It’s hard to start the day off productively when it takes all of your energy to simply roll out of bed. This is particularly true when you’re dealing with chronic illness, or even just a pesky stomach bug.
Building good habits can be hard, and maintaining those good habits through health struggles can be even more challenging. Research shows it takes an average of 66 days to build a new habit, and yet it only take a few short days to lose momentum or fall off the wagon entirely.
During times of illness, we may be especially vulnerable to unhealthy lifestyle choices and negative self-talk. However, it’s during these trying times that we most need to stick to our healthy habits and dole out extra doses of loving self-care to our mind, body, and soul.
Here are six ways for your to establish and maintain healthy habits during period of ill-health.
Build A Solid Foundation
Choose a habit that helps you view yourself as healthy and commit to daily action. If eating a nutritious breakfast, breaking a sweat, or getting adequate rest makes you feel like you’re contributing to your health and well-being, that single action can cause a chain reaction of other positive changes.
Personally, I begin each day with a tall glass of electrolyte water. Each morning, feel that I am replenishing the nutrients lost overnight and giving my body a fresh start. This simple choice and positive mindset encourages me to pursue other healthy habits, such as meditation, exercise, and nutrient-rich meals.
Keep It Simple
Set the bar laughably low and be content with baby steps. It’s okay to do the minimum, as long as you’re consistent. If your goal is to reintegrate meditation, begin with 60 seconds. Your exercise goal might simply be to put on activewear. When you know you need to floss, start with flossing just one tooth.
Lately, I’ve been ambitiously slipping into my favorite leggings before heading over the the weight machines. Every single time, I have quickly realized that my my lats, quads, and core are not on board. I used to walk home with resignation, but now I celebrate my attempt and look forward to the day when I can move beyond the small steps.
Create a Plan
Set a small goal and then pencil it into your schedule, set a reminder on your phone, or write about it on your blog. Research has shown that considering the details of a plan make you more likely to follow through, and writing down the plan further increases the likelihood of success. Illness can be disruptive and unpredictable, so a scheduled (yet flexible) plan can add a sense of stability and accomplishment. If you want to practice yoga daily, lay out your mat so it’s the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning; however, if you wake up feeling nauseous, choose to meditate instead or set a reminder to practice yoga later in the day.
Recently, I’ve made plans to eat homemade, locally-sourced, plant-based meals. I choose a simple meal and secure the ingredients in advance, and then start cooking at the same time every evening. Some days–actually a lot of days–I’m fast asleep long before dinnertime, but I listen to my body and adjust. Every day that I select a recipe, chop vegetables, and share a meal with my boyfriend, I feel a sense of achievement, even if the day was particularly difficult or upsetting.
Give Yourself Rewards
Bribing isn’t just for children and politicians. Identify a “want” and then attach it to a “should.” If you want a chocolate bar but know that you should exercise, reward yourself with a treat after a successful workout. If you’ve been wanting to binge-watch your favorite show, allow yourself to do so after an invasive medical treatment where you’re required to take it easy anyways. Be extra kind to yourself.
My medications make me feel extremely sick, but I’ve noticed that the nausea is dulled when I consume the pills with carb-heavy meals. Despite the nasty side effects, I know that I need to continue my treatment regimen, so allowing myself guilt-free comfort foods (like vegan mac n cheese) has been a nice reward for staying the course.
That alarm app on your smartphone isn’t just for waking you up, and that app isn’t just for work and school projects. Reminders have some impressive effects, including encouraging people to save money, reduce smoking, and vote in elections. In addition to individual reminders, checklists are a great way to track progress on goals–small and large. Particularly during times of illness and depreciated ability, it’s helpful to keep goals simple and achievable.
Every evening, I create a checklist for the following day, typically limiting myself to three or fewer objectives. The list may include tasks like cleaning the bathroom sink, calling my mom to say hello, or asking my doctor for a prescription refill. I also have a daily alarm to remind me to take my medication. Most tasks require less that fifteen minutes of my time and minimal energy exertion, but I walk away feeling that I’ve accomplished what I set out to complete.
Have a Support Network
The people we spend time with drastically influences our behavior. This holds true for voting, cooperation, smoking, weight, happiness, lifestyle choices, and more. A good support network is important because it helps us develop and internal locus of control and believe that change is possible. So, hang out with the friends who have the habit you hope to foster in yourself. Email or text someone you’d like to learn from right now and set a time to catch up.
Though I’ve felt extremely isolated this year, I’m lucky to have a loving and supportive boyfriend who constantly reminds me of what I’m capable of. My parents are wonderful role models and spending time with them helps solidify my understanding that happiness is a choice, rather than circumstantial. Even though I haven’t seen my friends in months, I feel like maybe I’m growing a small support network on this blog. I feel like WordPress is a place where the authentically imperfect come together into a big group hug.