By Stephanie Dube Dwilson
April 22, 2017

When you're living with chronic illness, a temporary setback can feel really frustrating. You've made so much progress, and now you may feel like you're starting over at square one. How can you focus on the good and stay positive about the future as you deal with those more difficult times? Here are some tips on managing setbacks and continuing to look ahead.

1. Remember: You're Not Failing
Sometimes chronic illnesses can flare up unexpectedly, causing you to need to cut back on the things you do every day or take time off from work or school. When you've been making progress toward your goals, this can be difficult. It's important not to take the setback out on yourself or become self-critical. Raven Wilkinson, who has chronic illnesses, wrote on The Mighty that setbacks do not mean failure. Remind yourself that, sometimes, just surviving day-to-day really is enough. Let yourself be human.

2. Give Yourself Time to Grieve
It's natural to feel sad, disappointed, and angry. You may not realize it, but you might actually be grieving the time you lost and the setbacks to your health. As with any other type of grief, you'll have unexpected emotions that come in waves. Allow yourself to feel these freely, and consider finding a counselor or psychologist to help. Sometimes grief can turn into depression, and a counselor can help you navigate those emotions successfully.

3. Do Something Small for Someone Else
It's good to have things in your life you can look forward to. Sneha Dave, who has ulcerative colitis, suggests doing something small to help others. You could start a support group for people in your area or join an online group to raise awareness. Try volunteering at a hospital or an animal shelter. Even when you can't leave the house, you can still send encouraging emails or share news online.

4. Break Down Tasks Into Manageable Steps
After a setback, everything you need to do may feel overwhelming. Even when you start feeling better, catching up may just feel like too much. That's why you should break down everything you need to do into small, manageable steps. For example, if you need to appeal a health care claim, break it down step by step and give yourself a day to complete each one. When you're recovering, you shouldn't try to keep a busy pace or juggle too many things at once. Instead, focus on one thing at a time and take frequent breaks. As you mark steps off your checklist, you'll feel more motivated.

5. Do Little Things for Yourself
It's easy to focus on all the things you're missing. Pat Akerberg, who has a chronic illness, suggests overcoming these emotional "traps" by making small plans that force you to do something positive for yourself. For example, schedule a video chat with a friend, do a few minutes of yoga, or take a short walk outside. A few minutes of self-care can give you hope to keep pushing forward.

Staying positive and motivated isn't always an easy task when you're living with chronic illness. Doing small things for yourself and recognizing your emotions as a type of grief are important first steps. Reaching out in small ways to help others can also help you feel better. Remember: You're only human, so be kind to yourself.


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