Just Diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disease or Chronic Illness?

Karin W

May 9, 2023

Three Areas to Focus Post Diagnosis

The diagnosis can suck the air from your lungs, or it can be a welcome relief. Taking an average of 4.6 years and five doctors to get an autoimmune disease diagnosis, people can go years with unmanaged symptoms resulting in further complications. Getting that diagnosis now means you can work toward remission through treatment.

However, managing autoimmune diseases with medicine is only one piece of the puzzle.

Regardless of the diagnosis or specific disease, research supports that we have more control over our health through lifestyle and self-care than we’ve previously understood. While that puts more responsibility on our shoulders as the patient, it also empowers us to take control of our health journey.

Research has shown that lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, stress, lack of sleep, and sedentary behavior, can trigger autoimmune diseases and worsen symptoms. The good news is that there are things you can do to improve your health while managing an autoimmune disease.

Ruthlessly Prioritize Self-Care by Enabling Your Support Network

It can take several months for medications to be fully therapeutic, so managing symptoms and pain may be your primary focus for a while. Until you can get the disease in remission, you may need more rest–even hours more at times. Taking care of yourself is crucial when managing an autoimmune disease.

That’s where your support network comes in. The extra help can be a game-changer when freeing up the time to care for ourselves. To do that, we have resources to enable your support network like Give In Kind.

Self-care often gets deprioritized, though, even when we have help. There are many other “more productive” things we could be doing, but self-care is critical to your overall well-being. Use the idea of #oneaction to commit to a self-care activity and amount of time, and set a timer. Maybe it’s a 10-minute meditation session each morning or an hour yoga session several times a week. Don’t get caught up on the duration; the important thing is to take that one action.

Take Care of Your Head to Care of Your Heart

Chronic illness can take an emotional and physical toll, so it’s important to prioritize your mental health. The decision to take care of your mental health might come with many preconceived notions and stigmas, but there are small things you can do to support your mental health without it being a dramatic commitment.

Believe it or not, these small moments of self-care—journaling a few minutes every day, noting what you’re thankful for in the Gratitude app, or taking time out for mindful practices like meditation and deep breathing—can have a significant impact on overall well-being, including mental health.

Social connection is a considerable part of our mental wellbeing. While your family and friends will support you in their own ways, having people who can truly understand and empathize with your autoimmune challenges can help tremendously. Our Invigorate Facebook group is an active community of autoimmune thrivers and advocates who can empathize and provide support at any given moment.

When you’re looking for more support, seeing a therapist can provide perspective and the tools to help you navigate challenges accompanying chronic illness. When looking for a therapist, ask around for someone who specializes in chronic illnesses. You can often read about therapists’ specialties on a practice’s website or even call to speak with an intake coordinator directly. Take advantage of telephone or video conferencing to make scheduling and attending appointments easier.

Clean Eating: Diet is Critical to Reducing Autoimmune Disease Symptoms

Our Invigorate community ranks diet and nutrition as the most influential factor in their health

journey.

The food we put into our bodies has a significant effect on our physical health and mental well-being. To promote optimal health, it’s essential to eat a clean, whole foods diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Meat can be fine, but for the sake of simplicity, we focus on produce and seeds because their antioxidants and nutrients help your body fight inflammation and support your immune system. A good action is to add a green smoothie or salad to your daily intake.

An important part of nutrition is hydration. Over half of our bodies are water, up to 60% on average. Our water intake is a critical factor in supporting many bodily functions, such as lubricating the joints, delivering oxygen throughout the body, preventing kidney damage,

restoring fluids lost through metabolism, breathing, sweating, and removing waste. Despite hydration’s role in our health, it’s been reported that as much as 75% of the population is chronically dehydrated.

How much water should we be drinking?

We should aim for a daily minimum of one-half our body weight in ounces. To keep it manageable with one action, fill up your water bottle and drink one more today than you otherwise would. Good hydration coupled with nutrient-dense whole foods should help improve symptoms.

Bonus: our bodies are made to move, but you don’t have to do intense workouts to reap the benefits

When first diagnosed and symptoms are erratic, exercise can seem insurmountable. Yet you don’t need to be doing HIIT workouts six days a week to experience benefits from physical activity.

Light stretching and walking can be enough to increase heart rate, lubricate joints, and support range of motion, which is vital for overall health. And when you are up for it, there are tons of low-impact options like yoga, pilates, and strength training that can improve muscle mass and support your overall health. By adjusting your routine to your fitness level and disease activity, it’s easier to be consistent in moving daily.

Take it #OneAction at a time, especially early on.

It’s evident that by managing our lifestyle, we can actively improve our health and well-being. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when living with an autoimmune disease. However, small changes like getting more sleep or eating healthier foods can make a large difference in overall symptom management.

Additionally, creating a support network of family, friends, and professionals will ensure you have people to rely on if your illness feels like too much. This allows us to devote time and energy to care for ourselves–emotionally and physically. The combined effort of diet, rest, exercise, and mental health will give nearly anyone with an autoimmune disease improved quality of life and a chance at remission.

The most important thing to remember is that it doesn’t all happen at once. Focus on #oneaction at a time to keep it manageable. It takes time and effort, but if you can adjust your activity level to meet you where you’re at instead of just pushing through, your recovery will go much smoother.

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