Stop Fighting Your Autoimmune Disease: 5 Strategies for Thriving : Living with an autoimmune disease can often feel like a constant battle, where every day is a struggle against an invisible adversary. The prevailing mindset encourages us to fight, conquer, and overcome our conditions, but what if there’s a better way?
For years, I spent all my energy fighting my own autoimmune disease. I fought against the limitations it imposed, implemented aggressive lifestyle changes, and pushed myself to the brink of burnout. The more I fought, the more my condition fought back, leaving me feeling defeated, exhausted, and disconnected from my own body. Everything changed when I gave up the fight and decided to explore a different path. It was a moment of realization that fighting my autoimmune disease was not serving me but instead draining me of precious energy and joy. I decided to embark on a journey of acceptance – accepting my condition as a part of myself, rather than an enemy to be defeated. This shift in perspective opened up a world of possibilities and empowerment.
This article invites you to shift your perspective and explore five alternative approaches to living well with autoimmune disease. It’s time to stop fighting and start thriving in the face of autoimmune challenges.
Work Through the Grief
Dealing with a diagnosis of autoimmune disease can be a truly life-changing process because we are faced with the loss of one of the most valuable things in life: our health. Apart from the actual symptoms of the condition, this loss of health often goes hand in hand with a dramatic disruption of life plans, emotions of uncertainty and fear, necessary (but potentially unwelcome) lifestyle changes, a strain on our relationships, and challenges in our sense of self – to name a few. Accordingly, it can be no surprise that many of us undergo a period of grief before coming to terms with what is happening to us.
While grief is a natural and valid response to an autoimmune disease diagnosis, being trapped in a cycle of grief without working through it to reach acceptance can be exhausting. It was grief that fuelled my fight against my own body and made it impossible for me to come to terms with my altered circumstances. Through acceptance, I finally learned to listen to my body’s needs, respect her boundaries, and prioritize self-care. I discovered that by embracing my autoimmune disease, I could better understand its complexities and find ways to work with my body rather than against her. This newfound acceptance allowed me to reclaim a sense of agency over my health and well-being.
But how do we work through the grief?
When coping with various life-altering events, we typically undergo five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. To reach acceptance, we need to allow ourselves to feel and process the emotions that come with the diagnosis. To help us work through the grief, we can seek support from loved ones or support groups, educate ourselves about our condition and make informed decisions to regain a sense of control, and practice self-compassion. By focusing on what we can control, we can prioritize self-care and stress management, embrace adaptability, and adjust our lifestyle to suit our needs. We can find meaning and purpose beyond our condition by engaging in activities that bring us joy and fulfillment. With time, self-compassion, and resilience, we can gradually move towards acceptance, empowering ourselves to navigate life with a positive outlook despite the challenges of living with an autoimmune disease.
It is important to note that not everyone will experience the stages of grief in a linear or predictable manner. Some of us may move through the stages quickly, while others may linger in one stage longer or experience stages in different orders. Understanding the process can help us and our loved ones recognize and deal with the complex emotions that come with a diagnosis of autoimmune disease.
Move from Self-Pity to Self-Compassion
To thrive with autoimmune disease, we need to ensure that we are moving from self-pity to self-compassion so we can foster emotional well-being and resilience. Self-pity involves dwelling on negative feelings, seeing ourselves as victims of circumstances, and experiencing a sense of helplessness. We may feel sorry for ourselves, blaming factors outside our control and stewing in our misery. On the other hand, self-compassion involves treating ourselves with kindness, understanding, and empathy, especially during challenging times. We are stepping up as a supportive friend would do, taking responsibility for our circumstances and trying to make the best out of the situation.
Moving from self-pity to self-compassion is crucial because it allows us to cultivate a healthier and more positive relationship with ourselves. Self-compassion helps reduce stress, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness, promoting better emotional and mental well-being. It empowers us to navigate the challenges of autoimmune diseases with greater resilience and self-acceptance. By offering understanding and kindness to ourselves, we can strengthen our ability to cope with difficulties, find joy in life’s moments, and cultivate a more compassionate and fulfilling relationship with ourselves and others.
One of my favourite ways to foster self-compassion is to ask what we can learn from our illness. While challenging at first, this exercise pushes us to shift our perspective from viewing our condition as an enemy to embracing it as a teacher. For some of us, our life choices pre-illness may have contributed to the onset of our symptoms, which may serve as a wake-up call and teach us to do better in the future. Others may gain a deeper sense of appreciation or gratitude for the trivial joys of life, vowing to make the most of our situation and living life to the fullest.
Questioning how we would treat a loved one in a similar situation may help us to offer ourselves the same compassion and kindness we would bestow upon them. Other strategies to support the transition from self-pity to self-compassions include acknowledging our feelings, practicing mindfulness and self-care, and seeking support from others. We may embrace imperfection, validating that we are doing our best and understanding that living with a chronic illness may lead to occasional setbacks or limitations. We can also reframe negative thoughts by challenging destructive self-talk and replacing it with more compassionate and realistic statements. Remind yourself that your condition does not define you, and your worth is not diminished by it!
Cultivate Mindfulness and Build Emotional Resilience
Living with an autoimmune disease can take a toll on our mental health when we are constantly operating in fight mode. In such times, mindfulness emerges as a powerful tool for managing stress and fostering emotional resilience by being fully present in the moment and observing thoughts and emotions without judgment. By cultivating mindfulness, we gain self-awareness and better understand our body’s needs and limits. This self-awareness empowers us to respond to stress proactively, reduce emotional distress, and embrace a sense of control amidst uncertainty.
Mindfulness practices come in various forms, with meditation and breathing exercises being two of the most effective techniques. Meditation involves focusing our attention on a specific object, thought, or activity to quiet the mind and achieve a state of calm. Regular meditation sessions can lower cortisol levels, reducing stress and anxiety associated with autoimmune disease.
Breathing exercises, such as deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, offer quick and accessible ways to alleviate stress. These techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing relaxation and lowering the heart rate. Practicing breathing exercises during stressful moments can promote emotional well-being and provide a sense of grounding.
One of the main benefits of cultivating mindfulness is building emotional resilience, which allows us to bounce back from setbacks, adapt to uncertainties, and maintain a positive outlook despite difficulties. By cultivating emotional resilience, we can develop healthier coping strategies, reduce emotional distress, and embrace self-compassion.
Through mindfulness practices and the cultivation of emotional resilience, we can build a strong foundation for managing stress and emotional well-being while navigating the complexities of autoimmune disease. By integrating mindfulness into our lives, we develop a holistic approach to health, embrace emotional well-being, and lead a more fulfilling life beyond the constraints of chronic illness.
Listen to Your Body
When faced with a diagnosis of an autoimmune condition, we often switch to fight mode, throwing everything we have at our disease. Many of us rush to make big lifestyle adjustments, including rigid dietary changes, exhausting exercise routines, or other strict protocols. Rarely do we stop and question if these efforts are answering our body’s needs, or if we may be causing more harm than good.
Autoimmune diseases can often be seen as a wake-up call, in situations where we have been going against our body’s needs for a very long time. After my diagnosis, I was determined to turn my life around and do everything right. Without a second thought, I implemented restrictive dietary protocols, established complex self-care rituals, and followed every health advice under the sun. However, instead of feeling better, my physical and mental health were worse than ever. Without learning to listen to what my body truly wanted, I only continued the fight and mindlessly pushed on in a different direction.
After years or even decades of suppressing our body’s needs, relearning how to listen to her signals takes practice. We can start by being present and mindful of how we feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. By keeping a journal to track symptoms, stress levels, and lifestyle factors, we can start to notice patterns or triggers that affect our symptoms. With practice and patience, we learn to trust our instincts and intuition so that we can cultivate a deeper understanding of our body’s needs, empowering us to make informed decisions for better self-care and well-being.
In summary, giving our body what it needs rather than suppressing her needs is a foundational aspect of living well with autoimmune disease. It empowers us to proactively manage our condition, foster resilience, and embrace a fulfilling life beyond the constraints of autoimmune disease.
One of the characteristics of autoimmune diseases that often trigger our immediate fight response is the perceived loss of control when it comes to our health and our body. We feel powerless against our symptoms and the dramatic life changes that are associated with our diagnosis. By expanding our knowledge about our condition, building a strong support system, and learning how to advocate for ourselves we can become empowered and move past fighting to reach a sense of inner peace.
Empowerment may come in many different forms, but it always involves taking an active role in our health journey. We can educate ourselves about our condition, treatment options, and lifestyle changes, enabling informed decisions and personalized care. Advocating for our needs, expressing concerns to healthcare professionals, and seeking second opinions fosters open communication and better treatment plans. Sharing our experiences with others through support groups or online communities helps fight stigma, provides validation, and builds a supportive network. By prioritizing self-care, setting realistic goals, and cultivating emotional resilience, we can embrace a positive outlook and take control of our narrative.
Advocating for ourselves is a transformative process that promotes acceptance of our diagnosis. By taking an active and empowered stance in our health journey, we gain knowledge, support, and personalized care, leading to a more positive and embracing approach to living with the condition. Self-advocacy fosters resilience, allowing you to navigate the challenges of autoimmune disease with strength, acceptance, and a renewed sense of identity.
Embracing a new approach to living with autoimmune disease can lead to a transformative journey from fighting to thriving. It begins with acknowledging and working through the grief that comes with a diagnosis, allowing space for self-compassion and growth. Moving from self-pity to self-compassion opens the door to a more empowered and resilient mindset. Cultivating mindfulness and building emotional resilience become invaluable tools for managing stress and fostering emotional well-being. We may learn more about our needs and limits by tuning in to our bodies and reacting with self-care. Taking command of our story and navigating the intricacies of autoimmune illness with bravery and grace is ultimately possible via self-empowerment measures such as education, activism, and sharing of experiences. By embracing these principles, we can move beyond the limitations of autoimmune conditions and embark on a journey of thriving, finding strength and joy in the midst of adversity.
Remember, the power lies within you to reclaim your life and flourish beyond your autoimmune disease.
Xenia Brandstetter is an Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) and Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach. At Xenia Brandstetter Health Coaching, she empowers women with autoimmune conditions to make peace with their disease, regain their lost energy, and take back control of their life. She uses learnings from her own autoimmune journey to help her clients feel like themselves again and create the life they dream of.
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