It’s not uncommon for those of use with chronic illnesses like ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome), fibromyalgia, and Lyme disease to have negative thoughts at some time or another. Sometimes, we can be inundated with them and at other times they may barely cross our minds. Sometimes, they are triggered by negative events, and at other times, a simple change in our biochemistry can bring them in abundance.
We don’t really have control over what thoughts pop into our head. However, we do have control over how we respond to them. There are also various ways we can cultivate and encourage more positive thoughts.
Cultivating Positive Thinking When Your Chronically Ill
The best way to deal with negative thoughts is to invest a bit of energy in preventing them! This is a bit like fertilizing a bit of land and planting some seeds. You won’t be able to avoid having to do a bit of weeding, but once the right plants are prospering, the weeds rarely get a look in.
There are several nutrients that make up the ideal fertilizer for a positive mind:
- Deep breathing, relaxation, and meditation
- Good nutrition
- Appropriate movement and exercise
- Good sleep
Some of my favorite seeds that are great at out-competing the weeds include:
- Appreciating the little things in life
- Loving kindness
- Mindfulness and present moment awareness
- Paying attention to balancing your different needs
But we also have to be prepared to actually do the weeding when the negative thoughts crop up, especially early on before all our seeds have reached maturity.
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Negative thoughts will thrive when given added meaning. There are lots of different ways we add meaning to our spontaneous negative thoughts: focusing on what they mean in terms of the future, allowing them to trigger regrets about the past, or allowing ourselves to make comparisons with other people or another time are just a few. Therefore, our first line of defense has to be to watch when we’re adding to our negativity by giving meaning to our thoughts. For example, if you find yourself frustrated that today you can’t do something that you could do yesterday, don’t add the meaning, “I must be getting worse.” Just aim to accept that this is the way it is today.
Just like weeds, our negative thoughts can’t be completely ignored either; try to ignore them, and they’ll take over the landscape of your mind. Weeds and negative thoughts alike need to be accepted and acknowledged as just a normal, natural part of life. No point in getting stressed about a natural phenomenon you have no control over. Once it’s happened you just need to decide what to do about it. Is this thought useful in any way? Or can it just be pulled up and tossed on the compost heap?
Weeds do have a habit of cropping up over and over again. But with persistence, you’ll soon get the upper hand. Persistent weeding is a difficult habit to cultivate, but all good gardeners have discovered the benefits of taking action early, and it really can pay off.
This week I had some bad news about a loved one being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. The work I do to create a good emotional environment meant that although several worrying and sad thoughts cropped up, they weren’t too persistent. Once I acknowledged them and the feelings that accompanied them, I was able to let them go and choose not to let them spoil any more of the present moment. After all, this person hasn’t died yet. We don’t yet know how serious it is. It serves nobody to allow worry into this present moment when nothing has actually happened yet and nothing can yet be done. There may be pain and hardship in the future, but it can be dealt with if and when it comes!
It’s not always that easy though. Illnesses like ME/CFS, fibromyalgia and Lyme disease can have an effect on our brain chemistry, polluting our garden, making it less fertile to positivity. Practices which fertilize the mind can take quite a while to reach a point where your seeds are flourishing and out-competing the weeds. Letting go of negative thoughts requires persistence, you just have to keep weeding until the garden is established. Even then, there are many things that can affect our brain chemistry that we don’t always have control over (think of the devastation wreaked by an unseasonal hail storm!).
Last week, my hormones provided me with far more of a challenge than the difficult news I heard this week. I experienced an onslaught of negative thoughts about a really very trivial matter: a couple of failed attempts by a courier service to deliver a box of herbal teas. At the time, all I could do about these thoughts was recognize their lack of importance and dismiss them straight away, but I couldn’t stop them repeatedly popping into my head. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant, but I refused to let them be more than that and patiently waited for my efforts at fertilization to win the battle against the negative brain chemistry.
Cultivating a fertile mind requires patience and persistence and the willingness to try again if the crops fail, but slowly and steadily, I can be done.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on August 16, 2015 and was updated on December 9, 2020.
Julie Holliday is a holistic life coach and writer committed to helping people overcome their challenges and live a great life despite chronic illness. Writing as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, and Facebook. To find out if Julie’s coaching could help you live a great life despite chronic illness, book your FREE introductory consultation here. (10 available each month).