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Coping Emotionally

Living with a chronic illness can make you feel fearful, angry, frustrated, down and even depressed. Living with environmental sensitivities (ES) can also make you feel like your life has been “turned upside down,” especially if you have lost your ability to work, can no longer socialize outside your home or perform routine tasks, like grocery shopping, due to triggering agents in the environment. Developing coping strategies and getting the emotional support you need and deserve will not only help lift your spirits but should help promote your physical well-being as well.

When you first develop ES, you may feel out of control, particularly if you aren’t sure what substances are triggering your symptoms. Consider keeping a diary in which you keep track of your activities and note your symptoms in relation to your exposure to various substances. This will help you determine which substances you need to avoid. It will help you make changes at home, at work, to your diet, etc., and will help you regain a sense of control.

If there are many things you need to change, it can seem overwhelming. Try to set priorities and realistic timeframes for making changes. If there are people around you who are willing to help, this will also help make the tasks seem less daunting.

Listening to Your Body

Think of your symptoms as early warning signals that let you know when your body is being overburdened by substances around you. If you can remove yourself from the triggering agents when the symptoms start, and stop and rest, you may be able to avoid developing further symptoms.

Social Support

Isolation is often one of the most difficult aspects of having a chronic illness like ES. Your friends, family and colleagues may not understand what you are going through. Your sense of isolation may be compounded by health professionals who do not see your illness as “real” and may not be supportive because there are no consistently abnormal objective physical findings or laboratory tests that "prove" you have a "real" disease. Developing skills to deal with the reactions of others is also a crucial part of coping with ES.

The first step in helping others to understand your condition is to educate yourself, and then educate them. Explain how you’re feeling and be clear about what your limits are – what you can and can’t do at this time.

Many people find that joining a support group, to connect with others who have ES, is helpful. Building a group or community of people who understand and care can be energy well spent: a support group can provide you with emotional and moral support as well as useful information. If you cannot leave your home or find a tolerable space to meet, you may want to network with supportive others over the phone or online.

You can also join the Environmental Sensitivities, CFS, Fibromyalgia discussion group on this website.

When socializing, you may wish to have family and friends come to your home, rather than going to their homes, as it is easier to control your own environment. Ask visitors, in advance, not to wear scented personal care products, freshly dry-cleaned clothes or clothes freshly laundered with scented detergent or fabric softener.

If you have severe symptoms, when you do go out, it may help to have someone accompany you in case your symptoms are triggered when you’re shopping, at the movies or on another outing.

Spiritual Support

Some women find that engaging in activities that cultivate their spiritual growth, such as prayer, yoga, religious services or meditation, is helpful.

Taking Action

Once you start to feel better, you might choose to become active in making environmental changes in your community to prevent others from becoming ill or to help others who have ES. Find out what groups are working in your community to create safer, healthier environments.

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Environmental Sensitivities

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Living with ES

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Coping emotionally

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