Life is full of choices. Nowhere is this more evident than in the lives of boomer women living with one or more chronic illnesses. As more baby boomers become both sandwich generationers and chronically ill, the need to understand the choices before us, and their consequences, increases dramatically.

As someone who lives with multiple autoimmune diseases marked by chronic pain, fatigue, and limited mobility, I recognize the need to choose wisely. In less than a week, I fly to Seattle to spend time with my son and his wife. A few days after my return, I travel to be with my father who will undergo high-risk surgery to reposition his stomach and esophagus ten years after another surgeon botched the job while removing the cancer from his esophagus. Within a week after my Dad’s surgery, I keynote two major speaking events. Did I mention this will all take place while I juggle a career, business, and multiple writing and speaking demands?

Sound familiar?

Make Smart Choices

For boomers living with chronic illness, even simple choices can dramatically affect the quality of lives and the lives of those they love. Consider making five simple choices that will reap big rewards:

Make self-care a priority. Exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep. Although easier said than done, these basics of healthy living are foundational to living well with chronic illness. Nurture yourself by regularly doing things that you love—read a book, meet friends for dinner, or listen to relaxing music. Know what nourishes your soul and do it. Even taking a 10-minute walk, you can reduce stress, clear your mind, and enable you to face your responsibilities with renewed strength. Just a little self-nurturing each day can make a big difference in your physical and mental health and stamina.

Line up help. Face it. You can’t do it alone. Build a network of support and resources now so they will be available when you need it. Social workers, home health services, mental health professionals, community agencies, and your local church are excellent sources of help. Be sure to share household responsibilities with family members or hire outside help. A little help can make a difference, allowing you to conserve energy and invest it in what adds meaning and significance to life. And don’t overlook the Internet and forums for information about your illness and managing it. Sometimes others living with chronic illness can offer practical suggestions that medical professionals can’t.

Pace yourself. Know what time of day you are at your best and schedule the most demanding activities during those times. Follow demanding activities by short periods of rest or less strenuous activities. For example, I know that writing demands concentration and focus, and that I write best first thing in the morning. So, I reserve mornings for writing. After a few hours, I take a break and go for a short walk. When I return, I spend more time at my desk but break in the afternoon for a power nap. It’s amazing how even a few minutes of rest can help you reenergize and refocus, allowing you to do more than you may have thought possible.

Practice your faith. It’s true. Religious faith can help us feel less pain. Research published in the 2008 edition of Pain: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain revealed for the first time that religion-associated pain resistance is linked to the activation of the brain right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), an area associated with both cognitive down-regulation of pain and reassessment of the emotional meaning of an experience. In other words, religious beliefs alter the brain in ways that change how some people respond to pain. You can read about this study online.

Write to heal. Research shows that writing about emotional experiences can result in tangible health benefits. For nearly 20 years, Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin has been asking people to write down their deepest feelings about an emotional event in their lives for 15 or 20 minutes for four consecutive days. “People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing,” says Pennebaker in his book, Writing to Heal. “Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.” According to Pennebaker, when we translate an experience into language we make the experience more understandable. He offers these tips for writing to heal:

  • Find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Write continuously for at least 20 minutes.
  • Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.
  • Write only for yourself.
  • Write about something extremely personal and important for you.
  • Deal only with events or situations you can handle now.

So pick up your pen and start writing.

If you’ve every wondered why some people handle adversity with grace while others crumble under its weight, the answer is really very simple. People who overcome extreme adversity focus on making critical choices at important junctures in their lives. In short, they make choices that breathe life into their body, soul, and spirit one day at a time. When you make smart choices that lead to intentional living, you are well on the way to living well with chronic illness.

Mary J. Yerkes is a professional life coach who provides transformational coaching to the chronically ill, women in leadership, and new and aspiring non-fiction writers. She helps motivated individuals, groups, and organizations find their purpose and live their passion. With more than 25 years' experience in the corporate world and church leadership, Mary launched her writing, speaking, and coaching career after being diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. She is passionate about helping others from all walks of life live life to the full. She is currently working on a book, When Life Hurts: Ten Transforming Choices Every Woman Can Make. Mary is a member of the Christian Coaches Network, the International Coach Federation, and the International Association of Business Communicators, as well as other professional networks. You can visit Mary online at www.NewLifeChristianCoaching.com and www.MaryYerkes.com.