My Mental Health Checklist for Living Well With Chronic Illness
Mental health struggles often co-occur with chronic illnesses. This was true for me while living with cystic fibrosis, and still is, four years after my double-lung transplant. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression my whole life, and in recent years, I’ve dealt with post-traumatic stress.
Awareness is helpful, but having tools to manage these conditions is crucial. Following is a checklist that has helped me stay on track with my mental and emotional health. I hope it helps others living with chronic illness, too.
The first step is to assess how you’re feeling mentally and emotionally. Tune into yourself and ask: “Am I able to operate in a calm, well-rested, and energized manner and access resources? Or am I triggered easily, exhausted, and barely hanging on?” Being honest with ourselves is the first step toward changing what isn’t working.
Being discerning about what you feed your mind is necessary. Ask yourself: “What am I watching? Who am I talking to? What shows, movies, or music am I listening to? How much news am I ingesting?” This all affects how we think, feel, and act.
Taking an honest assessment of how you spend your time is important for overall well-being. Is your time filled with stressful and frustrating tasks, or things that bring you joy and peace? Sometimes we fill every minute with activities, social media, or entertainment to escape our reality. We numb ourselves or avoid dealing with our feelings. It’s healthy to prioritize what makes us feel good and carve out time for mental wellness, self-care, and time with loved ones.
Set clear boundaries regarding your time and energy. Saying yes to everyone and everything doesn’t make someone a good person — it makes them burnt out, exhausted, and ineffective. Saying no to people, work, or demands when necessary is healthy. It communicates that we are human and gives others permission to be human, too. Because those of us with chronic illness have limited time and energy, it’s crucial to protect these valuable assets.
Identify effective tools for managing mental health issues. This will look different for everyone. Developing coping strategies, talking with a therapist, and feeding all parts of ourselves — mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual — is healthy.
Balance is everything. We cannot keep going at 100 mph and pouring into others without receiving anything in return. We are not Jesus. We are human beings who need connection, support, and rest. We have permission to receive care from others, lean on our support people, and take breaks when needed.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Comparison negatively affects our mental health. It robs us of joy, peace, and self-confidence, and doesn’t help us to thrive or grow. It plants seeds of self-doubt, lowers self-esteem, and prevents us from being ourselves fully. Solidify your identity as valued, loved, and unique. This is how we can operate from a place of knowing we are enough.
Change is possible regardless of your individual situation. If you make just one change today, think about how it will affect you a week, a month, or a year from now. It’s important to make time to care for our mental and emotional well-being.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. Because the mind-body connection is real, we must ensure that we’re keeping both in check.
You are not alone in your struggles. There is no shame in asking for help. It’s possible to manage symptoms and improve mental health. Hold on to hope!
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.