Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in survival mode? Living with a chronic, painful condition like IC sometimes means that we go into survival mode, handle the tasks right in front of us that HAVE to be done and count the minutes until we can sit in a comfortable seat with our heating pad or ice pack. Some days are just like that and that’s OK, but we don’t want to get stuck in survival mode, because it takes a toll on our mental health. Coming up with some daily routines can be a helpful way to approach our days proactively so we can thrive and not just survive.
Why routines are important
While some people are more drawn to routines than others, making even a loose routine can be incredibly beneficial in numerous ways. Having a routine can lead to less stress because you have a plan for getting things done and know they will be taken care of.(1) Reducing stress not only improves your mental health, but your bladder health as well since stress can cause an IC flare. Having a routine can also lead to better sleep, since you are maintaining a schedule, and that leads to better health.(1)
Routines can also help us implement healthier habits like exercising or food prepping.(2) Let’s say you want to start a fitness routine of regular walks or stretches. Making it part of your routine will mean that it won’t take long until you just do those things without thought, sort of like brushing your teeth.
Another perk to routines is that we become more efficient as a result. By having a routine, we have to do less planning and can get more accomplished. For IC patients who have a limited amount of energy and ability (especially during difficult flares), anything that can help us be more efficient is a good thing!(2)
Perhaps most importantly, routines give us self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment. They can help us to achieve our goals, which always feels good!(2)
But routines and schedules only have those positive effects if we develop plans that are realistic and work for us.
Start your day positively — and keep it that way.
As you’re considering how to best approach your days while living with IC, you’ve got to get off on the right foot. Starting each day with a positive mantra or prayer can be helpful to get you in the right mindset for the day. Though thinking positively won’t cure your bladder, the Mayo Clinic says positive thinking reduces stress and can improve your health.(3) It takes practice, but small shifts in thinking can turn negative thoughts into more positive ones.
For example, instead of “This is too complicated,” think “I’ll try it from a different angle.”(3) Or instead of thinking, “I can’t do things the way I used to before IC,” try “I have learned to do things differently now and can still do many things.”
Positive thinking can also lower depression and distress, increase your life span, improve your cardiovascular health, boost your immune system and enhance your coping skills during difficulties.(3)
Another way to shift to a positive mindset is to intentionally focus on the good things, even the small ones, instead of the negative.(4) For example, instead of focusing on how many medications you have to take, focus instead on how thankful you are for the help they give you (even if it’s minimal), that you can afford your medicines or that you have a doctor willing to work with you to find a treatment plan that helps.
Surrounding yourself with positive people can also help you maintain a positive mindset.(4) Some people are just prone to being negative and complaining. Those people tend to bring others down with them. Others are more positive and will lift you up, even when you are struggling to stay positive.
Finally, keeping a sense of humor can help you stay positive and not focus on the negative.(4) I had a professor in college whose mantra was “If you’re going to laugh about it later, why not laugh about it now?” Pretty good advice!
Prioritize your tasks.
As you start to think about a routine or schedule, or even just your daily to-do list, prioritizing your tasks helps greatly. This is especially true for IC patients who can wake up feeling OK and by afternoon be in lots of pain. Having your tasks in priority order of what has to be done and what could possibly slide is incredibly helpful.
You can start by making a list with different categories, which could include daily tasks, weekly tasks, tasks with deadlines, someday tasks, monthly tasks, etc.(5) Once you have everything in front of you, you can more easily identify what tasks need to be done first. And that can help as you plan your schedule and routine. Some tasks are going to set their own priorities and be no-brainers that you probably don’t even need to write down, but you do remember that they need done. Things like preparing food, doing laundry and caring for your children must be done, so if that means other tasks have to wait some days, then so be it. Or if it means you need to ask for help to get all of your tasks accomplished, do so!
Set realistic goals.
As you’re coming up with your plan of what to do for a day, a week or a regular routine, be realistic in what you can do. For example, I used to clean my whole house on Saturday mornings. But now doing that is too much for my body to handle, so I break it up into smaller tasks throughout the week instead. While I’d love to set my goal to do deep cleaning for hours in a row, I know that I can’t do so and would just be setting myself up for failure. And that only serves to make me feel worse and not better!
Consider the acronym SMART when setting goals. You want to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. You’re much more likely to achieve a goal that has been well defined.(6) Just make sure that you think of what is realistic for you and consider breaking larger goals down into smaller, more attainable ones.
Life definitely can get in the way of our plans, even for those who don’t have a chronic illness. Sometimes our routines and schedules get shifted in ways beyond our control. Other times we make plans and then have to change them when we wake up with an unexpected raging flare. Having flexible in your routine is a necessity. In fact, as you are planning, think about what could interfere with the plans you’ve made for the day and how you might resolve those issues.(7) For example, if you have planned to walk around the block for some exercise and sunshine, think about what you might be able to do instead of the weather doesn’t cooperate or you wake up in too much pain. Maybe you can do indoor laps around a mall with bathrooms nearby or walk up and down the stairs at home a few times.
Plan for healthy choices.
Part of your routine, plans or schedule needs to daily include healthy choices. Allow yourself time and energy to prepare fresh foods that are good for your health and your bladder as often as possible. Schedule time to get in some gentle exercises that are bladder friendly like walking, yoga or using the rowing machine. The healthier your body can be, the better you will feel, even in spite of your IC.
Celebrate even small successes.
We need motivation to keep going with routines, schedules and new habits. Having big goals that you wan to accomplish is awesome, but finding smaller parts that you can celebrate is just as important. If your plan was to clean your house over the course of a week, take time to recognize the bathroom you were able to clean today. If your goal was to lose 25 pounds, celebrate when you’ve lost 5. Focusing more on what you have already done and less on what you still have to do will help improve your mental health and keep you motivated as well.
Our brains actually release chemicals that give us a feeling of pride and happiness when we acknowledge even small accomplishments.(8) So embrace the success to feel better and stay motivated!
Partner with a friend.
Similar to the benefits of a support group, finding a friend to be your accountability partner can help keep you on track to living more purposefully. You want to find either a fellow IC patient with similar goals or someone who understands a bit of your health struggles. Find a way to connect that works with both of you. Maybe you email once a week with how you’ve lived purposefully that week. Or maybe you meet for lunch once a month to talk about your goals and what you’re doing.
No matter how you connect, having an accountability partner makes you work harder at your goals (because we don’t want to look bad to others), gives you someone you can bounce ideas off of and motivates you to follow-through and honor deadlines.(9) Another bonus of working with a friend is that you can learn from each other what works and what doesn’t.(9) Let’s also not forget that you can encourage each other to keep going on hard days and remind each other to give yourselves grace during flare days.
- Northwestern Medicine. Health Benefits of Having a Routine.
- Skilled at Life. 18 Reasons Why a Daily Routine is so Important.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-Talk to Reduce Stress. Mayo Clinic. Jan. 21, 2020.
- Alton L. 7 Practical Tips to Achieve a Positive Mindset. Success. June 28, 2019.
- Larkin E. How to Prioritize Your Tasks. The Spruce. Updated June 1, 2019.
- Sabell H. 10 Steps for Effective Goal Setting: Set and Achieve Goals. The College for Adult Learning. Nov. 18, 2016.
- Stelter G. Manage Chronic Conditions by Making an Action Plan. Michigan State University. Nov. 8, 2018.
- Marchal J. How to Celebrate Small Wins to Achieve Big Goals. LifeHack.org. Last updated Feb. 6, 2020.
- Scott SJ. 7 Benefits fo the Accountability Strategy. Developing Good Habits. Last updated Jan. 30, 2020.