Do you ever feel like you aren’t entirely sure whether you’re physically sick or experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety? Or both? This is something that I struggle with on a regular basis. I find it terribly challenging to distinguish between the physical manifestation of mental illness—shaking, weakness, lethargy, dizziness, heavy limbs, palpitations, low energy, headaches—and a cold or bug developing. As a person in recovery, I am acutely aware of the desire to avoid any difficult feelings which underlines the importance of having body awareness.
Over the past few years, I have learned strategies that can be used to cope when you are struggling with illness.
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As a person who has suffered with mental illness—depression and anxiety—for my entire life, I know first-hand just how challenging keeping those conditions are. Of course getting sober goes a long way toward improving those conditions so that we can live in mental health. But, just like sobriety, they require regular maintenance.
I maintain my mental health with exercise, eating well, staying sober, regular human contact, daylight, outdoor activities every day, journaling, therapy—much the same activities to maintain my recovery.
But there does come a time when we are physically unwell, and it affects our mental health. And that is often the case for me. It makes sense that staying indoors, in bed, without human contact, can affect most people’s state of mind. But if you have underlying mental health conditions, it can exacerbate them. Personally, I get low mood, feel isolated and withdrawn, and don’t want to speak to anyone. My anxiety gets so bad that I can feel my heartbeat in my throat and feel like I have a brick in my chest. The longer I stay inside the worse it gets and the more difficult it becomes to leave the house. It can be paralyzing.
Of course feeling like that makes being physically unwell worse—I often feel like I’m fighting internally. I resist mental illness as well as my body fighting any infection. When I am in that place of resistance, I push myself until I am physically unable to continue. That is utterly exhausting and is not helpful for healing.
It is only through pain that I have learned my most valuable lessons. And recovery is all about trial and error and seeing what works for you. Over the last five years, I have developed a few coping strategies that help me keep sober, sane, and recover quickly.
- Self-care: I take regular hot showers, inhale the steam, use my favorite soaps and lotions. I find this helps alleviate some symptoms.
- Hydrate and nourish: I drink a gallons of water and I eat lots of nutritious and comforting food like soups, broths, and stews with lots of vegetables. Or I can make a smoothie if I don’t have the energy to cook. I buy a stock of frozen fruits for quick go-to smoothies.
- Routine: I try not to stay in bed all day, even if it means lying on the sofa with the window open and the sun visible. Lying in bed will only ever make me feel worse. If I need to sleep, I give myself a one-hour window for regular naps—but I set my alarm and I get up.
- Short bursts of fresh air: Wrapped up, I take myself for short walks around the block. If I can’t get out, I’ll try some gentle stretches.
- Connection: I check-in with friends in recovery for feeling connected and supported.
- Comfort: I find ways to comfort myself: hot tea, comfy clothes, PJs, wool blankets, TV, my favorite book, or cuddling with a pet.
What I have found most helpful is showing myself some compassion. My body or my mind—maybe even both—are telling me to slow down, rest, and recuperate. Fighting myself will only make me feel more sick. Knowing how to care for yourself I have found to be vital to my lasting recovery.