in a positive space to share joy with someone or to focus on them. It helps. Sometimes when we force ourselves to reach out to others and engage more, we find that we feel a little lighter or we forget about our troubles. It can be as simple as texting someone that needs support.
Tips for focusing on others:
- Be interested
- Treat others like they matter
- Show appreciation
- Find opportunities for agreement
- Make jokes
- Respect other perspectives
I recommend starting with whatever seems the easiest or the most fun on this list. It may seem that you don’t have enough time to add some of these practices to your schedule, but nourishing yourself will make you stronger and happier for all the people in your life. I have found that when I do these things, it makes living with migraine less depressing. Give something a try, joy is waiting for you.
Paula Sicord is a certified health and life coach and a longtime member of Migraine Strong. You can find her on Instagram at @restore_wholeness_coaching and on Facebook at Restore Wholeness Coaching. Feel free to DM her with any questions on staying upbeat with migraine.