6 Habits That Will Make You Feel Sicker Than You Really Are
Do you have an illness? I don’t mean the ordinary kind of illness like the common cold or the stomach flu. I mean the punch-you-in-the-gut-and-kick-you-in-the-teeth kind of illness.
Do you want to feel sicker than you really are? I can help you out with that.
I don’t want to brag or anything, but let’s just say I’m a bit of an expert when it comes to feeling sick.
After all, I spent almost 3 years of my early 20’s being sick with cancer. I was physically ill, no doubt about it, but with the help of a few habits, there were times where I felt a lot worse than I really was.
You want to know how I did it? Today I’m going to share with you 6 tried-and-true tips from my experience that will for sure make you feel sicker than you really are in no time.
6 Tips That Will Make You Feel Sicker Than You Really Are
1. Dress Like You’re a Patient
When you were little, did you ever play dress-up? How did you feel when you put on a costume? I remember every time I donned my cape and toy sword (I had wanted to be the female version of Robin Hood), I would instantly feel more powerful.
For a long time, I thought this was just my childish imagination. But as it turns out, there’s some science behind it.
In a well-known experiment, researchers found that participants showed better performance on attention-related tasks when wearing a lab coat—attire that’s typically associated with doctors.
I experienced this effect in the most profound way when I was 19.
I had gone for a blood test one July morning to check if my hormones were out of whack and that afternoon I was hurried to a nearby hospital by a worried doctor who suspected that I had Leukemia. I ended up staying at that hospital for the next month and a half.
I was unprepared, to say the least. In one day my life went from the beach, ice cream, and summer breeze to blood tests, scans, and biopsies. So in that frantic period of time, I happily ignored one line from the “words of advice” that were written on a poster in every patient’s room.
“Try to wear your own clothes.”
Who had the time to worry about laundry?
So instead of wearing my own clothes, I wore the impossibly baggy, hideously green hospital gowns day in and day out. And guess what? It didn’t take long before I started to feel like I wasn’t myself anymore.
Things became even worse when my hair started to fall off. I became so foreign to myself that I would jump back whenever I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.
Who is this person? This bald, pale lump of flesh with sunken eyes and a hunched back, dressed in a washed-out green gown that hid every curve on her body.
I could not bear to look at myself.
When I finally left the hospital, I was a completely different person.
I was 15 pounds heavier, bloated, and on the edge of depression. I told myself if I ever needed to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time again, I would give that line in the “words of advice” a shot—I would wear my own clothes.
Two years later, I had to stay in the hospital for an extended period once again. This time I did wear my own clothes.
Almost magically, I felt more energetic, more confident, more like myself. I didn’t feel as sick as the first time around even though I was going through a much tougher regimen of treatments.
Things were going well and then one day, I ran out of fresh laundry. In desperation, I looked over at the green hospital gowns, and thought: “well, can’t hurt if it’s just for a few days.”
Ohhh boy, was I wrong!
During the few days that I wore the hospital gowns, I slipped back into the state that I was in two years prior—exhausted and withdrawn. Once again, I started to lose my sense of self.
The effect was so obvious that it prompted my mother—who had originally wanted me to keep wearing the hospital gowns so that she didn’t have to worry about doing my laundry—to bring a huge bag of clean clothes for me.
As someone who has been there before, I tell you, dressing like a patient really is the quickest and easiest method to get you feeling a lot sicker than you really are. If you don’t have a hospital gown handy, any clothing that would deprive you of your own identity would do the trick.
2. Stop All Your Normal Routine
If you want to feel sicker than you really are, stop everything you’re doing now. I mean everything.
Don’t get out of bed at the time you usually get out of bed in the morning. Don’t listen to your favourite music playlist like you’re used to doing on your way to work or school, or play with your children after they’ve come home from school. Don’t even think about these things.
Instead, throw all your normal routine out the window and give up total control of your daily life. Why? When we stick to a routine—such as getting up at 6 a.m. every morning to walk our dogs—we create a structure around our lives. And structure promotes predictability.
Predictability reduces uncertainty in our lives, and that in turn lowers our stress. Now stress, my friend, is what you want to have if your goal is to feel sicker than you really are.
Having a routine will also make you feel more in control of your life.
After all, it takes tremendous self-control to repeat our daily rituals, whatever they may be. The feeling that we’re in control is crucial to our health. Without it, we can literally wither away. But the feeling of control is a terrible thing to have when you actually want to feel sick.
In fact, the feeling of control is said to be the number one contributor to happiness.
Now why in the world would you want happiness?
The more you disrupt your normal routine, the less predictability and sense control you will feel in your life. And as a result, the more stressed and unhappy you will be.
If just feeling sicker than you really are isn’t good enough for you, and you actually want to incur real damage to your health, then what are you waiting for? Let all hell break loose on your normal routine!
3. Complain, Complain, Complain
If everything I just showed you don’t make you feel sick enough, try adding complaining into the mix.
Don’t be shy about it either.
Complain out loud. Complain often. Complain about everything.
From the bad pudding you had for lunch to this illness that couldn’t have come at a worse time—nothing is off limits. Just go at it as if you’ve hit the complaining all-you-can-eat buffet.
Complaining releases the stress hormone cortisol.
Now cortisol, if you haven’t heard, is pretty nasty stuff. It preys on our health over time. When we chronically marinate ourselves in cortisol, we become more susceptible to a slew of diseases such as lowered immunity, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It even makes us more vulnerable to strokes.
There’s no doubt about it, complaining is bad for our health.
Now they say that if you try to shift your focus to the things that you’re grateful for—no matter how small they may seem—you will complain less. Research even shows that an “attitude of gratitude” is related to a 23% reduction in cortisol levels, among other health benefits.
But you’re trying to feel worse, not better right? So don’t ever think about the things you’re grateful for. It will only make you feel less stressed. Instead, keep on complaining!
4. Focus on the Worst Outcome of Your Illness
If you truly want to feel as sick as you can possibly feel, ignore all possibilities of a good outcome for your illness, even if the chances are pretty high.
Only focus on the worst outcome. Who cares if it might happen only 1% of the time?
For example, the first time I had Leukemia my Hematologist gave me a 60% cure rate as my prognosis.
Instead of looking at it as a 60% chance of success, I looked at it as a 40% chance of failure. Even though a voice inside my head was telling me “look! The possibility of a cure is greater than the possibility of relapse”, I brushed it aside and only listened to the voice that said: “40% is freakin’ high.”
That’s what you need to be doing if you want to feel knots in your stomach all the time: concentrate your thoughts on the worst outcome, no matter how irrational or unlikely it may seem.
This is called “catastrophizing”. It creates feelings of anxiety, self-pity, and hopelessness. It can even immobilize you from moving forward towards your goals in life.
Speaking from first-hand experience, catastrophizing works wonders at bogging us down.
There were days where I would spend all of my waking time ruminating about the future of this disease. With my eyebrows furrowed and my shoulders slumped, I did nothing but sit there for hours on end, my mind lost in a maze of negative thoughts. Eventually, I even had a panic attack.
So if you really want to crawl into bed, hide under the covers, and feel like you’re the sickest human being on Earth, I urge you to go ahead and give catastrophizing a try. Don’t even try to dispel your worries like how I did by asking myself these 3 questions.
5. Limit Contact With Supportive Friends
Are there people who are genuinely concerned about you and want to be there for you?
Don’t talk to them. Or at least, try to limit your interactions with them. I’m warning you, they will deter you from your goal of feeling sicker than you really are.
When they ask if they can come over to see you with your favourite dish in hand, and maybe take you out for a nice walk in the park if you’re up for it, just say you’re too tired. Perhaps next time. Then don’t return their calls or texts, no matter how tempting it is.
Better yet, change your number.
Because if you want to feel sicker than you really are, first you will need to cultivate the feeling of loneliness.
Loneliness—according to John T. Cacioppo, an award-winning psychologist at the University of Chicago—can raise our levels of stress hormones and lead to an increase in inflammation. Stress hormones, as I talked about earlier, are terrible for our health.
It’s no wonder then that social isolation increases our risks for illness and early death by approximately 30%.
I went through a period where I felt extremely isolated.
For almost two years after my bone marrow transplant in 2009, I had to stay away from crowded places due to a lowered immunity. While the social lives of all my friends were that of typical 21-year-olds, my social life was pathetically close to non-existent.
I remember feeling jealous when my boyfriend Tony (my husband now) went out and had a good time with his friends. I remember feeling left out, almost betrayed when I saw my friends posting pictures of our their social activities on Facebook. The loneliness cut so deep it hurt.
Those were some of the darkest days of my life. Physically, I was on the mend, but emotionally I was deteriorating each and every day.
Things gradually improved after I started going back to university, but it still took some time for me to shake off the feeling of loneliness and feel like I was connected with others again. It was a long journey for me to get back to feeling emotionally healthy.
The lesson I learned from this experience is that the level of our social connectedness plays a key role in our wellbeing.
The more connected we feel to the people around us, the happier and healthier we’ll be.
On the other hand, the more isolated we feel, the more stressed and sick we’ll be. So if the latter is what you’re looking for, then you must keep your distance from supportive friends.
6. Have People Do Everything For You
You want to feel sicker than you really are, right? Then take my advice. Don’t. Lift. A. Finger. Just have people do everything for you. Spread your self out as wide as you can on a bed, or a couch, or carpeted floor, and just tell people what you want.
In a few days, your limbs will feel like overcooked spaghetti. You will feel lethargic, lightheaded, and maybe even sore. This is a good sign that you’ve done it—you’ve achieved the goal of feeling sicker than you really are.
Remember that lengthy hospital stay that I told you about earlier?
When I was finally given the okay from the doctors to leave the hospital for one day—something I had been begging for for days—I came back to my hospital bed within 15 minutes. I couldn’t even walk a block down the street without holding on to someone, gasping for breath. I felt like a giant marshmallow, all mushy and fragile, wading through a thick marsh of hot chocolate.
How did I get from being relatively fit (I had even tried out for a dragon boat racing team just weeks before my diagnosis) to this?
Sure I was battling a serious illness, but most of it was my own doing. I had lost all my muscle strength by practically living in the hospital bed for a month. Why? Not because I was so physically ill that I had to stay in bed, but because I was, well um, lazy.
That’s right. L-A-Z-Y.
I had learned very quickly after being diagnosed with my illness that people were eager to do things for you.
You want a glass of milk? Sure, let me warm that up for you. You need another blanket? Sure, let me get that for you.
It was so easy to just lay there and do nothing while people—family, friends, nurses—went out of their way to get whatever I asked for. A part of me even enjoyed the attention. I happily parked myself in that bed and did nothing but watch television all day, every day, under the guise of “resting”.
But there was a consequence to too much “resting”.
I gained 15 pounds in the span of a month and went from a driven, vibrant university student to a needy, frail patient who struggled with some of life’s simplest tasks like taking a shower. I was tired and achy all the time. I started to not being able to sleep.
It got to the point where I had to ask whoever was the nurse on duty for sleeping aids every night so that I could fall asleep. And Benadryl was my drug of choice.
I learned later that too much “resting” is bad for you.
Our bodies are designed to move, and when we don’t move enough, negative effects known as “deconditioning” of the body, can seriously impair our health. Our muscles waste away, we get fatigued more easily, and we’re at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.
Sounds like everything you would possibly want when dealing with an illness right?
If You Want to Feel Better, Try These Habits Instead
If your goal isn’t to feel sicker than you really are, then you have to ditch the 6 habits in this article and instead, do the following:
- Dress in clothes that reflect your personality and identity
- Try your best to stick to a normal routine
- Adopt a problem-solving mindset instead of complaining
- Focus on the positive outcome
- Surround yourself with supportive people
- Do as much as you can yourself to maintain independence
If you do the above, I promise you will feel better in no time.