Life is filled with stress. Chronic illness brings tons of additional stress. Our own thinking is even stress-filled. It is everywhere and we cannot run away from it. We can build healthy boundaries and limits to help protect ourselves but it still does not make us immune to stress. So how are we supposed to grow and learn and flourish into who we are meant to be without stress in our lives?
How about learning to stretch ourselves but not stress ourselves. Stretching brings to mind elasticity, ability to bend without breaking. Instead of pushing ourselves so hard that we break from stress, let’s learn how we can stretch our way into exactly who we are today, without the stress.
Stretching comes in many forms: mind, body, and spirit. While walking through chronic illness we can:
- Stretch our minds by using our brains, regardless of our bodies are not working correctly.
- Stretch our current attitudes into something more peaceful.
- Stretch our bodies by movement exceeding what we expected for the day.
- Stretch our lungs by taking deeper breaths on a regular basis.
- Stretch our spirituality by finding a greater purpose for our suffering through chronic illness.
This chronic stress is killing us. Why do we think we can push our bodies so hard and expect them to keep on ticking?
There are six studies between 1948 and 2011 – with a combined 118,000 participants showing that long-term stress plays a factor in heart disease, as much as smoking five cigarettes a day.
“… people who feel a high degree of stress in their lives are 27 percent more likely to develop heart disease or die from heart disease. That makes long-term stress a moderate risk factor for heart disease, comparable to smoking five cigarettes a day…” ~ Is Stress Really Bad for Your Heart by Newsroom, Columbia University Medical Center
It is the long-term stress that gets us, the negative thinking and actions, by ourselves and others, that create corrosion in our bodies and our lives. As I have slowed down to adjust my ways, I can look back and see that it was not one incident or one illness that did me in, it was the collective factors of all of it.
Stretch Don’t Stress
Now it is time to stretch instead of stress. If we do not stretch ourselves we will never take the necessary steps to move through chronic illness. Without a good healthy stretch, we may not even believe that we can move through chronic illness. The key is pushing ourselves so we stretch but don’t break. While laying in bed with a chronic illness every act feels like climbing a mountain, so take gentle stretches.
All we can do is what we can do at any given moment. A willingness to stretch yourself is all I am asking for. I have been there and I know how hard it is. It is even hard to believe that it can get better. Each little stretch eventually leads to something greater, even with the setbacks there is progress. Stretching is like taking baby steps with a few wobbles and a couple tumbles but eventually walking. Sometimes our bodies will cooperate and other times they won’t. Either way, we learn something about ourselves as we gently stretch ourselves.
Nothing can be done about the past but we sure can deal with today in a less stressed-out manner. There are still things that need to be done in life today. The laundry still needs to be done, kids cared for, work accomplished, and all the daily activities that are required to survive on this planet. They all cause a bit of stress in their own way.
Sometimes when we slow down to figure out who made those rules we can evaluate why laundry needs to be done daily, or not! We are human beings, not robots. We have got to learn to let some things go for the betterment of our health and wellbeing.
Letting go of battles that cannot be won, letting go of a belief that we have to be perfect, letting go of relationships that simply don’t work, letting go of our endless To-Do Lists that keeps grinding at the back of our minds. Letting go of what work “should” look like. There are so many things that we can look at differently and put into a healthier perspective. Take a stretch to explore the possibilities in your mind.
This is an advantage of having a chronic illness and wanting to recover, our perspective changes. Daily laundry becomes a joke. The yard is no longer a thought. Being perfect makes us chuckle at how ridiculous it is. The boxes we have put ourselves in slowly start to fall away because our health forces us to look at life and ourselves through a different lens. We finally see that we will break from all the stress if we do not stop our old ways.
The best we can do is stretch ourselves and do the very best we can every single day, without stressing ourselves. That is all, nothing more. Many days it might be as simple as giving yourself permission to let your body rest instead of stressing it. That permission is a huge stretch for many with chronic illness. And when we are kind to ourselves for taking care of ourselves, it all starts to fall into place and we provide our bodies a greater opportunity to heal.
Find the appropriate elasticity that is unique to you so that you can bend with your chronic illness instead of breaking from it. Find victory is your unique elasticity, don’t compare yourself to anyone. There are no two exact same stories, only similarities. Your daily stretch will always look different from others.
Are you finding ways to stretch through your chronic illness instead of stressing?
Maribeth Baxter, MBEC (Certified Mind-Body Eating Coach)