Dialyze to Live, Don’t Live to Dialyze

by Lauren D. Vazquez, PhD

Dialyze to Live, Don't Live to Dialyze

Coping with a chronic illness like end-stage renal disease is stressful. Dialysis schedules, fluid restrictions, and multiple medications are only a few of the stressors you deal with every day. You might start to feel that instead of “dialyzing to live,” you’re just “living to dialyze,” and wonder whether being entirely consumed by what you have to do is worth it. This can happen all too easily when your life becomes centered solely on your physical health. Most people expect to have a stressful day once in a while. But if you’re coping with a chronic illness, one stressful day can easily turn into an endless series of stressful days, and soon you could find yourself no longer enjoying life the way you used to. When this happens, it’s important to break the cycle of bad days by helping the good things in your life become enjoyable again.What I’m advising is improving your quality of life. It’s easy to become preoccupied with quantity of life—a measurable lifespan—but quality of life refers to the personal satisfaction you derive from that life. Many people with chronic health issues find themselves frustrated because they’re just not living the way they want to. Part of the stress of coping with end-stage renal disease and dialysis involves the many behavioral and lifestyle changes that you’re required to make. Finding effective ways to deal with that stress is essential to taking control of your life and living the way you want to.

The following strategies emphasize promoting a better quality of life while coping with end-stage renal disease.

Schedule Pleasurable Events
Part of taking control of your emotional well-being involves intentionally scheduling, committing to, and following through with rewarding activities. Once you do, you might begin to notice that you feel better. Think of some activities that could help the good things in your life feel enjoyable again. What are some strategies you could use to make sure you follow through and participate in the activities you’ve scheduled even if you don’t particularly feel like it?

Maintain Physical Activity
Regular physical activity can improve your health and quality of life in a number of ways. Exercise is not only a good way to minimize stress and increase energy, it also helps regulate biological rhythms and mood and control weight. Think of some physical activities you might enjoy and some of the personal benefits you could gain from them.

Take Time to Relax
Relaxation is the act of letting go of any stress and worry you might be experiencing. Learning effective ways to relax can make you feel calmer and more serene. One way is by controlling your breathing. Focusing your attention on taking slow, deep breaths allows your mind and body to relax. You can use deep breathing in a variety of settings—during dialysis, in bed at night, or in the car. Think of some situations in your daily life where deep breathing might be helpful.

Decide What’s Most Important
People with chronic health issues have to look at life a little differently from other people. Studies suggest that those who manage to adjust actually report feeling more resilient than they did before. As Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Deciding what’s truly important to you—family, spirituality, or anything you find intrinsically rewarding—and then embracing it are vital steps toward helping you successfully navigate the stress of coping with a chronic illness and improving your quality of life. Remember, too, that coping with end-stage renal disease is a process. Using these skills should facilitate the process of adjustment and thereby improve your quality of life. Being satisfied with your quality of life is the difference between “dialyzing to live” and “living to dialyze.”

Dialyze to Live, Don't Live to Dialyze - Lauren D. Vazquez PhD About the Author
Dr. Lauren Vazquez is a clinical health psychologist at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. She earned her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Florida. Dr. Vazquez has been involved in a variety of research and has authored over 30 research manuscripts, abstracts, and book chapters spanning health psychology topics.

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