Over the last year, thoughts of illness have touched all of our lives. Covid has affected everyone, directly or indirectly, and reshaped our world.
The pandemic has highlighted the challenges we face when coping with all kinds of illness. Having an illness can affect us both physically and psychologically. The anxiety connected to Covid and other serious diseases can be just as difficult to deal with as their physical effects. It also places added pressure on our bodies while they are busy working to heal.
And the challenges aren’t just confined to our own physical health. People who are caring for others who are ill can also experience feelings of sadness, overwhelm, resentment and more.
So how can we best support ourselves if we’re coping with illness? Whether we’re the ones who are ill, or we’re looking after others, maintaining inner equilibrium is vital. By shoring ourselves up from within, we can build resilience and help to improve our mental and physical wellbeing.
Caring for ourselves
When we’re ill, we’re at our most vulnerable. We’re reminded of our body’s frailties, and it’s natural to feel fearful as a result.
Yet in order to promote good health it’s important for us to cultivate emotional balance. Anxious thoughts trigger our body’s stress response. Ongoing stress has been shown to negatively impact our immune systems, inhibiting their ability to protect us.
On the flip side, studies show that psychological wellbeing can help to improve our immune response and enhance resistance to disease.
Of course, a positive outlook is not a cure-all. But it is a powerful resource to help us cope with difficult times. Our perception of our experience determines our reality. By directing our thoughts in an optimistic way, we can lessen some of the suffering of illness. Focusing on the things that give us joy helps us to feel more peaceful and reminds us that there is always light alongside the darkness.
Another useful tool is to bring awareness to the present moment. Being present focuses our attention away from negative future scenarios and into the here and now. This is shown to increase our resilience and ability to respond to stress.
One of the simplest ways to practice this is to focus your full attention on the details of what you can see and sense around you. Present-moment awareness can be integrated throughout the day and is particularly helpful if we are feeling upset or overwhelmed.
Caring for others
Looking after others who are ill also tests us in many ways. It’s hard to see those we love in pain. And we can experience all kinds of emotional and logistical difficulties when caring for them.
Yet there are things we can do to help us manage. Most importantly, we need to take good care of ourselves. Practicing meditation, choosing a positive outlook and making time for rest, exercise and doing the things we enjoy sustains our own wellbeing. This allows us to then support others from a healthy and resourced place.
When caring for others, we can sometimes feel burdened with responsibility. In these moments, it’s important to remember that we can never really ‘mend’ anyone else. All that we can do is be there for them. By showing up with love and compassion and listening mindfully to their thoughts and feelings, we help them to navigate their own path to the best of their ability.
Whether we are experiencing illness or caring for someone else, it’s good to reach out for support. Coping with Covid and other illnesses can make us feel alone. Social connection is proven to benefit our mental and physical health, whereas isolation has the opposite effect. Even talking over the phone or online can help us to feel connected.
Sometimes we may need professional guidance to deal with the difficult emotions that illness can bring. In other cases, talking to a trusted friend or family member can lift our spirits and enable us to see things from a fresh perspective.
Illness is not an easy thing to face. But by responding mindfully, we can rise better to its challenges. Through cultivating a calm and positive state, we help to enhance our quality of life and create the best possible outlook for our wellbeing.