Dealing with Chronic Illness

Being diagnosed with a long-term health condition can be frightening and disorienting. Once you move beyond the initial shock of your diagnosis, it’s helpful to learn how to cope with the daily stresses of living with your illness.

Everyone is susceptible to the effects of stress. However, living with a long-term condition can make you particularly vulnerable. In addition to the everyday challenges that most people face, chronic illness adds new layers of stressors. For example, you may need to:

  • cope with pain or discomfort from your symptoms
  • take steps to manage your condition and practice self-care
  • adjust to new limitations that your condition puts on your life
  • manage increased financial pressures
  • cope with feelings of frustration, confusion, or isolation

You can take steps to maximize your quality of life and minimize the challenges of living with a long-term illness. Use the following strategies to help you cope and regain control.

Understand Your Condition

When you’re living with a long-term condition, it can be helpful to learn everything you can about your symptoms and treatment options. Ask your doctor specific questions about your condition, but don’t stop there. Your local library and patient associations for specific conditions are excellent resources for increasing your knowledge base. You can also find information online, although some sources are more accurate and reliable than others.

Observe your own body too. Pay close attention to what seems to ease your symptoms or make them worse. Use a notebook or calendar to record trends and other insights that might help you manage your symptoms. Share your notes with your doctor so your healthcare team can better understand how your condition affects you.

Become a Self-Manager

Serving as the day-to-day manager of your own health may help you gain a sense of control and improve your quality of life. Following your recommended treatment plan may help keep your symptoms and stress in check. For example, it’s important to take prescribed medications as directed and attend scheduled healthcare appointments. It may help to set up a reminder system in your calendar, daily planner, or smartphone.

Other daily decisions that affect your actions and lifestyle can shape how effectively you circumvent stress. For example, eating nutritious foods and getting enough exercise may help boost your mood, improve your mobility, and ease your symptoms. You should also take steps to manage your attitude, emotions, and relationships.

Manage Emotions

The all-encompassing nature of chronic illness, and the ways it disrupts your life and plans, can elicit a wide range of emotions. These responses may include:

  • stress
  • grief
  • rage
  • fear
  • depression
  • anxiety

Experiment with different ways of managing stress and painful emotions. When you find a technique that works, incorporate it into your daily or weekly routine. Some ideas include:

  • exercising
  • stretching
  • listening to music
  • deep breathing
  • meditation
  • writing in a journal
  • cooking
  • reading
  • spending quality time with family and friends

It may help to schedule time in your calendar for regular breaks and self-care.

Manage Relationships

Relationship management is also important when you have a chronic condition. You may find that you have limited energy and time available for socializing. Some friends or family members may not understand the challenges you’re facing.

Making smart choices about where to focus your time and energy can help you live your best possible life. Focus on the relationships that are most important to you. Let go of relationships that add more stress than support to your life.

Develop Adaptability

Attitude and approach can make a big difference to your quality of life. It’s important to develop a healthy acceptance of the lifestyle changes that your condition requires. It also helps to develop confidence in your ability to live within these constraints.

You can take control of your life in ways that make a difference to your everyday experience by approaching your condition with adaptability and confidence. Develop new skills and habits and take a problem-solving approach to figure out what works best for you. You’ll be better able to manage challenges as they arise.

The Takeaway

Living with chronic illness can be stressful, but you can take steps to manage your condition and maintain good quality of life. Learn as much as you can about your illness and treatment needs. Be proactive about following your treatment plan and leading a healthy lifestyle. Make time for activities and relationships that leave you feeling happier and supported, while avoiding people and things that stress you out. By adjusting your expectations and practicing self-care, you can make your health and wellbeing a priority.