Why can coping with a chronic illness be so difficult?

When you are ill with an acute illness such as bronchitis or the flu, you recognize that you will feel better and back to normal within a short period of time. A chronic illness, on the other hand, is different. A chronic illness may never go away and can disrupt your life and your family’s life in a number of ways.

What are some effects of a chronic illness?

In addition to disease specific symptoms, people commonly complain of invisible symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and mood disorders. Pain and fatigue may become a frequent part of your day.

Physical changes from a disease may affect your appearance. These changes can turn a positive self-image into a poor one. When you don't feel good about yourself, you may prefer to be alone and withdraw from friends and social activities. Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are common complaints of people with chronic conditions, but they are extremely treatable.

Chronic illness can also influence your ability to work. Morning stiffness, decreased range of motion, and other physical limitations may force you to change your work activities and environment. A decreased ability to work may also lead to financial problems.

If you’re a homemaker, your work may take much longer to do. You may need the help of your spouse, a relative, or a home healthcare provider. As your life changes, you may feel a loss of control, anxiety, and uncertainty of what lies ahead. In addition, there may be role reversals in families, as family members who were once stay-at-home now have to go back to work, due to their significant other’s inability to work.

Stress can build and can shape your feelings about life. Prolonged stress can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and, at times, depression. The person with the illness is not the only one affected; family members are also influenced by the chronic health problems of a loved one.

If I have a chronic illness, how can I make my life better?

The most important step you can take is to seek help as soon as you feel less able to cope. Taking action early will enable you to understand and deal with the many effects of a chronic illness. Learning to manage stress will help you to maintain a positive physical, emotional, and spiritual outlook on life.

A mental health provider can design a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. These strategies can help you regain a sense of control and improve your quality of life—something everyone deserves. If you are suffering from depression, your doctor may prescribe medications to help regulate your mood and make you feel better.

What kind of help is available for someone with a chronic illness?

There is help available for people suffering from stress due to chronic illnesses. These include the following:

  • Support groups: Support groups are a useful sharing experience. They provide an environment where you can learn new ways of dealing with your illness from other people’s coping strategies. You may want to share your own approaches, too. You will gain strength in knowing that you are not facing hardships alone.
  • Individual counseling: Sometimes people have problems that are better addressed in a one-on-one setting. By taking part in individual counseling, you may more effectively express sensitive or private feelings you have about your illness and its impact on your lifestyle and relationships. There is a specific group of trained of mental health providers who have extensive training in coping with chronic illnesses.
  • Family and couples counseling: A chronic illness often affects the entire family. It is important to find a family or couples-trained mental health provider, who can help to address this dynamic issue.

When should I seek help to cope with my chronic illness?

The following is a checklist of the sources and signals of stress that you may experience with chronic illness. Seek help from a mental health provider as early as possible to help you understand and cope with your illness better.

Your sources of stress:

  • Chronic illness
  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Unpredictability of the disease
  • Disability
  • Financial difficulties

Stress symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Tension
  • Headaches
  • Cognitive issues
  • Difficulty in relationships

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