We tell ourselves many things about our health each day, every day, all day long. The vast majority are unintentional, uninspired and blunt. A particularly sinful dessert brings admonishment, “You should not have eaten that.” Panting after two flights of stairs call for an exasperated, “I am out of shape!” Receiving a diagnosis prompts mental overdrive of “What if I don’t survive this?” thoughts.
Learning my diagnosis of chronic kidney disease was careening toward kidney failure sent a torrent of terrifying worst-case scenario thoughts through my mind. Left unchecked, these messages left me tired, out of breath and stressed.
Deciding that I’d had enough of worrying myself into a tizzy, I looked at how I was talking to myself about my health. I adjusted a few sentences, reigned in my fears, affirmed the facts and reminded myself of the health I still had. I believed in my ability to take on the challenge ahead.
Now, eight months post kidney transplant, I can say that much of what I had originally told myself never came to pass: irrational worry and baseless fears with nothing to show for it.
Whether you’ve received a diagnosis or decided to make improving your health a priority, it is important to pay attention to the messages you send yourselves about your health. Here are five excellent messages to start with:
1. My body knows how to do its job. It is a miraculous event to watch your heart during an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart). This complex grouping of cells and electrical impulses knows precisely how to keep blood moving to your brain and your big toe — at the same time! For all the ways we want to improve our body, it is astounding just as it is. Even with day-to-day stresses and diet slip-ups, your body has your best interest at heart and will work to return to a state of balance.
2. I am willing to change. Health is a combination of lab results and lifestyle. It is a long term view of how you want to feel and function in five or ten or more years. This means exchanging unhealthy habits for dark leafy greens and an evening walk. If your health is giving you issues, research changes you can make to bolster what your health care team can accomplish.
3. I can find ways to make healthy living fun. Our two biggest health levers are diet and exercise. Both can be overwhelming, and discipline isn’t easy. Yet, diet and exercise area also outlets for creativity, togetherness and fun. Think beyond the treadmill and salad to explore healthy living in new ways. A quick internet search for your favorite comfort food with the addition of the term “healthy” will deliver delicious ways to recreate your favorite recipes. Exercise can be the gym or it can also be hiking, biking, swimming, dancing or even hop-scotch with your kids. A dose of imagination can turn a dreaded must into a cherished new hobby.
4. My body is unique. The Internet has become a dicey new diagnostic go-to for many people. It is all too easy to log on and get misinformed about the pounding in your head or the gurgling in your tummy. We look to celebrities, blogs and chat rooms for the latest diet crazes and must-try supplements. Your size, shape and body chemistry are all unique to you. Learn your body. Work with health professionals who have examined you to find the right balance of treatment and lifestyle changes to create optimum health.
5. I have control. It is easy to feel helpless when a body part stops working properly. Control is given over to diet plans, doctors and medications. Yet, for every symptom and challenge we face, there are ways to exercise control and participate in our care. We can choose the health care professionals we work with. We can weigh in on our treatment options. We can make lifestyle decisions that promote health. If you’re feeling that your health is dictating your life, call a time out and make a list of all of the ways that you still have control.
Getting serious about your health means that it’s time to get serious about how you talk to yourself about your health. Five new messages can bring a fresh perspective that leads to health enhancing action.
Danea Horn is the author of Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness and blogs at Chronic Resilience.