The importance of self-care in managing sickle cell disease

A holistic approach to health helps this columnist improve her quality of life

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by Mary Shaniqua |

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In popular culture, self-care often seems to be equated with indulgence or luxury, such as spa visits, retail therapy, or fine dining. But I believe this perception is flawed, and that buying into it does people a disservice.

Essentially, self-care involves looking after and prioritizing our physical, spiritual, mental, and social well-being. As someone with sickle cell disease, I believe this requires taking a holistic approach to health and avoiding stressors as much as possible.

Why self-care matters

Self-care is vital for everyone, chronic condition or not. Caring for our physical and mental health can help us better manage stress, increase our energy, and lower our risk of illness.

We only get one body, so it’s important to take care of it by making decisions that enhance our well-being.

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That said, every body is different, with its own health complications, triggers, and barometers of wellness. As such, it’s imperative to get to know your own body. You can’t apply someone else’s self-care regimen to your life and expect the same outcome.

Although some practices are generally applicable, such as eating well and exercising, the specifics will vary depending on your body and your needs.

What self-care looks like for me

Because lifestyle can have a big impact on sickle cell symptoms‘ severity, I take a holistic approach to self-care to reduce the frequency of my crises and minimize my risk of experiencing other complications.

For example, I’ve previously shared that I suffer from avascular necrosis and that I took up yoga during COVID-19 lockdowns. Although I don’t use yoga as a spiritual practice, as I have my own faith, the stretches help me prevent further damage to my body by increasing my blood flow and improving my strength and flexibility.

My other self-care practices include eating healthy and staying hydrated. It’s no secret that fluids are particularly important for those of us with sickle cell, as dehydration can lead to a crisis. And eating nutritiously gives me strength and helps me counteract the lethargy that comes with the condition. Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, so I try to prepare well-rounded meals packed with vegetables, protein, and “good” carbohydrates to keep my body as healthy as possible.

To care for my spiritual well-being, I prioritize an active prayer life, fellowship with other Christians, and frequent Bible study. These practices also help me remain optimistic and grateful.

Reading, massage, and journaling are also part of my self-care regimen. Reading helps keep my mind focused and can serve as a distraction from pain or other sickle cell symptoms. Massage can help promote blood flow and is a tool I use at the outset of a mild crisis. Lastly, journaling helps me stay organized and maintain control over all the moving parts in my life. It enables me to stay on top of my goals and priorities and manage my pain, medication regimen, and other aspects of my healthcare.

Self-care isn’t a cure for sickle cell disease, but it permits me to have the best quality of life possible.

What types of self-care do you find helpful? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Tim Conroy avatar

Tim Conroy

Mary Shaniqua,
thanks for such refreshing look at how you have been able to improve both your physical health, but also your mental health and well-being by your actions of hydration, healthy eating, and learning how signals of potential crises may be handled well enough to not hospitalize you, or require prolonged treatments that can complicate your medical conditions. It is uplifting to read your description of being aware of the reasons why you do not feel like you should or want to feel, due to changes in weather, personal illness, and knowing how being a few steps ahead of the potential complications has allowed you to maintain as much heatlh and wellness as possible. You are an inspiration!

Natalie Mars avatar

Natalie Mars

I totally agree that self-care is vital to managing sickle cell disease. Taking a holistic approach is medicine for me, it keeps me out of the hospital. Each day I Intentionally take care of my spiritual, mental, physical and nutritional health. I run/walk with a group of challenged athletes, hike, practice yoga, get acupressure massages and more. Many of the responses after I disclose that I am living with Sickle cell is, "you don't look like you have sickle cell disease". Thanks Mary Shaniqua for sharing.


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