Cultivating Self-Love: A Guide for Managing Chronic Illness
Updated: May 22
As someone who has dealt with a chronic disorder for the past two decades, I know firsthand how easy it is to get lost in frustration, hopelessness, and despair. My battle with psoriasis has led me down many dead ends paths, hopelessly looking for a cure for the “incurable disease.” My condition and I have been battling over control of the driver's seat of my mental health. Some days I feel invincible and unbothered; others, I cancel plans and hide my body. It wasn’t until I completed my training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy that radical acceptance hit me like a ton of bricks. Accepting that I have a chronic illness does not mean I approve. Accepting creates a path forward, fostering a sense of possibility and regaining power over how I see my body and self-worth.
If you or someone you know deals with a chronic illness, here are some tools I have used to cultivate self-love and carve a path of internal healing.
Radical acceptance is a key concept in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a type of therapy that teaches individuals how to regulate their emotions and improve their relationships. At its core, radical acceptance means fully accepting and embracing reality as it is, rather than fighting against it or wishing things were different. It involves acknowledging the truth of our situation without judgment or resistance and finding ways to move forward from there.
Living with a chronic disorder can be a challenging experience. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless, especially when symptoms are particularly severe. However, practicing radical acceptance can help you to manage these difficult emotions and find a way to move forward.
One of the key benefits of radical acceptance is that it can help you to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. When we resist reality and try to fight against it, we only end up making things more difficult for ourselves. By fully accepting the truth of our situation, we can free up mental and emotional energy that we can then use to focus on positive solutions.
Additionally, radical acceptance can help to reduce feelings of depression and hopelessness. When we accept reality as it is, we can start to find new ways to cope and adapt. This can give us a greater sense of control and agency in our lives, which can, in turn, improve our mood and outlook.
DBT techniques for dealing with anxiety and depression caused by chronic illness
If you're struggling with anxiety or depression as a result of your chronic illness, DBT offers a range of techniques that can help you to manage your emotions and improve your well-being. Here are three techniques that may be particularly helpful:
Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment or distraction. This can be especially helpful when dealing with difficult emotions or physical sensations. By focusing on the present moment, we can cultivate a greater sense of calm and clarity.
Self-soothing: Self-soothing techniques involve finding ways to comfort and calm yourself when feeling overwhelmed or distressed. This might include taking a warm bath, cuddling with a pet, or listening to calming music.
Distract and cope ahead: This technique involves planning ahead for difficult situations and finding ways to distract yourself or cope with your emotions when they arise. For example, if you know that a doctor's appointment is likely to be stressful, you might plan to bring a favorite book or podcast to listen to while you wait.
One of the most important steps in cultivating self-love is practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a good friend. This means accepting your limitations, forgiving yourself for mistakes, and giving yourself the care and support that you need. Studies have shown that self-compassion can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in those with chronic illness (Ferguson, K. J., & Saylor, C. F., 2016). Some techniques for practicing self-compassion include:
Writing down compassionate phrases to repeat to yourself when you're struggling
Imagining yourself as a child and offering that child love and support
Using guided meditations or mindfulness exercises to cultivate self-compassion
Connect with Others
Living with a chronic illness can be a lonely experience. It's important to connect with others who understand what you're going through and can offer support and empathy. This could mean joining a support group, reaching out to friends and family, or connecting with others online. Studies have shown that social support can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in those with chronic illness (De Ridder, D. T., & Schreurs, K. M., 2001). Some ways to connect with others include:
Joining an online forum or support group
Volunteering or participating in a charity event related to your illness
Attending a local support group or meet-up
You’re not alone
Radical acceptance is a powerful tool for managing the difficult emotions that can arise when living with a chronic disorder. By fully accepting the truth of our situation without judgment or resistance, we can find new ways to cope and adapt. This can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improve our overall sense of well-being.
If you're struggling with anxiety or depression caused by your chronic illness, know that you're not alone. DBT techniques like mindfulness, self-soothing, distract, and coping ahead can be helpful tools for managing difficult emotions. And remember, practicing radical acceptance is key to finding peace and fulfillment, even in the face of adversity.
De Ridder, D. T., & Schreurs, K. M. (2001). Developing interventions for chronically ill patients: Is coping a helpful concept? Clinical Psychology Review, 21(2), 205-240.
Ferguson, K. J., & Saylor, C. F. (2016). Self-compassion and well-being in parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Mindfulness, 7(4), 1025-1034.
About the Author:
Brianna Paruolo, MSED, CMHC-LP, works as a women's perfectionist and self-esteem therapist, offering guidance and support to women who want freedom from the pressures they so often place on themselves. She is passionate that everyone can welcome a new normal where they love themselves and face the future with hope. Send her an email at Brianna@goldtherapynyc.com to connect today!
Legal Notice: The content presented in this blog post/Instagram post is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide mental health treatment. It is crucial to consult with a qualified mental health professional for personalized advice or treatment regarding your specific circumstances. Reading or engaging with this content does not establish a client-counselor relationship, and the author is not liable for any actions taken based on the information provided. It is recommended to seek up-to-date information and consult professionals for the latest advancements in mental health research and practice. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact your local emergency services or helpline immediately.