If you live with a chronic condition, you’ve probably heard it time and again. Well-meaning friends and loved ones often seem to reach for the “keep your head up” type of response when you express how you’re feeling.
You’re no stranger to worry. There are probably days when you’re too tired to perform even basic functions. A chronic condition can change your entire lifestyle, and when someone tells you to “look on the bright side,” it can feel like just empty words. But did you know that there’s real merit to keeping a positive outlook? People who can find that silver lining may have better-functioning immune systems, according to research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.1
Evidence suggests that your outlook on life can not only put you in a better mood. It can improve your health or even speed up recovery from surgery and some illnesses. Conversely, some researchers think that stress or pessimism can release destructive hormones into the bloodstream, encouraging your brain to focus solely on your problems.2,3
Put on a happy face, not a happy mask
It’s true that research finds a connection between health and optimism, but that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel frustrated. You get to be mad or feel down about your condition. Allow yourself to grieve, if you no longer get to do the things you used to do. Don’t let the idea of finding a positive spin invalidate how you really feel.
The truth is, for many who are living with a chronic condition, you just aren’t feeling the sunny vibes. And that’s okay.
Angie Ebba, a writer with a chronic condition, said, “On days where my symptoms are especially severe, I don’t have the ability to put on a ‘happy face’ or gloss over the things going on with me… I often worry that if I express the reality of what I’m going through … I’ll be judged.”4 How are you supposed to find the positive, if you’re made to feel guilty for experiencing the negative?
Adding to the stress of your diagnosis, the cost of treatment, medications, side effects and anything else that may go along with a chronic condition, patients like you often feel misunderstood and face additional social challenges.
So, with all these negative emotions piling up, how do you stay positive?
It's a process
You’ve earned the right to grieve. You’re allowed to be grumpy. You get to take your time. But when you do feel ready to look for the brighter side, here are some things to help you get on the right track.
- Define what failure isn’t: An important step to feeling more positive is being an advocate for yourself — and that means listening to your body. If you’re too tired to do all the things on your to-do list, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Don’t get overwhelmed by what you can’t do today. Think of ways to help yourself try again tomorrow. When you plan, include breaks and divide tasks into manageable steps.5
- Make a list: Even if you don’t make it all the way through your to-do list, checking things off — even minor things — feels good. Not only that, but the simple act of making a list can redirect your focus; thinking about tasks you want to accomplish can even be motivating. Remember, break your list into manageable chunks to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Evaluate your circle: Surround yourself with the right people. The right people are the ones who allow you to feel like yourself. They are honest with you, make you laugh and leave you feeling good after you spend time with them. Make sure you let them know how to help you — they may not realize that sometimes, a reminder to stay positive just isn’t what you need.
- Evolve your tastes: If you find that some of your past hobbies and pastimes are too much, look at this as an opportunity to expand your horizons! Cooking, drawing, reading, writing or even taking care of a pet are all fulfilling ways to spend your time.
- Get your Vitamin D: Whenever possible, find a way to get some sun. Being in nature and enjoying the sunlight are great ways to boost serotonin naturally.6 Enjoy a meal outdoors, take a stroll, or just sit and focus on the sights, sounds and smells around you.
Go your own way
There’s no secret recipe to happiness, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Keep trying to find the things in life that allow you to feel joy and gratitude. Once you find them, make sure to include them as part of your routine. Don’t rush yourself — allow yourself the patience to feel what you need to feel. It’s not always easy to stay positive, but when you’re ready, you’ll find that silver lining.