How to Cope With a Chronic Health Condition
Our world is plagued by a plethora of chronic diseases, ranging from diabetes and AIDS to arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome. And although modern medicine has had a great deal of success in treating the physical manifestations of chronic health conditions, those in a constant struggle with health issues often face psychological and emotional problems.
One of the most overwhelming and frightening things that come with a diagnosis of a chronic illness is the uncertainty associated with it – a condition can linger on a mild stage over time, or it can accompany a person throughout their life, gradually worsening the state of health.
And while recognizing your health issue and accepting the fact that you might take certain medications for the rest of your life is already enough to give up, you might deem it's impossible to maintain a positive mindset while sticking to treatment.
In fact, nothing's lost – you can learn to adjust to your chronic condition and get on with your life. Here are some helpful coping strategies:
Get Familiar With Your Health Condition
When facing something you'll be dealing with throughout your whole life, it is essential to learn as much as possible about it. First of all, the more you know about your health issue, the more capable you'll be to understand what is happening in your body, as well as the origins of it. Secondly, being aware of possible symptoms and understanding the course of the disease will make you more equipped to handle it.
Make sure to direct your questions to your doctor first, and do not hesitate to discuss your concerns with them as well as the rest of the medical staff involved in your treatment. However, it is better to avoid googling your illness straightforwardly – there are tones of false information out there, and diving into it will only increase your anxiety levels. Instead, it would be better to ask your doctor for reliable medical online sources and stick to them if you want to conduct more in-depth research.
You may also want to study how your treatment should work from a doctor's perspective – don't be afraid to ask detailed questions about medications; ask them to explain how particular pieces of medical equipment work. For example, here you can find an operative table description (or other tools) created for medical workers – a great way to check how well equipped is the hospital where you'll be treated.
Mind that too much information can also be overwhelming, so keep your research moderated and refer to verifiable medical sources only.
Beware of Depression
Over time, stress and negative emotions associated with a chronic illness can deprive you of the emotional energy necessary for maintaining active and successful life. In addition, a lack of progress in treatment or worsening of symptoms are the most frequently occurring factors that may lead to depression.
Since depression often leads to poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, and negligent hygiene, it makes it even more difficult for a chronic patient to recover and worsens his overall physical condition.
It is known that the highest risk of depression is noted in the first two years after the diagnosis of chronic disease. Physical limitations associated with chronic issues, such as heart disease, lung disease, or arthritis, are another common source of depression, especially in older people. Thus, it is crucial to start treating a depressive episode as soon as the first signs arrive.
Cultivate Emotional Resilience
You need to create a positive yet realistic approach to deal with the psychological and emotional difficulties entailed by chronic disease. At first, it may seem that it is simply impossible to adapt to the changed state of health and feel happy again, but this is a negative mindset you can try and get rid of.
If you feel like your struggle with chronic disease has eliminated all the positive aspects of your life, you may want to consider attending therapy sessions. Working with a qualified psychologist will help you develop the emotional resilience necessary to overcome the difficulties you're facing.
Moreover, together with your attending physician, they will develop an individual strategy that considers both your medical restrictions and emotional needs to help you overcome this depressive episode healthily. This strategy may not only increase the effectiveness of the treatment but also bring back a sense of fullness and joy of life to you, regardless of any physical limitations.
Do Not Isolate Yourself
Being tight with a disease for life might feel like nobody can understand you and even make you feel lonely. As a result, many people isolate themselves from others and close themselves off even more. However, it is not helpful behavior and will only entail more anxiety and loneliness to your struggle.
For these reasons, you need to maintain close relationships with family and friends. In addition, many health organizations sponsor support groups for people suffering from the same diseases – consider finding one in your local area. Participation in such groups not only allows you to get help yourself but also provides an invaluable opportunity to help others.
Moreover, you should try and continue leading an active lifestyle – work, travel, perform household duties, find time for new, fulfilling hobbies. This gives life stability and meaning amid the chaos and uncertainty caused by chronic health problems.
Concentrate on Changing Your Lifestyle
Chronic patients have to adjust to numerous lifestyle restrictions – most probably, you're not an exception. Usually, they range from quitting smoking and drinking alcohol to sticking to a balanced diet to getting more physical activity, plus some individual changes – or all of these at once. And while those limitations may accumulate, creating even more pressure in an already stressful situation, you can become less and less encouraged to attempt any of these changes.
However, a better solution would be to perceive them as a positive spin on your lifestyle and overall well-being, not incarceration. Besides, if those changes were pointless, your doctor would not have suggested that you incorporate them into your routine, right? Hence, investing your time and putting effort into developing new, healthier habits will reward you with a more manageable health condition – and longer life.
It might not be obvious to you yet, but you are not your illness. And while this may sound strange or even weird, here's a quote from Julian L. Seifter, M.D. you need to hear next: “You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle.”
That being said, stay consistent with your treatment – but don't forget to live.