Productivity is a sensitive topic in the autoimmune disease community. We feel guilty and defensive about what we’re not getting done, or we’re pushing through despite raging symptoms. It’s a never-ending tug-of-war between our to-do lists and getting adequate rest. The most depressing part is that we *want* to do our to-do lists (well, we at least want the option to do them 😉
But rather than continuing to push through with no avail, we can reshape how we think about productivity, and what that looks like can and should change based on how we’re feeling at any given moment.
Reshape how we think about action.
I spent 2.5 years in the most intense arthritic flare I’d experienced in 15-plus years living with lupus. I left my corporate marketing job and spent my time recovering.
During that time, it was a continuous tug-of-war between my overachieving type-A personality to do something “productive” and every other ounce of my body telling me to relax and recover. You can imagine how well telling a type-A personality to relax goes over.
Three concepts helped me not only get through those days but also recover and become healthier than ever.
1. Our Health is a Sliding Scale that We Influence
We typically envision a starting and ending point. We set a goal, tell ourselves we’re going to do it, and then quit when it gets hard or when we’re not feeling well. Rather, we can replace the all-or-nothing mentality with a sliding scale that’s influenced by our daily actions that hinder or foster our health.
What we do to take care of ourselves can and should change based on how we’re feeling at any given moment.
Physical movement is just one piece of our makeup. Humans are the dominating species on earth because of our massive brains. We have a conscience and the ability to produce logic. Ironically our intelligence and mental health often take a back seat, especially when we’re managing these intensely physical diseases.
During that flare, I listened to pain management meditations with the Headspace app. The short 10-minute sessions coached me through the pain and improved my sleep. Once my pain was under control, I started biking and trying low-impact workouts on YouTube.
Early in that experience, I felt like my life was passing me by, but during those hours of breathing through the pain, I grew to understand my days weren’t wasting away. I was taking small actions to recover and adopting a mindfulness practice that helped with pain and stress management.
As I leaned into my recovery embracing wherever I was on any given day, the incremental progress became a continuous stream of healthier daily habits that gave me the grace to heal in my own time.
By adjusting our priorities to align with how we’re feeling, we can do small actions that improve our well-being more than if we had pushed through our old To-Do List.
2. Take 1 Action, and Don’t Stress about the Rest
In the book Atomic Habits, author James Clear discusses how continuous small changes compound into massive ones, whether good or bad. If you do 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up 37 times better at the end of the year.
“Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits… you get what you repeat.” –Best Selling Author James Altucher
Whether you do a 10-minute meditation session while laid up or a yoga video on YouTube, those small actions may seem not worth it in the moment. Still, over time, they’ll contribute to significant physical and mental improvements.
Keep it small, so it’s digestible.
Limit yourself to one or two areas you want to improve; for instance hydration and pain management, or exercise and nutrition. Changing too much in our overscheduled lives often leads to burnout.
Give yourself grace when you have challenges along the way. Every “setback” is life’s way of guiding you to the path meant for you. We always have this moment. The key is accepting this moment for whatever it is and making those small steps toward a healthier you.
3. Fuel your passion
The third piece is doing anything that makes you lose track of time. When times are better and you’re feeling physically able, be sure to carve out space. Your physical and mental health will benefit.
Gardening is my jam. I love being outside. I get great satisfaction picking weeds and nurturing vegetation to fruition. I’m mentally a different person when I get to be outside. Those moments of well-being can carry you through the harder times.
On the days when I can’t walk to the mailbox, much less pick weeds, I read the latest in soil care. From maximizing intercropping planting to keeping my cherry tomatoes from splitting, my gardening skills have vastly improved thanks to my inability to function properly physically.
Find your space. You’ll be mentally and physically rewarded for fulfilling your passion.