March 01 2010 1:00 AM ET
'I'm having one of those days when the world feels like it's crumbling around me. I know you're supposed to be able to live with a certain amount of uncertainty when you're HIV-positive. I feel it every time I have my numbers checked. But I pick up the newspaper, and I'm automatically stressed-out. This can't be good for my health.'
This lament from a client of mine, who I'll call Sarita, describes how a lot of people think these days. Trying to stay focused on the bright side can feel like an uphill climb when we are all living with so much upheaval in the world. Who isn't worried about the future?
And as Sarita said, living with HIV means being aware of the importance of maintaining an optimistic attitude. But what do you do when everywhere you look the evidence of uncertainty seems to be staring back at you?
>Gather your fan club. One of the lessons of uncertain times is to build a solid support system. Who are the people in your life who help you bring out your best self -- and who rely on you to do the same for them? Make sure you keep them close. Spending some time with your fans is a good way to help you keep your focus on what's going well in your life right now.
>Keep antidotes for negative self-talk handy. When you tell yourself how scary and bleak the future looks, you are training your mind to focus on the negativity. Chances are that your view of reality will match your expectations. But like any poison, negative self-talk will shrivel away when zapped with your most powerful antidote: positive self-talk.
>Remind yourself how you've met challenges in the past. Start your list of antidotes with your greatest successes. Don't forget your key skills and abilities. Here's one to add to the list: resilience. You have faced at least one life-altering challenge -- your HIV diagnosis -- and moved forward with your life. So you know you have what it takes to meet the next challenge.
>Embrace your 'higher power.' Believe in something beyond the bad news and the day-to-day setbacks. Your higher power can be found through a spiritual or religious practice, or it might be found in simply trusting in your own inner strength.
>Nothing is guaranteed, except this moment in time. Give up the struggle to be in control. You can't go back and fix what you did or didn't do in the past. You can't control the future. And you certainly can't control what anybody else is doing. But you can be certain about doing the best you can for yourself -- and the people you care about -- right now.
With all of these resources, how bad can things be? Take a deep breath and go with the flow.
McClain is a licensed counselor in New York City with a speciality in coping with chronic and life-threatening health conditions. His books include The Complete Idiot's Guide to Breaking Bad Habits and Empowering Your Life With Joy, and he is a frequent contributor to health-related publications. He is also on the board of directors of Miracle House, a nonprofit that serves patients and caregivers who are visiting New York City for HIV or cancer treatment. He welcomes e-mail at Gary@JustGotDiagnosed.com.