Welcome to the second post in a 2-part series focused on reclaiming your health after (or even prior to) an autoimmune disease diagnosis. If you didn't already catch it, be sure to read Autoimmune Disease: 6 Steps for Reclaiming Your Health (Part 1) for Steps 1 -3.
As discussed earlier, we may not be able to change the fact that we have an autoimmune disease, but we CAN change how we respond to it.
Diet & lifestyle have a huge impact on managing the symptoms of autoimmune disease, as well as preventing it, and on good health in general. The GREAT news is that both of these things are very much within our control!
Yep...that's right! We have the power to fight back against our disease!
Keep reading for steps 4 - 6 to reclaiming your health.
(And...if you haven't been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, keep reading anyway. These steps are fundamental for good health for all humans!)
Sleep is one of the most underrated areas of our health and well-being. In a culture that values productivity over sleep, it's not uncommon for some to get less than six hours of sleep per night.
Research indicates that 7-9 hours of quality sleep is ideal. If you are getting enough quality sleep, you should wake up feeling energized and refreshed in the morning rather than hitting the snooze button (more than once??).
There are several things that can impact our sleep quality:
Diet – reduce caffeine intake during the day, and eliminate it after 2pm. Avoid a blood sugar crash in the middle of the night by adding a starchy carb to your evening meal, as well as avoiding alcohol and sugar before bedtime.
Electronics – blue light impacts melatonin (the hormone that tells our body it’s time to sleep) production. Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Dimming the lights after dark and using an app or special amber-tinted glasses to block blue light is also helpful.
Pre-sleep routine – start “powering down” your mind a couple of hours before bedtime; exchange stimulating activities for those that are relaxing and restorative.
Sleep environment – dark, quiet, and cool with comfortable bedding.
Circadian rhythm cycle – Wake/sleep cycle controlled by light/dark; try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time each day.
5. Stress Perception
Chronic stress can have a major impact on the frequency and severity of autoimmune symptoms.
I personally notice an increase in the severity of my symptoms when I'm struggling with managing my stress. Also, when I'm over-stressed, other things such as nutrition and sleep tend to suffer as well.
While it’s impossible to remove all stress from our lives, it is possible to change the way we perceive and respond to it.
Strategies for managing stress fall into two main categories:
1. Reduce the number and severity of stressors in your life.
Take a few minutes to identify the stressors in your life.
How do they impact you, both physically and emotionally?
Are there sources of stress you can eliminate or reduce?
Prioritize your tasks and projects. Don’t let your to do list overwhelm you. Be realistic about what you can accomplish on any given day to avoid putting yourself in a position of overwhelm.
Be organized so everyday tasks are easier to complete.
Focus on what you CAN control, rather than what you can't.
2. Increase your resilience to stress to reduce the impact your stressors have on your body and mind.
Have fun! Make time for activities you like to do.
Schedule daily down time. Make self-care a priority so you can relax and recharge
Practice mindfulness. Recognizing little positive things throughout the day helps us feel more joy and happiness.
Connect with others (It's a basic human need!)
Connect with nature.
Get enough sleep.
Turn-off your brain by practicing simple meditation/deep breathing techniques.
Practice gentle movement or exercise.
For stressors that cannot be avoided, it can be helpful to “reframe” your thoughts around them in a more positive way. What good is coming from it? Seeing the positive (no matter how small) in an unchangeable situation can be a powerful tool in altering the affect it has on you.
6. Get moving!
Daily movement is imperative for optimal health. This can be a huge challenge for those who suffer from fatigue, muscle and joint pain, which are common symptoms of autoimmune disease.
While a balanced routine that consists of moderate cardio and full-body strengthening exercises is ideal, just incorporating more movement into your everyday life also can be incredibly beneficial.
Here are some tips to help get you moving when you aren't feeling 100%:
Complete everyday activities (such as cooking, housecleaning, shopping, walking the dog, running errands, and gardening) yourself instead of outsourcing.
Try to incorporate walking into your daily routine. Start small (5-10 minutes), then gradually work up to an hour as you begin to feel better.
Practice restorative, calming activities, such as yoga. Tai chi, or Pilates. They're easy on the body, mind, and the soul.
Swimming is easier on your joints and is a fantastic full-body and cardio workout
Don’t forget stretching, which improves flexibility and maintains good joint range of motion to protect us from injury and helpus move efficiently.
Exercise is a stressor on your body. Pay attention to how you feel and work at the appropriate intensity. Be sure not to overdo it...over-exercising is just as dangerous as under-exercising.
Your Individual Plan of Attack!
There is no exact blueprint for optimal health, as it will be different for everyone. However, addressing each of the areas above will have a huge positive impact on autoimmune disease symptoms.
I know. I get it. Making lasting nutrition and lifestyle changes can be tough. Transition slowly. Focus on one area each week. Add in a new healthy habit related to that area every few days or as you feel ready, while maintaining the healthy habits from the previous days. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and your success will hinge on your ability to maintain your new healthy habits long-term.
Most importantly…don’t stress! Instead of focusing on how tough change can be, focus on how great you begin to feel as you incorporate your new healthy habits into your life!
Remember...your autoimmune disease does NOT define you nor does it have to control you. Instead, use it as a springboard to healthier living. You have the power to reclaim your health!
You've got this!!
Note: Working with a Health Coach who specializes in autoimmune diseases will guide you toward discovering your personal blueprint for optimal health and will help you successfully incorporate sustainable habits into your life with as little stress as possible.
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The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook: A DIY Guide to Living Well With Chronic Illness, Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt, 2016.
The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body; Sarah Ballantyne, PhD, 2013.
Janelle is a Certified Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor who is passionate about helping people find their best health and happiness. She specializes in helping those with Crohn's and other autoimmune diseases optimize their nutrition and lifestyle to reclaim their lives. Whether you want to make big changes, or simply want to learn how to bring healthier choices and more energy into your life, she can help!!
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