Living with the disease: how to organize the work of the mind
Man among people
When a person suffers from a chronic disease or constantly takes care of someone close in such a situation, his brain is always busy. People spend hours organizing meetings with doctors, taking tests and examinations. It is necessary to communicate a lot with medical workers, pharmacists in pharmacies and, in some cases, with insurance companies and officials.
Caring for proper nutrition and lifestyle also takes a lot of energy, regardless of whether you have to maintain or monitor your chronically ill parent or spouse. All this is a great daily work, requiring time and energy. But if physical fatigue is more noticeable, then cognitive, mental fatigue is often not recognized until it reaches the extreme.
The psychotherapist and social worker Katie Weyrant writes about this aspect of life with a chronic disease, her or her family.
Cognitive activity is best understood as a sequence of foresight, identification, decision-making and monitoring, recalls Katie Weyrant. These stages are sequentially considered in her article in the context of life with a chronic disease.
Anticipation or anticipation – This is a recognition of an upcoming need, potential problem or opportunity. When we find out that the prescription is ending or that the symptoms of the disease are getting worse or new information is coming in about a disease that bothers us – for example, a study – we enter the phase of waiting for cognitive work.
Identification involves creating options to meet a need or take advantage of this opportunity. For example, when symptoms intensify, we think about possible solutions to the situation. We are looking for options: see your doctor, use home remedies such as rest, diet and over-the-counter medicines, or do nothing. To create options, we can interact with other people: friends, family members and experts.
Decision Work consists in determining which path to choose. At the same time, we take into account past experience, advice received, and also take into account the costs and benefits of each option.
Monitoring includes an assessment of how the decision is made according to the needs of the person who is sick. For example, we decided to wait and see if our symptoms improve with rest and diet, and after a while we check whether we feel better or worse.
Emotional Damage from Cognitive Labor
Referring to the opinion of experts, Wyrant writes: “The abstract nature of cognitive work – the absence of spatial and temporal boundaries in it – does not allow a person to experience the satisfaction that follows the completion of many physical tasks. Without a real beginning or end, cognitive work can feel like a conveyor belt without a power button. ”
The work of the mind is also invisible. Interacting with us, family members, friends and colleagues do not realize that our minds continuously anticipate, identify, define and control various aspects of our chronic disease. They may wonder why we seem tired and preoccupied. In fact, our cognitive work may be invisible even to ourselves.
We can know that we are exhausted and overwhelmed by worries. But we usually do not associate this with intense mental stress associated with a chronic illness.
Smart approach to the work of the mind
“Cognitive work is real work. When we wait, determine, make decisions and control, we spend energy, ”recalls Katie Wyrant. To get off the conveyor belt without the power button, we must first be able to notice that we are already on it. You must learn to leave, disconnect.
Are there moments in our lives when we feel careless, can we turn off our thoughts and just … be? Some people may experience this condition when they are engaged in physical activities or, for example, draw. Others are in nature or during meditation.
Weyrant recommends paying attention to the difference between our state when we are engaged in cognitive work and when not. To realize how important cognitive work is – we receive and process information that allows us to make optimal decisions regarding health. And to recognize the importance of those experiences when we are not engaged in cognitive work – we are relaxed, we enjoy pleasant sensations, replenishing our energy reserves.
“Practice the transitions between engaging and giving up the mind work associated with the disease,” says Wyrant. – Develop a system that will allow you to effectively manage this work. In particular, plan the time you devote daily to treating the disease. ” For example, you can do a scheduled check in the morning: “How am I feeling? What do I need to do today to feel good? ”
The therapist also suggests including these actions in your calendar to literally “throw them out of your brain onto paper or a smartphone screen.” In addition, according to Wyrant, it is important to share with loved ones and talk about the stresses that we experience in connection with the disease. They must understand how much time and energy this work takes.
Seeing that we are understood and appreciated by our efforts, we will be able to feel less alone. The next step may be delegation. When loved ones begin to better understand the burden we have to bear, they may be able to provide all possible assistance. Perhaps someone will figure out the prescriptions or the documents and extracts, and someone will go to the pharmacy.
In times of crisis, increased attention is focused on resolving health problems
To optimize the process, you can use planner applications together or even a good old notepad – a written list of tasks with progress marks will clearly show the current situation. Wyrant advises adding items there as soon as they come to mind so as not to miss anything and remember at the right time.
“And be sure to add the planned time there to restore your strength. It is vital to replenish physical and mental resources – take this with all seriousness, ”the psychotherapist writes. This does not mean complete idleness. Rather, it concerns the positive attention that we can give to our mind and body.
“I want to clarify,” Wyrant adds, “that these recommendations are primarily suitable for periods of relative health stability. In times of crisis, increased attention is focused on resolving health problems. However, when we are outside the crisis regime, effective cognitive work management can become a tool that reduces stress and fatigue and thus helps us overcome the crisis. ”