June 24, 2013

Guest Post: Hope Heals

Hope Heals
Larry Berkelhammer, PhD

Living with chronic pain, malaise, fatigue, or disability on a daily basis for any length of time commonly leads to depression. The depression itself is unhealthy and debilitating. However, antidepressants are not the answer; they should be reserved for major depressive disorder rather than situational depression. If you commit the time and effort to explore ways to practice living a full life within your limitations, you will see for yourself that the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness you sometimes experience as a result of your illness will give way to a sense of optimism and great wellbeing—and that this remarkable transformation of your feelings is always in your own hands.

It is a universal human need to feel that we are in control of our lives. Chronic illness can rob us of that sense of control. However, we can get it back. The need to be in control of our lives is greatly underappreciated and is essential for our health and wellbeing.

The appreciation of our power to make choices is especially important for those of us living with chronic illness because our physical challenges often appear to rob us of choice. Our mobility may become limited, we may tire too easily to engage in favorite activities for as long as we would like. We may have to spend countless hours at doctors’ offices and clinics when we’d really rather be working, being with family or friends, or spending quiet time in solitude.

Although it may often seem as if we’ve been robbed of our ability to choose how to live our lives, achieving control of the choices we do have makes all the difference in living an optimally healthy life. Identifying our values and making choices that are in accord what we value can keep us from succumbing to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, both of which are emotional states that have been shown to lead to declining health and unnecessary suffering.

 “I Am Choosing …” Practice

A very powerful practice that I recommend involves a commitment to form the habit of prefacing all our actions with: “I am choosing…”  

There is no action that is too insignificant to include in this practice. Be sure to include thoughts as well as actions, such as:
I am choosing to get out of bed.
I am choosing to exercise.
I’m choosing to think about my day.
I’m choosing to complain about the pain in my back. 
I’m choosing to focus on the benefits of the invasive test I chose to schedule.

This practice involves making the phrase I am choosing a part of moment-to-moment awareness. This moment-to-moment emphasis on choice is a powerful antidote to the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that so often plague those of us who live with chronic medical conditions.


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