Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Terry woke up with kind of a vague feeling that something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t anything she could put her finger on. But her energy felt lower. And so did her mood. She wasn’t experiencing anything she would call a symptom of her condition, but she wasn’t feeling all that great either.
Terry didn’t feel like she needed to raise any alarms with her doctor. But she was concerned.
In a way, Terry wondered if it wasn’t almost worse to feel generally out of sorts than to experience symptoms that were clearly caused by her chronic condition or the medications she was on. Why? Because she knew from experience that on days when she was a little off kilter, and without a clear reason why, her mind tended to go to dark places.
“It’s not like you’re sick,” she told herself. “You can still do the basics today, even go to work.” But she couldn’t help but also ask herself, “Is there something going on with me? Do I have a new diagnosis?” And finally: “Is my body about to start failing me?”
It wasn’t like Terry hadn’t talked to her doctor about the potential of having days when she wasn’t feeling at her best. She had even told Terry what symptoms to contact her about.
But still … Terry couldn’t help but feel concerned.
How about you? Do you have days when you aren’t quite feeling yourself and can’t help but feel alarmed that your health might be headed south? Scary, right?
Your rational mind is your first defense
Here’s some help in coping on those days:
Give yourself a pep talk. The last thing you need to do is to fall into self-criticism. Instead, be kind to yourself by talking back to any negative self-talk with words of encouragement. Remind yourself that you’ve had not-so-great days before. That you’re doing what you need to do to take care of yourself. And you’ve got a healthcare team you trust backing you up. A good pep talk can help keep your mind from wandering into darker territory.
Avoid catastrophizing. Use your self-talk to help keep your perspective on the big picture. Remind yourself that a day when you don’t feel your best is just that: It’s a day when you don’t feel your best. Nothing more. Don’t turn it into a catastrophe by giving it meaning it doesn’t need to have. Engage your rational mind.
Remember: Normal is a moving target. You can waver from feeling your absolute best self and still be within your individual range of what’s normal. Most likely, if you haven’t already discovered this, you will over time as you learn to live with your chronic condition. As you do, you will be more able to take a day like this in stride.
Talk it out. One of the best ways to regain your perspective, and stay focused on the big picture, is by talking things out with someone you trust—someone who can listen without judging you or telling you what to do. Someone who knows you can help you sort out how you’re feeling, and remind you of other days when you felt more like yourself, or times when you didn’t feel so great but found a way to cope.
Distract yourself. When you spend too much time focusing on what’s bothering you, you can end up magnifying it and making it feel bigger, or even come up with other reasons to feel bad. That’s the pathway to catastrophizing. So try some positive distractions. Getting involved in your daily tasks. Doing something you enjoy or that relaxes you. Socializing.
Push forward, but not too hard. The message here is to stay involved in your life. That’s what I mean by pushing forward. But be careful about pushing so hard that you end up making yourself feel worse by tiring yourself out or bringing on symptoms that weren’t there before. Take things one step at a time. Rest when you need to. Be nice to yourself.
Listen for a message. Keep in mind that a day when you feel out of sorts may be the result of pushing yourself too hard the day before. Listen to your body. Is it trying to tell you something?
Trust your instinct. There is a difference between pushing through a day when you’re not at your best and denying symptoms you need to pay attention to. You know your body. If your instinct tells you something is not quite right, then do what you need to. Including calling your doctor and letting him or her know what’s going on.
Not quite feeling yourself today? Be kind to yourself. Stay focused on the big picture. Each day—good days, not so good days—is another opportunity to learn how to take the best possible care of yourself. Physically and emotionally.
What helps you on days when you don’t feel quite right? Share your advice by commenting below.