What Actually Helps?
We, those of us in the chronic illness community, have literally all heard the, “oh, have you tried….” or, “my neighbor’s best friend’s son was cured by xyz!”
I want to say 9.99/10 times these things are unhelpful and just down right unsolicited advice that comes across ableist and out of touch; even if you mean them to be helpful, just trust me, it’s annoying.
Let’s talk about those few annoying clichés that actually work in calming the nervous system as well as overall anxiety.
Before we get too deep into this, I do want to say that this should not be taken as medical advice and are simply based on what has helped me personally.
Okay, let's dive in!
In this article by Harvard Health Publishing, different breathing techniques are discussed, as well as what they help to achieve. Breath focus helps you concentrate on slow, deep breathing and aids you in disengaging from distracting thoughts and sensations. The Amen Clinics, @doc_amen and @amen_clinics on Instagram, are great resources for different techniques and overall discussion on mental health and wellness.
- My Go-To's: No, they don’t last long term or cure but they do work in acute situations. The two styles that help me the most are inhaling through the nose (slowly, to 4, then hold 1), out through the mouth (slight force like you’re blowing through a straw, to 8, then hold 1), focusing on doubling your exhale to your inhale. The other that works well for me is box breathing (4 inhale, 4 hold, 4 exhale, 4 hold… creating a box to envision).
According to The University of New Hampshire, grounding is a self-soothing skill to use when you are having a bad day or dealing with a lot of stress, overwhelming feelings, and/or intense anxiety. Grounding is a technique that helps keep you in the present and helps reorient you to the here-and-now and to reality. The link above also offers another form of grounding that can be beneficial, while below I explain my personal favorite form of grounding.
- Grounding Through Ice: Placing ice at strategic places can help cool your body down (back of neck, along the vagus nerve, venous areas) or splashing/fully submerging your face or hands in cold water. Doing this can bring your mind back into focus on the current moment.
You can read more about icing the vagus nerve here.
In The Stanford Report article, Your Powerful, Changeable Mindset, mindsets are defined as a set of assumptions that help you distill complex worldviews into digestible information and then set expectations based on this input. There are two recognized types of mindsets, a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Exactly like the name sounds, a fixed mindset is one that believes there is no ability to change, what you have is what you get and that's all you have to work with. On the other hand, a growth mindset believes that through hard work and effort, one's abilities can improve. With a growth mindset in mind, let's dig into mindset work.
- Mindset Work: Trust me, I know. I used to cringe at the thought of positive affirmations and “happy thoughts,” but perception is reality. If you’re focused on the negative, that’ll be on your mind. Flip side, if you focus on facts and realistic positives, I promise you’ll have a shift in mindset. Two great people to follow on Instagram for this are Charlie Kramer, @charliekramervision , and Natalie K., @plentyandwellwithnat , who are both mindset coaches with a mission of working with those who have chronic illnesses or disabilities. Pages like the ones run by Morgan Harper Nichols, @morganharpernichols , and Dr Julie Smith, @drjulie , are also great resources that help with mindset and shifting your perspective.
Lastly, I want to address talk therapy.
I've had the privilege of seeing a professional therapist since a very young age due to my illnesses and the anxiety that comes with them. For the last 10+ years I've worked with the same therapist who specializes in adolescences with severe chronic pain and I have always said that seeing her has been better than any medicine I've ever taken. While it is truly a privilege to have access to this level of specialized care, therapy is becoming more and more accessible if you are not able to visit an in office clinician thanks to Telehealth and online therapy sites like BetterHelp and TalkSpace. Here is an article from the American Psychological Association titled "What You Need To Know Before Choosing Online Therapy," that may help in your search, as well as The New York Times WireCutter Article titled "The 4 Online Therapy Services We'd Use," of which I haven't mention here. While I haven't used these resources myself, they all have widely been reviewed and are often times covered by insurances. As my therapist always says, "Every single person can benefit from therapy."
Everyone is different, and one size will never fit all, so if one thing doesn’t work, try another. And another. And yes, maybe even another. What works for one person may not work for someone else, and that's okay. The important thing is to keep taking care of yourself in the best way that you can. When you would do anything to improve your quality of life, even by a little bit, you’d be surprised by how many times you can get back up again.