the-importance-of-gratitude

Gratitude

Looking for an easy way to hack your brain? Consider practicing gratitude on a daily basis. It’s rather simple, but sometimes hard to do. When we practice gratitude, we are stating to ourselves and those around us that we are worthwhile and we appreciate our life. Gratitude is so important to our overall well being, it really does re-wire your brain to focus more on the positive and make healthier choices.

Gratitude can help you manage your stress, your illness, and how you operate in the world on a daily basis.

In the month of November, I try to focus on gratitude in some capacity. I decided to do it a few months early this year because gratitude should be a year-round thing. Doing it for a month out of the year, a week, or a day, is not enough to make meaningful changes.

Gratitude should come as a daily practice if we want to truly rewire our brains to be healthier.

The Science of Gratitude

Often we look for quick and easy solutions for our problems. Living in an age of instant gratification dulls our ability to be patient, so finding a solution to a long-term problem is difficult sometimes. With that in mind, gratitude is one of those easy to do exercises that offers a short-term response with long-term ramifications.

Have you found yourself feel better after doing something nice and unexpected for someone? Or when you express your appreciation for someone without cause? It might be a temporary good feeling, but science backs up that these moments, when added up, can re-wire your brain to be more receptive to positive experiences.

But when you are dealing with a chronic illness, sometimes the last thing you want to do is express gratitude for yourself or the world around you. After all, your body’s betrayed you. Often all we can think about is what we lack, such as our health, and not what we have.

When we take the time to incorporate more gratitude in our lives, despite our illness, we rewire our brains to spend less time on the negative aspects. Focusing on the positive brings us into a space to make healthier decisions for ourselves and can lower our overall stress.

And stress is something we strive to avoid in chronic illnesses.

Creating Space

We must be present in our lives, chronic illness or not. We choose to take a chance to do what needs to be done, or we choose to let life happen to us. If you struggle, like I have, with incorporating gratitude, consider creating a five-minute space to practice one instance of gratitude each day. Often the recommendation in the morning to set the tone for the rest of the day, but if that’s not possible, do whatever time works for you.

I learned this lesson recently: there’s an expectation to do things at a specific time because “that’s what’s right,” but that may not work for you. If your moment of gratitude is in the middle of the day or before going to bed, then do it then. When it happens does not matter. Just that you are doing it.

Try to set the alarm at your preset time if you often forget to do something, and commit to a short practice of gratitude for five minutes. Five minutes out of all your day is but a drop and passes by rather quickly.

Practicing Gratitude

Find the practice that works best for you, there are so many ways to practice gratitude. Try until you find something that works, don’t settle on what you think you’re supposed to do. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

  1. Buy a gratitude journal and follow the prompts
  2. Think of something silly about yourself that you love
  3. Do a random act of kindness for a stranger with no expectations of a acknowledgment/validation (i.e. don’t post about it on social media)
  4. Compliment a stranger on something you genuinely like about them
  5. Create and maintain a list of things you appreciate everyday. Add a new one during your gratitude time
  6. Find a silver lining in a difficult situation
  7. Relish a challenge or adversarial situation, rather than taking on a victim role
  8. If you are able to, volunteer your time
  9. Surround yourself with people who are grateful and make you feel good about yourself
  10. Find a gratitude rock or object that you can keep near yourself at all times to remind you of being grateful

The Importance of Gratitude

We don’t have to wait until November to practice gratitude in our daily lives. If you want to work towards rewiring brain towards a more positive outlook, just start with gratitude. It’s still going to take time to undo what might be years of negative thinking, but it gets you into the head space you need to be in to be receptive to change.

That’s the best space to be in: open to making positive changes in your life if you’ve previously struggled with it. Gratitude truly is one of the easiest and quickest ways to get into a positive space for yourself. I am already finding that I let things go a lot quicker than I used to, and appreciate the moments I have more.


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Featured photo credit: Canva

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Focusing on the Positive

I struggle with the idea of focusing on my positive qualities. It became so ingrained that I am a bad person, that the idea of having positive qualities can be physically painful at times. When asked by others to name something I appreciated about myself, I often balked at the exercise, trying to find the most superficial, least offensive thing I could name: my laugh?

In an awkward couple of seconds between the question and my response, I often have a tightness in my chest coupled with intense shame for seriously considering the idea that there is something good about me. I struggle to take a compliment, and I am known to self-sabotage an opportunity if I know I will succeed.

When I recognized the unhealthy relationship I had with my positive qualities, I realized I needed to not only examine it further, but I wanted to learn to celebrate the stuff I loved about myself. If I were to heal my painful internal narrative, I would need to start countering it with some facts about myself: I am a decent person, and it isn’t arrogance to say that.

For the rest of this month, I will be discussing the importance of highlighting our positive qualities, illness included, as a way to develop a healthier relationship with ourselves.

Learning to Fall in Love

You may already love yourself, and that’s a wonderful thing. No one is more deserving of your love than yourself. This month will hopefully serve as a refresher course of why you fell in love with yourself in the first place.

But if you are like me, you need to find a way to fall in love with yourself. You may be searching to do this right now, which is why you landed here, or you haven’t realized that it’s a necessary step in the self-improvement journey.

While this next step should be fun, it may be painful for you as it is for me.

That pain is part of the process of developing any new relationship. When you try to fall in love with yourself, you are fostering a relationship just as you would with a potential lover or friend. There will be awkward moments where you’ll wonder if you messed up; where you are uncertain if the other person will even like you back; or where you’ll discover something new that mildly annoys you. The comfort is that the other person in this relationship is you and they literally are not going anywhere.

So this is an opportunity to freely explore yourself, one where you can remove judgment because in the process of getting to know yourself better, there is no right or wrong way.

To get you started, take a few minutes to figure out what you are comfortable admitting you like about yourself.

Listing off our Positive Qualities

If you follow the weekly newsletter, you may have done this exercise already: list off five things you deem positive about yourself. For now, keep the list to what you are comfortable admitting to yourself.

This list can be as superficial as loving how you sneeze, or as deep as your ability to be a quality baker/cook. Make a list quickly, without overthinking it, as this will allow you to unconsciously list what is important. Sometimes when we don’t overthink something, we allow ourselves a glimpse into our deepest truths.

I find when I do these sorts of exercises, and I overthink it, I will backtrack and put down the “right” answer, thus skewing the intended outcome. When we are learning to fall in love with ourselves, we have to do the number one thing all relationship experts agree on in a two-person relationship: being honest.

Since I am also on this journey of learning to fall in love and developing a healthier relationship with myself, here are five things I came up with in my exercise:

  1. My personal drive and motivation to accomplish goals
  2. My laugh and how it can be infectious for others
  3. My cooking/baking abilities and adaptability in the kitchen
  4. My sense of humor
  5. The love that I have for others

The Struggle to Love

You may find, like me, that making these lists are the start of that uncomfortable feeling we get. Admittedly, these lists are a tad silly, but they serve a purpose. To physically manifest our positive qualities. Sometimes we have these ideas about ourselves that float around our head, but when we take the time to write the idea out on paper, we make the idea “real.”

I feel foolish admitting to these five things, even now, because of the embarrassment I feel about myself. If I allow this embarrassment to control my thoughts and actions, I won’t allow myself to feel something for myself. I will remain afraid to take steps to fall in love.

Like approaching a crush, we might talk ourselves out of an opportunity to put ourselves out there because we fear rejection. Our negative self-talk will try to reject us, but we must persevere. We want to love ourselves despite what our negative narrative tells us.

These steps, like any relationship, will come slowly. Overcome the initial embarrassment in favor of reaching out for connection. Take it slowly and see where your unconscious takes you as you grow more comfortable with the idea of loving yourself.

Celebrate Ourselves

As we hurtle through July, take some time to celebrate yourself any opportunity you get. Achieve a small goal? Celebrate by allowing yourself some kind words of encouragement. Overcame an obstacle? Allow yourself a pat on the back. Find ways to treat yourself in a healthy manner.

Be open to any and all opportunities that come your way to celebrate you.


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Featured photo credit: Canva


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Recognizing Self-Doubt

In my most profound moments of self-reflection, I find that I am riddled with self-doubt that stops me from achieving personal goals. Self-doubt tells us that we are incapable of doing something and serves as discouragement disguised as good-intentions. When making significant life changes, we must recognize self-doubt for what it is, a possible road block, and find a way to cope with it.

We define self-doubt as a lack of confidence in ourselves and what we are capable of doing. It isn’t always an accurate assessment of our abilities but meant as a form of self-handicapping to protect our egos from possible failure. This is reductionist, as there are other reasons why people fall into self-doubt, but that’s what we’ll be focusing on.

We engage in self-doubt as an excuse to prevent us from moving forward in life. It’s important to recognize when this happens because sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Self-Doubt after Self-Reflection

I have a voice in the back of my head that pipes up after I’ve reflected on a situation. The situation may have ended unfavorably, where I behaved in a way I am not proud of, so I’ll start to reflect on what I could do in the future. The voice comes in after I decide my next steps and tells me that I won’t achieve it. It loudly proclaims that I still haven’t made the positive changes, so why would I begin now?

Obviously, it ignores all the times when I succeed in making positive changes in similar scenarios.

I think this self-doubt voice comes in after an emotional self-reflection because I am vulnerable. Vulnerability isn’t a negative trait to possess, but my self-doubt comes in to take advantage of it. It works to sabotage all my hard work.

I believe self-doubt is our unconscious form of self-preservation. In our minds, we’ve created a specific persona for ourselves. It’s how we see ourselves interacting with the world and how the world interacts with us. It doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, but it’s the reality we’ve created ourselves.

When we start to change this persona and bring our perspective in line with reality, self-doubt seeps in because often the gap between our reality and actual reality is painful. Many years ago, I thought about how I was in High School. I had a brief thought that I was a difficult person to get along with, which was completely counter to the fantasy I created about being bullied.

The moment I had this thought it was so painful that my self-doubt and denial quickly flooded in to soothe the wound I gave my ego. I have since taken more time to self-reflect and found that while I was bullied, it had a lot to do with me painting a target on my back. I was unnecessarily confrontational, so the “bullying” was a response to that.

When we see something we don’t like about ourselves, we are working in direct defiance of the persona we’ve built up over a lifetime of experiences. Self-doubt works to preserve that personal for our emotional well-being. It’s well-intentioned, but it can keep us from moving beyond what keeps us stuck.

Self-doubt only serves to keep us within an unhealthy comfort zone.

The Danger of Self-Doubt

Self-doubt is the motivation killer.

We have many motivational killers out there, but self-doubt is one of the greatest ones. It’s the voice we listen to when we think we’re not good enough for something, or try and eat healthy, or what keeps us from striving for more.

Self-doubt is a voice that we listen to because it is always with us. I believed my self-doubt was some otherworldly voice responding to my requests for help on something. I thought it was an inspired voice speaking to me with omniscient wisdom, so when it said for me not to do something, it clearly knew what it was saying.

No, it was my self-doubt masquerading as the supernatural to keep me from trying harder or stepping outside of my comfort zone.

You may not have an otherworldly voice speaking to you, but there’s a good chance you have some internal voice telling you what you can’t do. When you engage with this voice, it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Looking Ahead

This month will be working to address the moments of self-doubt directly. Those times where we want just to give up and not move forward because we don’t think we can. This will be last month we focus on negative things in our self-improvement journey for this year. Stick through it so we can take a couple of months of appreciating ourselves and celebrating ourselves. It will be worth it in the end.


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Featured photo credit: Canva


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Setting a Positive Example

I haven’t had a parenting post in a while, so it’s time for one. If you are like me, and a parent with a chronic illness, thoughts of “how can I be a better parent” come up in moments of self-reflection. A constant concern I have is, am I setting a positive example for Jai? Am I being a good mother, especially in the moments my illness seems to take over?

I feel like there’s a lot of expectations placed on mothers, especially on how we project ourselves in public and private. When we have moments where we are vulnerable, we get frustrated. Coupled with a chronic illness, especially invisible ones where society forgets we are ill, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

For myself, in the moments I feel overwhelmed, I feel like I struggle to set a positive example. With my MS, I feel obligated to set an example about the importance of handling things out of our control in a positive way.

When we have a Little Clone

It isn’t always the case, but have you noticed being closely aligned with a parent in personality? More like your mother or your father? Or a nice blend of both? If you are a parent, you may notice your child favors you or your partner more in personality.

This may be frustrating because two strong personalities in the same home is a recipe for conflict. But it can be a wonderful bonding experience if approached properly. The parent whom the child favors is able to identify personality quirks and be sensitive to particular needs. Rather than being an adversary, the parent can be a valuable alley within the home.

When a child is similar to us, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see our own behaviors in their purest form. Children can provide a deeper insight to ourselves.

I find that Jai teaches me how to behave better. Observing his interactions on the playground, he does not get upset when another child steals his toy. Rather than getting upset, he’ll move on to another toy. It’s an opportunity for me to learn from his wisdom: focus not on the loss of the toy, but the opportunity to do something else.

I recognize his behavior is age/developmentally based. In a few months, he may not behave so passively in a similar situation.

In those moments of adaptability, I encourage his behavior. Likewise, I want to make sure he doesn’t pick up my bad habits. Rather than swooping in and letting Jai know that something negative happened, I try to be as non-reactive to keep the situation calm and under control. My instinct is a bad habit developed over the years: take the toy back while reprimanding the offending child for not knowing how to share. This teaches Jai to be aggressive in a negative way and I don’t want to encourage that.

If Jai is upset over losing something, it is better I show him how to ask for a toy back in a nice manner, rather than fight bullying with bullying.

Setting a Positive Example to Children

Children, even in their worst moments, provide us with valuable insight to our own behaviors. They observe our every moment, behavior, and style of speech. A few weeks ago, when I braked the car suddenly, I heard from the backseat, “what are you doing?” directed at the driver causing me to brake.

I knew in that moment I needed to be more aware of the language I used while driving around the city.

Consider this: next time your child behaves in a manner you find problematic, step back and see where that behavior was modeled for them. Was it from you? A co-parent? A secondary caregiver? School? If you find that it is a reflection or response to your own behaviors, consider finding a way to change it so you model the behavior you want your child to have.

This might be particularly difficult to achieve with a chronic illness, but it is still possible. Use your illness as a teaching moment: sometimes we cannot control our own behaviors because of an exacerbation, but we are doing the best we can with what we have.

When you mess up, rather than ignoring it, sit down with a child and explain what happened. Do not excuse it. Provide a reason to your thinking and behavior, or admit you don’t know why. Walk a child through how you plan to approach the situation in the future and acknowledge that you may not remember/achieve it the next time. Admit to your imperfection, and reassure the child that it’s okay to be human but not okay to hurt others. Finally, make sure you apologize to your child if necessary.

Treat your child, no matter their age, like the human they are with all the respect that goes with it. You’ll find that the example you set, no matter when you start, will eventually payoff with some patience and compassion on your part.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


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Changing Physical Appearance with a Chronic Illness

I’ve avoided addressing the elephant in the room since I started the year making personal wellness changes. It’s a sticky subject and somewhat challenging to address when it comes to a chronic illness. Chronic illness and/or disability make any meaningful physical changes difficult (if not impossible). If you are unable to move for more than a few minutes a day, then dedicating that time to exercise is furthest from your mind. Priorities change and addressing your physical appearance can drift towards the bottom of the list.

And that’s okay. Let’s move our intention away from changing our appearance, i.e., losing weight, and refocus on being healthy. Exercising does not need to be about losing weight, but about moving to help your body heal and thrive. Weight loss can become an added bonus, but not a goal.

I started the MS Mommy Blog to be a space where I detail my wellness journey into healthy living and eating. My journey was never about changing my physical appearance, it was strictly about setting a good example to Jai and taking advantage of a positive MRI result. I accepted the following three things: I would never dip below an overweight BMI, never have a body I would be proud of, and never find a source of natural energy.

Because of MS fatigue, I had little desire to go out in the blazing Southern sun and humidity to exercise. Eating was a pleasure I gave myself, especially when I was despondent post-diagnosis. I say all of this because I understand how hard it is to take the initial steps towards making physical changes, but it is possible to start the process no matter your ability levels.

What I am about to discuss is based solely on my personal experience and I am not an expert. Because this is based on anecdotal evidence, your own results will not match mine (and that’s okay). Everyone’s path looks different and that’s okay. Speak with your healthcare professional about your ability levels and any recommendations they might have for you.

Stuck in the Body

When coping with a chronic illness, we are stuck in our bodies.

If you are reading this with a chronic illness, you know this, but I say that for the benefit of those without a chronic illness. It’s easy for outsiders to forget that we are stuck with the body we are in, particularly if our illness is invisible. It’s in those moments we get the harmful comments of: “just get up and exercise,” “it’s in your head,” or “you don’t look sick.”

Getting those comments, and living in a culture where we often ignore invisible illness, makes any desire for change discouraging. We are stuck within numb, shaking, fatigue-ridden, weak bodies that don’t listen no matter how many times we yell at it.

Being stuck in a body is discouraging, especially when you see others chase after their physical goals. Or when you see people squandering their abilities. It’s even more frustrating when you start comparing yourself to others with your particular illness and see how they are able to be active ways you aren’t.

That’s where the first change needs to occur: stop comparing yourself to others. Those with a chronic illness and those without. And you have to stop listening to what people and culture tell you (this includes this blog).

The changes you decide to make must be in your time and in ways that work for you. Do not use this an excuse to not make the changes, you do want to take time to get healthier, but do it without any expectations beyond finding a way to feel better that complements your disease management course.

Determine what you can change & what you can’t

There is so much wisdom in knowing what you can change and what you cannot. There are aspects to our bodies we cannot change unless we had unlimited income, and even that’s limited.

The key is to figure out what is changeable and what you have to accept will be a part of you unless certain circumstances change. Once you know what you can change, then you have to decide how much you want to focus on it and how much of it you’ll put into the “secondary” goal category.

Everyone can lose weight, but do you want that to be a primary goal or something that happens as a side effect to being able to move more?

For some, the idea of losing weight is emotionally painful, so that should not be the first physical goal you make. Instead, if your healthcare professional recommends moving more as a means to help manage your illness, then consider adding a fifteen-minute walk in each day and build up to thirty.

Or if you are advised to cut a particular food from your diet for health reasons, rather than seeing it as a loss, view it as a challenge to figure out how to make alternatives to your favorite foods.

When you make the changes you can and frame them in more manageable ways, you should notice secondary benefits. When I cut sugar from my diet, I was shocked at how much weight I unintentionally lost.

Choosing Health

Focusing on physical appearance and any changes you want to make is discouraging. If you had a weight loss goal for this year, are you still sticking to it? Or have you given up on it entirely?

Revisit your goal if you’ve dropped it and refocus it to be about your health. Don’t think about the pounds you want to lose, but how you want to feel by the end of 2019. Not all of the suggestions below are about weight loss, but about finding ways to adapt to your chronic illness:

  • If your illness prevents you from walking more than five minutes at a time if you can safely do it, why not see if you can add on a minute or two?
  • If your weight prevents you from doing basic chores, why not focus on one chore to do and do it well?
  • If you are mostly bed bound and you want to get more exercise, consider small hand weights or a resistance band for twenty minutes a day.
  • If you want to eat healthier, why not consider dropping one sugary or unhealthy snack in your day? If you find you’re hungry, consider adding in water or some other healthy alternative.

All of these changes are small, and if you are getting started, that’s all they need to be. For myself, I found that small changes snowball into bigger ones because I was encouraged by my results to keep moving forward.

Learning to Love your Body

Before you reach your personal health goals, the first thing you need to work on doing is loving your body as it is, warts and all. This includes accepting the chronic illness that inhabits your body. You don’t have to like that it’s there, but just accept that it’s a part of you and you need to adapt around it.

When you take the time to accept your body as it currently is, in this very moment, it takes the pressure off of yourself. When you don’t meet your goals for the day, you can say to yourself “that’s okay, there’s always tomorrow and these things take time.”

Don’t take this as an opportunity to slack off, you still want to work towards making healthy changes, but you don’t need to put as much pressure on yourself that you might feel you need.

Additionally, when you learn to love your body in its current state, you no longer seek validation from outside sources. We look to media and others as opportunities to compare and rarely do we measure up. If we have friends and family influencing our decisions because of a snarky response, we may get sidetracked.

Rather, say to yourself: I am doing this for me, I am doing this to be healthy, and I am doing this because I want to make a change. Then mentally give the middle finger to those who want to keep you down.


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Featured photo credit: Jennifer Burk on Unsplash