The experience of managing an ostomy or chronic illness can be a lot to handle. Add in the demands of family and work from our busy lives and it all feels totally overwhelming. Nowadays, "stress" seems to be a normal part of life. It might seem like there’s nothing you can do about it but you have a lot more control than you might think. Here are eight tactics to help you deal with ostomy overwhelm.
1. Know how long things take
I’m notorious for assuming tasks take much less time than they actually do. For instance, I’ll block out 15 minutes for a pouch change and then my stoma decides it's going to take 30 minutes. I’ve learned this simple rule: whatever time you think a task will take, double it. That way, when your stoma suddenly acts out, you’ll feel prepared because you know there's extra time to apply the wafer properly. We all know that rushing a pouch change = leaks = more stress!
2. Simplify your life
Is your life too complicated? Take a few minutes and look at everything you do in a day and ask yourself if there's a better, easier way. This may involve saying "no" to things you've planned. Your to-do list is probably making you anxious and stressed and overwhelmed. Technology can help us organize our lives when it comes to ordering ostomy supplies. Many medical suppliers offer automated reordering and there’s also a handy app called Ostobuddy which alerts you when you're running low or when to refill a prescription.
3. Start daily habits
One of the most important things you can do for yourself is self-care. As soon as I wake up, I start each morning with a hydration routine. Next, I might take vitamin supplements if I’m not eating well. Then, I'll pack healthy snacks for the day ahead and always carry my water bottle. I make sure to change my pouch prior to eating breakfast and make sure I carry extra supplies in my purse. These daily habits allow me to feel prepared for the day. If you’re not a morning person, you can plan these things the night before.
4. Allow for Murphy’s Law
No week is complete without something going wrong, just plan on it. Take for instance that terrifying feeling of your ostomy appliance coming loose and the bag splashing onto the floor, or a very inconvenient leak at the shopping mall. Allow time in your schedule to prepare an emergency kit with extra clothes and ostomy supplies — always carry it with you! You’re better off knowing these things are readily available just in case you need them.
5. Be kind to yourself
If you’re having ongoing issues with your ostomy, this kind of overwhelm can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. This is not the time to beat yourself up. It’s extra important to pay attention to your mental radio and turn down the volume on your inner critic station. Practice self-compassion by giving yourself some credit for everything you’ve been through. Read inspiring stories about ostomates who've been through similar things. Self-love is so important.
6. Lean on others for support
The first step is being honest. If you're living with chronic illness or an ostomy, and it's a lifelong condition, then you need help. Brene Brown found through her research that people tend to feel shame around the idea of "never being enough" ... at home, at work, never smart enough, never good enough ... it's no wonder so many of us don't bother to ask. Do not feel guilty about asking for help. When you ask in a considerate way and understand they may need to say no (see #2), there's no hurt feelings. It can be something as simple as a friend bringing a meal over if you’re tired, or help with ostomy supplies if you're paying out of pocket. Never let your pride get in the way of asking for help when in desperate need.
7. Dump all your feelings onto paper
When you’re fed up with your ostomy, sometimes taking time to write down your frustrations can help. I give my patients journals to help with this. One of my favorite assignments is having them write a letter to their ostomy, expressing all their truest emotions and thoughts — the good and the bad. Ranting is welcome but including gratitude and appreciation is the key to acceptance.
8. Connect with others who understand ostomy life
There are many ostomates who have gone before you, and many yet to come. It's very helpful to connect with others going through similar experiences because we can all learn from each other. If you want a pen pal friend, Girls With Guts has a program. UOAA has over 300 local support groups. There are private Facebook groups for online support, and of course many ostomates are on Instagram and Twitter. Don't underestimate the power of peer support.
THE RULES: Just pick ONE (maybe two) of these tips to try today. I don't want you to become overwhelmed using them all!