How to Seize the Day When You Have a Chronic Illness, Autoimmune Disease, or You're Just Plain Exhausted!
Three little words: seize the day. They seem so empowering…but when you have big dreams and long to-do list, the fatigue, brain fog, and low mood that can flare up with exhaustion or chronic illness (chronic Lyme, Vector-borne illness, autoimmune disease, hypothyroid disease, adrenal fatigue, etc.) can feel absolutely crippling - especially during the onset or a relapse.
Honestly, just thinking the words “seize the day” can be exhausting and just getting out of bed or showering, let alone doing anything, can seem impossible.
I know from personal experience that there are real days where it feels impossible that anything good or productive will happen.
But that’s a lie.
In the course of my journey, I’ve found three common lies have prevented me from seizing the day. Flipping them to the corresponding truth has helped me still “seize the day” - it just might look a little different than I thought it would when I woke up!
I’m hoping they can help you too.
NOTE: There will be some days where the most productive thing you can do is to stop fully and completely and give yourself permission to rest and heal. In fact, when you’re on a healing journey, you won’t be able to force yourself through recovery like a battering ram. Healing and self-care aren’t given a lot of value in our culture, so we are predisposed to see it as step backward when in fact it’s a powerful step forward.
LIE 1: YOU ARE WHAT YOU DO.
The first critical step to "seizing the day" when you're having a bad day is to shift your mindset. If you’re only thinking about what you aren’t getting done, I promise you that nothing will get done.
I have to admit that productivity is a huge part of my personality.
I feel the most alive, useful, and powerful when I’m getting stuff done. So getting hit with a day of exhaustion and brain fog literally rocks me to my core and, especially in the beginning, it was highly depressing.
I had to learn to silence that inner critic that kept telling me that I was failing by not getting anything done. At its core, the inner critic berating you for “not doing enough” has fully wrapped up your worth in what you DO. That is a lie.
TRUTH: Your worth isn't what you do. It is who you are.
Every time this lie creeps into your head – and believe me, it can repeatedly do so – come against it with the truth. “I am not what I do.” Speak it out loud with power and conviction if you need to.
LIE 2: GETTING MORE DONE EQUALS SUCCESS
A lot of people equate seizing the day with achieving a long to-do list. The MORE you get done, the more you seize the day and set yourself up to succeed.
If fact, if you didn’t do a whole bunch of MORE, did you really seize the day?
When you’re in the middle of a relapse with chronic fatigue, Lyme disease, autoimmune disease, or a chronic illness, etc., MORE is your enemy.
But it is also everyone’s enemy.
We are willing to work ourselves into exhaustion completing a long list of little things.
Instead you have to carefully choose your win for the day.
This is best done using what’s known as the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule.
In general, the Pareto Principle today is the observation that most things in life are not distributed evenly. That means you won’t get the most momentum from doing MORE because impact is not evenly distributed.
One hundred percent of what you do does not create 100 percent of your success. Instead, a much smaller percentage of what you do (20 percent) really creates success and 80 percent does not. Of course that number fluctuates, but it shows that there are actions that are more powerful. Those are the actions you need to focus on.
I honestly took a decade to learn this and to start looking for the high-impact actions. After college I worked my to-do list into exhaustion. I replied to every email, overworked the smallest project, and never said “No.” I was busy, but looking back, I wasn’t overly successful. I majored in minor things big time.
TRUTH: One win every day will still move you forward.
And it could potentially move you forward even more than doing a hundred tiny, yet exhausting things. Just sit with that for a minute. What small tasks have you been berating yourself for not doing that really won't impact your life?
Take your limited energy and apply it to that one task you've deemed important. The good news is that is can often create momentum and energy to do a few more tasks, but it is OK if it doesn’t.
LIE 3: YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING BIG TO GET STARTED.
We celebrate small steps here at SHE because our society really does overlook the power of a single choice and a simple step. So on a bad day, find that one step you can actually take to get started, but more importantly, find the step you can do immediately and quickly.
Be willing to mentally go through a whole list breaking a task down further and further into smaller and smaller pieces until you find the step that isn’t overwhelming to you and can be done using the “5-Second Rule.”
Mel Robbins first shared the idea in a TedX talk that went viral (millions of views around the world).
In short, when you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.
That’s where breaking down your tasks and goals into small steps that your brain cannot resist is key.
Make it so you can do something immediately.
If you want to cook a healthy dinner, immediately walk over to the fridge to see what you have there or open an app to look at recipes. If you want to write an important business email, immediately think of one sentence you want to say or open your email and start a draft. If you want to take a walk, immediately put on your shoes.
And then celebrate taking that first step.
You’re getting your body and brain in motion and including positive reinforcement.
Taking the day - and every project - one step at a time will be your biggest ally. After all, as Confucius said, “The woman who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."
I actually love the advice from “Eat That Frog” to do your hardest thing first - but this assumes that you’re at your best in the morning, which isn’t the case with a chronic illness. So be patient and remember there are 24 hours in a day. Just because you’re having a bad morning doesn’t mean you’ll have a bad afternoon or evening. (And....it's ok if you do by the way. Don't create pressure in your mind that your afternoon or evening have to be amazing or that pressure will exhaust you too).
Truth: Every step counts, no matter how small. And small steps can lead to BIG things.
I hope these simple steps will help you start replacing the lies with the truth.
No matter what lie(s) you may be experiencing – even one not discussed above, use these three keys to break the lies and get momentum:
1. Awareness. Start teaching yourself to notice the negative thought train you’re on and the lies you’re telling yourself.
2. Make the switch. Once you are aware of the negative lie, don’t let yourself complete the thought and put a period on the end. Whenever possible, replace the negative thought with a positive one. It can take practice, but I promise, your brain learns to look for the positive thought and that has a powerful impact on your energy and mindset in the long-term.
3. Speak the truth with authority and conviction. Even if you don’t mean it, add the physical tone and posture of confidence to trigger your body. In the middle of switching from the lie to the truth, lift your chest (even when lying down) and lengthen and strengthen your body.
From there, take it one day at a time and give yourself plenty of grace!
Above all, know you aren’t alone in feeling exhausted or overwhelmed. Believing you are alone or that no one understands is also a lie. Community is powerful and important.
My sister Jennifer and I have both worked to live full lives despite at times having crippling chronic illness. We’ve seen each other at our WORST. The pull-the-covers-over-your-head, can’t-even-move, can’t-think-clearly, you feel-terrible worst. And yet, we’re able to support each other on those bad days and that’s powerful. This is why we started SHE Changes Everything. To not only share everything we have learned to continuously heal and support our bodies, but to also cheer you on as well, so join the SHE Community on Facebook for daily support and encouragement on your healing sustainable, healthy, ethical journey or follow us on Instagram for daily encouragement and tips.