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Mindful sickness

When you are ill it is easy to let all common sense go out of the window. However, it may just be the most important time to put your mindfulness skills to the test. Being mindfully ill ensures that you recover quicker and are less likely to suffer from added complications.

I am fortunate that I am not often ill. I have a couple of lifelong conditions, but seasonal bugs often pass me by. 

Not this year!

This year I got flu. Which would be bad enough, but flu turned to bronchitis. Now I want to just qualify here that I’m not talking about a bad cold. I’m talking about bone aching, fevers and shivers, don’t get out of bed for several days, flu. To make it all the more interesting. We all had it; my son was a few days ahead of us, then my daughter started and hers turned to pneumonia, then my husband started and just as I thought I might escape I fell a victim too!

You might be wondering what the difference between being ill and being mindfully ill is by now so let me explain.

I know many people who have been ill recently and their approaches have differed greatly. Many people approach illness as an inconvenience. They fill themselves with as many pain killers as possible and try to keep functioning as normally as possible. Others brave it out and refuse to take medication but still eat and drink and try to function as usual. Some head straight for the doctors at the first sign of a sneeze and others refuse to see anyone even when it is apparent that they are really very ill.

Mindfulness in Sickness

By being mindfully unwell you listen to your body

You hear what it needs and you follow its advice. When I was first ill this time I had a fever. Now I was brought up by the daughter of a nurse so I’m not lacking in basic medical knowledge and one of the things I was told from an early age was “feed a cold, starve a fever”. Well, this is ok in principle but I like my food, in fact, I have to eat regularly otherwise I am prone to sudden drops in blood sugar and fainting. It takes a lot for me to stop eating. However, about 12 hrs into my fever I lost all my appetite. People were encouraging me to eat but I knew that it wasn’t what my body needed. I made sure I kept drinking, and drank things like smoothies with as many vitamins and nutrients as I could but I also drank my body weight in hot honey and lemon. That was what my body needed.

I ate very little for almost 4 days in the end but I kept drinking.

When I did feel able to eat again, once the fever had broken I listened to what my body wanted to eat. My husband was trying to get me to have soup but I didn’t fancy soup. What I really fancied was a prawn mayonnaise sandwich. The worst thing for me to want because we didn’t have any prawns in and I knew going and buying one would mean wheat bread (which my body doesn’t tolerate well). But I went out and got one, and some crisps, and it was the best sandwich I have had for a very long time. I ate all of it, after days of not eating, and it hardly upset my stomach at all. From that point onwards my appetite returned. Even now after almost a week I’m still listening to what my body wants to eat and being gentle with myself.

Paying attention to your body

The other main aspect of mindful illness is paying attention to how your body is feeling. Allowing yourself to truly understand where you hurt, what type of pain it is and trusting your instincts about what to do about it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t take any painkillers while I was ill. I did. I took painkillers at night for two nights having already given myself healing for several hours to try to relieve the pain and not making much impact. The first 48hrs the flu gave me the most horrendous headaches – and I’m used to headaches – I wouldn’t have been able to sleep without a couple of paracetamol. However, while ever I can possibly bear the pain, I try not to take painkillers as it numbs my ability to hear my body’s messages.

“A little bit of what you fancy does you good.” 

Marie Lloyd

Vaudeville Singer

Listen to your body

For me it is important to notice changes in how I am feeling and that it hard when you are numbing all pain. For example I know the exact point my flu became bronchitis because I had been two days fever free and suddenly I had a fever again, but it was a different type of fever. The first fever I had been shivering and under blankets despite feeling warm to touch. This time I felt warm and I was warm. I was taking layers off and wanting to cool down. These subtle differences told me that this was not simply the same illness finishing a cycle, this was different. It was at this point I decided it was sensible to see a doctor.

It is also important to listen to your body when it comes to resting. Often we become ill because we are run down and haven’t been resting sufficiently, but dosing yourself up and pushing through you may prolong your illness. If your body is telling you to rest, then rest. Grab a blanket and a good book, or put on your favourite Netflix treat and enjoy being able to rest. You will recover more quickly, no matter what, if you just rest.

Now I know I have focused on my recent illness to illustrate my point but the general rules apply whatever ails you.

Let’s have a quick recap:

  • Listen to your body
  • Eat what your body is telling you to eat
  • Drink plenty of fluids – always!
  • If your body is telling you to rest, then rest.
  • Don’t numb yourself so much with painkillers that you can’t hear your body’s messages. 

Finally, take care of yourself. It is easy to feel guilty because other people are looking after you, but you would do the same for them, and you can’t take care of anyone if you are ill. Be grateful for any help you are given and that you have people who care enough to look after you. Being ill is never fun and almost always comes with frustration at changing plans, lost opportunities and letting people down, but the more mindfully ill you can be, the quicker you will recover.

*If you are concerned always seek medical attention. Often by listening to what your body needs you can recover more quickly from every day illnesses but if you have any concerns always get professional advice.


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