My Emotional Wellness Toolkit

I have found that using simple techniques help me cope much more effectively with cystic fibrosis -- and all that can go along with it.

| 6 min read
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Jessika Allison
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There is a universal truth about emotional wellness: There is a connection between what is happening in your mind and how that manifests in your body.

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Since cystic fibrosis is basically 70 percent of my life, I have to assume the opposite is true, as well; what is happening in my body, most certainly, affects my mind. On bad days, I can't help but focus on every deep breath I can't take and sigh in frustration at every high blood sugar measurement. I find it exhausting to smile when I feel like a rubber band is wrapped around my chest after walking up the stairs in my house.

Emotional wellness, among other things, is about learning to accept the bad days for what they are and move on. I am allowed to be frustrated that I can't walk up the stairs, but it is vital for my mental well-being to not let that frustration last longer than it has to. A pebble drops in the water and creates a ripple, but the ripple only goes as far as it is supposed to, no further. My frustration does not need to live beyond the top of the stairs.

The frustration I feel about not being able to walk up the stairs without having to catch my breath is not necessarily what is really happening. At the root of the problem, there is no problem. I walked up the stairs -- that was my goal. My feeling of frustration was created by my judgment about how my body “should” have performed. And, analyzing this thought process helped me to recognize this thinking as distorted. Frustration didn't happen. I created it. As I found myself going through these philosophical equations about my body and my mind, I decided to create an emotional wellness toolkit: simple ideas to keep me grounded during times that are not at all simple. 

Breathe

Funny, right? I remember sitting in a doctor's office, looking at images of my body, trying to understand them myself before the doctor walked in. When he came in, he was looking down at my chart. He said to me, “I think everything looks good here.” I was confused. He hadn't examined the part of my body I had gone there to get checked out. Did he even know what he was looking for? I expressed my concern, which was pain. He told me what not to do and to come back if the pain still bothered me.

I remember this moment because it was then that I learned to breathe, despite my inability to actually breathe. I took a deep breath. I have always had the tendency to overreact; overreact to nurses coming into my room too early when I am in the hospital; overreact to a doctor prescribing me a medication that I have repeatedly asked not to be put on; overreact to stares when I cough in public; overreact to people who think I cannot do the same things they can because I have CF. But, when I learned to stop and breathe, everything changed.

My relationships with my care teams changed. My relationships with strangers changed. My relationship with me changed. Practicing breathing instead of reacting gives me clarity. Here's the trick: When I feel my heart start racing, when I feel my thoughts start to overwhelm me, and when I feel myself not listening to the speaker but, instead, coming up with a response, I stop. I take a deep breath. Sometimes I close my eyes. And I wait. I wait for my heart rate to go down. I wait for all of the rushing thoughts to leave. Then, and only then, do I respond. 

Move

The other day I got an exorbitant medical bill in the mail. I spent the next four and a half hours on the phone, being transferred, hanging up, calling back, raising my voice, verifying my personal information way too many times, and then finally, resolving the issue. Needless to say, I was beyond angry. Breathing helped, but what helped even more was moving. 

Most of the time I put my shoes on and get out in the front yard or walk around my neighborhood. If that doesn't work, I put a yoga video on. I dance around the house. I draw. I sing. Moving my body any which way is energizing. Here's the trick: I turn off, disconnect, and find something to do that involves moving my body around. It's almost always different every single time, but moving in some way always works. It doesn't necessarily take a long time. Sometimes, 10 minutes gets me back to my center and puts a smile back on my face.

I used to think it was a waste of time -- that I didn't have even 10 minutes to spare. But, taking 10 minutes has made “work” time more productive and keeps my heart and mind centered.

Stay Realistic

A bad feeling or a bad day is not indicative of a bad life. Even a bad diagnosis is not the ”end all be all” of good things and a good life. Life moves forward every second. It is my choice to stay in a moment or to learn from that moment and move on. Case in point: lung function tests. There is a good week before clinic where I worry over my number, and then clinic day is always stressful. When I see my respiratory therapist come into the room, I am both excited and nervous. Why? It's just a number. Here's the trick: When I am feeling overwhelmed, I remind myself over and over (and over) that no matter what happens, the sun will rise. My therapist taught me that. She taught me that staying evidence-based -- instead of what-if based -- keeps my thoughts from taking over. Evidence-based is that the sun will rise no matter what. Even if I can't see it, and even if it is covered by clouds, the sun is still going to rise. This will always be true. And if nothing in my life seems to be on track, I can find comfort in knowing that.

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This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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Emotional Wellness
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Jessika is an adult living with cystic fibrosis and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes. She has her bachelor's degree in accounting and finance, a master's degree in organizational leadership, an MBA in project management, and is currently working towards her PhD in organizational psychology. She currently works as a freelance creative director specializing in strategy, ghostwriting, copywriting, website design and development, and graphic design. Jessika is currently loving the farm life with her boyfriend, Darby, and their three dogs: an American Bulldog named Bhodi, a Treeing Walker Coonhound named Ryder, and a perfectly mixed dog named Josie along with five chickens named after The Office cast. You can contact Jessika through email or on Facebook.

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