Being diagnosed with a long-term health condition can be frightening and disorienting. Once you move beyond the shock of the diagnosis, you have to learn how to deal effectively with the daily stresses of living with the illness.
Everyone is susceptible to the effects of stress. However, living with a long-term condition makes you particularly vulnerable. In addition to challenges you normally face, chronic illness adds new layers of stressors, such as:
- pain or discomfort from symptoms
- managing the condition and care
- adjusting to new limitations
- increased financial pressures
- 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 guide you on your road to coping and regaining control.
Become a Self-Manager
Studies show that those who serve as day-to-day managers of their illness have improved quality of life. Daily decisions that affect your actions and lifestyle can play a large role in how effectively you circumvent stress. For example, eating nutritious foods and getting enough exercise can help boost mood, improve mobility, and ease symptoms.
However, taking control of your management goes beyond the basics of living a healthy lifestyle. Pay attention to additional considerations, including managing your attitude, emotions, and relationships.
Attitude and approach can also make a big difference in your quality of life. It’s important to have a healthy acceptance of the lifestyle changes your condition requires. It also requires confidence in your ability to work 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 figuring out what works best for you. You’ll be better able to manage challenges as they arise.
Understand Your Condition
When you’re living with a long-term condition, it’s 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. The library, Internet, and associations for specific conditions are all excellent resources to increase your knowledge base.
Observe your body. Notice what seems to ease or exacerbate your symptoms. Use a notebook or calendar to record insights that might help you manage your symptoms. Share your notes with your doctor so that your healthcare team knows exactly how your condition affects you.
Manage Emotions and Relationships
The all-encompassing nature of chronic illness and its disruption of life and plans can elicit a wide range of emotions. These responses include:
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 or stretching
- listening to music
- deep breathing or meditation
- writing in a journal
- spending quality time with family and friends
Relationship management is also important when you have a chronic condition. You may find that you have limited energy, and may benefit from focusing on relationships that are most important to you. Release relationships that add more stress than support to your life. Making smart choices about where to focus your time and energy can help you live your best possible life.