6 Tips For Knowing When to Change Your Course With Chronic Illness

Patient Expert
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When you live with a chronic illness, certain changes can help you feel better. Whether it is a change in medication, a new exercise (emotional, mental, or physical), or a new diet, you may question whether what you are currently doing is actually working.

How do you know when it's time to move on to something else? Here are some tips to help you know when to change.

  1. Create realistic goals. If you know where your destination is, your journey can be one of anticipation and empowerment. Think of it: you most likely wouldn’t set out for the airport without a place to go, because how would you know where you would end up? The same is true for change. We need to know what we want to achieve first to know whether to stick with our current behavior or change course. We need to pick our destination city, as it were, to fly to in our journey of chronic illness so we arrive where we want to go.
  1. Patience and perseverance. Yoda, the Jedi Master from the Star Wars movies, has some sage advice for you on this subject: “Patience you must have, my young padawan.” In this instant gratification world, we tend to forget that we did not develop our condition overnight. We need to learn to be patient and wait for results. It might take days, months, sometimes even years! But if you have realistic goals in mind, your patience can be rewarded with the outcomes you’re seeking. I recently read an article that suggested taking time out of the equation. It takes as long as it takes. This is not so easy in the middle of a turbulent flare-up. You want relief – stat! When it comes to the efficacy of medications, your doctor can provide you with a timeline on how soon you can expect a change for the better, based upon typical responses of the people who have taken a particular treatment. Keep in mind that you are unique and may have a different response to a treatment than the “typical” person.
  1. Time required. As mentioned, change takes time. Some of you may even give up because you haven't noticed a habit change, as promised by the popular belief that it takes 21 days to change. Unfortunately, this is a myth that has persevered since the 1960s. It can take people far longer (and sometimes shorter!) times to create real change. Everyone is different. Be patient. Break down your goals into small, manageable chunks. You want to make them so easily actionable that you achieve success. Success then leads to trust and belief, which can spur you on to make further changes.

  2. Forgetting when all is well. I once had a client who came to me for stress coaching. In our third session, he told me that he didn't think the techniques I had him practice for his anxiety were working. Five minutes later, he said he could now sit through and enjoy a full professional hockey game. Normally, he'd be checking his escape route and sweating more than the players. “So, these techniques aren’t working, eh?” (I'm Canadian!) When an issue is resolved, you tend to forget how much it impacted you at its worst and move on with your life. You may not think something isn't working, when in fact, you're well on your way to feeling better.

  1. Nocebo/placebo effect. The placebo effect is defined as the beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment that cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, which is often administered as sham surgery or sugar pills. The nocebo effect refers to the negative effects of a drug or treatment. For example, if a person is cautioned about the side effects of a drug or treatment plan, some patients actually begin to exhibit those side-effects. Both of these effects have to do with expectation. It is helpful to be aware that your beliefs can have an effect on the outcome, so being as positive as you can (while also being realistic) can increase your chance of success.

  2. The benefit of questions. Get good at asking yourself “Green Light Questions” – these open-ended, positively-worded questions drive you forward. Be sure to quiet your mind to listen to the answers. Some sample questions to ask yourself:

  • How is this helping?
  • What subtle changes do I notice?
  • Am I feeling better, emotionally, mentally, and physically?
  • If I'm not seeing immediate results, are my expectations off, my goals too big, or is it simply not working?

Ultimately, if you're looking for a definitive answer of when to stop, start, or continue a particular treatment or practice, the best place to turn is to your heart.

See More Helpful Articles:

Stress: It's in You to Change

Signs You May Need to Change RA Treatments


Marianna Paulson is known as Auntie Stress. On her website, you'll find links to her two blogs, Auntie Stress Cafe and the award-winning, A Rheumful of Tips. When she is not helping clients (and herself) address stress, she keeps active by swimming, dog walking and taking frequent dance breaks when she is working on her computer.