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Cognitive Reframing Techniques for Living with Chronic Illness

Cognitive reframing techniques consist of changing the way we view things and finding other ways of interpreting and approaching situations and circumstances.

Life is comprised of many preconceived and often unconscious expectations and assumptions that are forced upon us by society. These assumptions and expectations define the way we think life is supposed to be. We usually just blindly accept these rules because it was the way we were raised and because that’s what everyone else does.

When living with a chronic health condition, we often are no longer capable of living within these same definitions. Life is not the way we think it should be or the way that we planned. This can create a lot of distress for the chronically ill individual, resulting in a lack of effective solutions; loss of self-esteem; guilt and shame; increased stress; depression and even more damage to the already impaired level of health by trying to live up to unrealistic expectations.

To counteract this scenario, we can use the powerful tool called cognitive reframing techniques. This can help us cope more effectively, manage symptoms and life, reduce stress and find peace and contentment with our circumstance.

Begin by examining what unconscious expectations you have internalized that don’t work for you any longer. This will require challenging the “truths” by which you live.

Some examples of the “truths” you may want to examine would be:

  • your definition of health
  • how often the house needs cleaned
  • the type of breakfast you should eat
  • what kind of job you should do
  • what clothes are important to wear
  • how many hours you should work
  • your definition of normal
  • the image you feel you should portray

Your “truths” are likely to contain many “shoulds” that you believe you should live by, but if you examine these more thoroughly, you will find that it’s not written in stone somewhere that this is the way life is supposed to be. It is a definition society has created and these definitions are often not even healthy. For example: the hectic, fast-paced, stress-filled life that the average person lives is destructive to healthy living.

Let go of the expectations of society and others around you. Understand that society’s definition of what’s “normal” no longer fits your situation. Finding ways to adapt that fit your special needs is what’s normal for you.

Recognize what the limits are in your life and live within them rather than resisting them. Have realistic expectations for yourself based on your condition. Allow yourself to make modifications, substitutions and adapt to your special needs.

The more limits you have in your life, the more cognitive reframing that may be required. For an illness that demands a lot of change, a complete restructuring of your identity, your relationships, your social life, your diet and your lifestyle is likely to occur.

Try to look for positives in your life from your health condition. What lessons have you learned? What have you gained? This does not mean you minimize or repress the pain, suffering and loss you have endured, but it means you see both sides of the coin.

Create a new definition of health. Being healthy does not necessarily mean there is an absence of illness. It means being as complete as possible and living life as fully as possible in spite of the hand you may have been dealt. Embracing all our experiences — both positive and negative. Finding peace, balance and contentment in the midst of the storm.

Try to view your health condition as your companion rather than your enemy.

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