A lot of people talk about the ‘benefits of positive thinking’ on your health. And they’re right – sort of. A ‘positive mindset’ really can help you to cope with the rigours of chronic illness. Maintaining a positive outlook, in fact, is one of the best ways of maintaining or improving your quality of life while you’re sick.
Where people get confused is in thinking that positive thought is necessary for getting better. It’s not. While it can help you to feel better, it’s up to your body and lifestyle to get down to the serious business of healing. Unfortunately, a lot of people are confused about this, which is why many ill people find themselves bombarded with insistent messages to ‘stay positive’ at all costs. An NCS counsellor, unlike well-meaning friends and family, will be trained in the reality of illness, and understand exactly how ‘positive thinking’ looks for you. This is vital, as a positive mindset is different for everyone, and the ‘don’t think bad thoughts’ model touted by the lay positivity-gurus among us definitely does not work for many. If you want to stay positive during your illness, but are finding it hard to do so, an NCS counsellor will help you to find a way of being positive which works for you.
DITCH FAKE POSITIVITY
Keeping optimistic and positive can be tough when you’ve got a chronic illness. It can also get annoying when friends and family exhort you to ‘stay positive’!
Don’t listen to these orders. Forcing positivity when you’re not really feeling it is never a good idea. It is natural to be frightened, to feel out of control, to be angry, to be exhausted when you’re ill. Trying to plaster over these feelings with fake positivity simply for the sake of it is not necessary, and you should not feel like you have to do so.
Pressure to be positive can be damaging. Paradoxically, it can actually make you feel more negative. Many people, surrounded by people insisting that they ‘be positive’, feel that their real suffering is being invalidated. It’s incredibly frustrating to try to convince friends and family of the validity of what you’re feeling. Frustration, anger, and upset at not having your real feelings acknowledged add to your overall burden of negative feelings.
By contrast, respecting and acknowledging suffering – giving that suffering it space – can help you to feel more supported, more respected, and therefore more positive.
BETWEEN REALISM AND POSITIVITY
Having said that, while it’s definitely important not to plaster fake positivity over your real suffering while ill, it’s equally important not to succumb to depression and rumination. While you should not force positivity when you’re not feeling it, it’s also important to try not to sink into a depressive wallow. Walking this fine line is not easy, and how you manage it depends an awful lot on your individual context. That’s why, if you’re struggling, it’s important to seek professional help in finding your positivity balance.
HOW CAN YOU STAY POSITIVE DURING ILLNESS?
How exactly you manage to maintain a balance of positivity during the strain and struggle of illness depends a lot on what works for you. A lot of people find that, rather than suppressing bad thoughts, it helps to instead focus on the things which bring you joy. Rather than worrying about all the things you can’t do, think instead about all those things which you can still do. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s often not helpful to build castles in the sky – i.e. to tell yourself things like “I’ll feel much better tomorrow!” While that hope can give you a little boost in the moment, it’s outweighed by the disappointment and upset you might feel if that hope is not fulfilled. Persistently thwarted hopes will bring you down over time, and upset the balance of your mood.
Instead, try to think about what’s going right for you at the moment. Work on what you can do, and the things which you enjoy, and good things which you know are going to happen for you soon. If sadness and suffering come along, don’t shove them to the back of your mind – acknowledge them, but always remember to keep an eye on the bigger picture, which will contain good things as well as bad things.
Staying positive while ill isn’t about being relentlessly cheery all the time. It’s about mental resilience – which, as we’ve said, looks different for everyone, but often involves positive acceptance of your real feelings and your real situation (the good and the bad). An NCS accredited counsellor will acknowledge the reality of your situation, and validate your true feelings about your illness. Having your feelings respected like this can be very empowering. They will also help you to find ways of accepting your situation, and focusing on the positive aspects of your life.
Most counsellors have a lot of experience in dealing with the psychological ups and downs of illness. They’ll be able to help you establish what you can do to bring yourself joy and help yourself to feel fulfilled. They’ll enable you to work through your feelings about your situation, and come to a place of positive acceptance. They can also teach you techniques for beating both the temptation to fall into depressive ruminations, and to force yourself to be upbeat when you’re not really feeling it.
All in all, if you feel like you could use a positivity boost to help you through an illness, an NCS accredited counsellor can help you to achieve this in a healthy, realistic way which actually works.