World AIDS Day

December 1st is World AIDS Day, and in celebration, let's shed some light for those living with HIV/AIDS. In addition to the "you don't have to do it alone" stuff, there are many practical lifestyle tips that can making living with AIDS less scary, less isolating, and actually, more fulfilling and happier. 

What is AIDS?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system, and if left untreated, can become AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) in the final stages of infection. Unlike other viruses, like the cold virus or the flu, our bodies are not able to get rid of HIV. The virus targets cells in the body's immune system, and if too many are destroyed, our bodies can no longer fend for themselves in the face of disease and  infections. Currently there is no cure, but there are treatment regimens, called antiretroviral therapy (ART). According to AIDS.gov, people diagnosed with HIV can take ART to control/prevent the virus from attacking so many immune system cells that AIDS develops. People who are on ART and who learn to adopt healthy lifestyles can actually have a healthy, normal lifespan. 

Lifestyle Changes

People living with HIV can use lifestyle changes to prevent the virus from progressing to full-blown AIDs. Take a look at the following topics: 

Nutrition 

You want to eat a healthy balanced diet, whether you are diagnosed with HIV or not. However, there are common side effects in ART that affect the nutrition you are able to absorb through a normal healthy diet, such as wasting, diarrhea, and lipid abnormalities.  You can visit a nutritionist to get a better idea of specific items that you can eat, and then visit with an occupational therapist to learn how to directly apply those "rules" to your lifestyle, i.e. what time of day to eat what, eat how much, what activities to associate eating to so that it is more enjoyable on days you don't feel like eating, etc. 

Exercise

Exercise is important in keeping your body (muscles, ligaments, joints, organs, etc.) healthy, as well as improving your mental health. Finding a good exercise routine that works for you and your lifestyle is tough work. Some questions to consider include: 

  • Do you have noise sensitivities? 
  • What types of exercise do you like to do? Outdoor? Indoor? Gym? Swim? Run? 
  • Do you have time cut out in your daily routine for exercise already? If not, where do you see yourself putting in this time? 

Mental Health

A diagnosis of HIV or AIDs, like any other chronic condition, can be very difficult to adjust to. The stigma surrounding the diagnosis can impact your daily life and mental health. Since our mental and physical health are inextricably linked, learning to cope with negative experiences and finding ways to inject positivity and hope into your daily life is important. For more support from people who are also diagnosed with HIV, you can look online for meetups and support groups. Check in with a psychologist who works with people with HIV and have some guidance as you go through the stages of shock and adjustment. Working with an occupational therapist to design a fulfilling lifestyle, routines, and habits that work for you can also benefit your mental health. 

Rest and Sleep 

Our immune systems are repaired in our sleep - with HIV, sleep becomes doubly important since your immune system is compromised. Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Check out a previous blog post about setting up a bedtime routine

Quit Smoking

With HIV, the immune system becomes damaged and needs to work hard through healthy lifestyle and ART to maintain a healthy level. Smoking interferes with our bodies' normal healing abilities. It causes lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, heart disease, and stroke, just to name a few. Can you imagine what your body is going through as its fighting these on top of the HIV? Check out AIDS.gov for more information. With DAMON, you can develop the skills to set your own smoking cessation goals and successfully quit smoking. 

An occupational therapist is one type of therapist that you can work with to create a personalized lifestyle touching upon all of the above topics that work specifically for you, your values, your roles, and your needs.  

 

Resources

AIDS.gov

HIV/AIDS Basics 

Nutrition & Food Safety

Smoking & Tobacco Use

Avert.org: Living with HIV

World AIDS Day: Think Positive: Rethink HIV 

Positive Spin on HIV : Connect to Care