33% of British adults suffer from at least two chronic health issues. Living with a chronic illness can be a daunting experience, as it can have a profound impact on every facet of your life, including your physical, emotional, and social wellbeing.
It's not enough to just treat the physical symptoms of a chronic illness – it also carries with it a heavy emotional weight. Emotions like frustration, anger, sadness, and even grief are normal human responses to being faced with chronic illness.
It's important to recognise and deal with these feelings to maintain your psychological health.
Keep reading to discover four key ways to deal with chronic illness head-on.
1. Build a Solid Support System
Having a solid network of people behind you is crucial when dealing with the difficulties of a chronic illness.
This can be anyone, from close relatives and friends, to strangers in online support groups such as Reddit.
When you talk about how you're feeling with people who truly care, it can help you feel heard and understood.
Some tips for building a support group while dealing with chronic illness are:
- Join an organised medical support group for people with your condition. Getting together with like-minded people is an excellent way to gain perspective and peace of mind that you're not alone in your struggle. To find support groups local to you, try looking up your illness and the area where you live. For example, phrases like "London support group for Crohn's Disease" tend to yield helpful results.
- Speak with people who are candid about their health. People who are open and honest about their own physical and mental health tend to be open to others sharing in a similar vein. If you know someone who’s outspoken about their challenges, it might be a good idea to take a page from their book and join them in talking about your own.
- Talk with your loved ones about your health needs. It can be lonely and difficult to seek support from your able-bodied loved ones. However, if you're open and honest about your needs and struggles, your family and friends can better help you. If you find your loved ones "helping" in ways that don't actually help, try having a conversation with them about the ways you think they could more effectively support you. Often, people are more than happy to change than you expect – they want to help, they just don't know how!
- Seek help from others on social media who share your condition. Try doing some research on social media; odds are you'll find content creators who deal with your specific set of challenges and share about them online.
2. Seek Professional Support
Seeking out the counsel of a qualified professional can be very helpful.
A trained therapist or counsellor can help you sort through your feelings and find effective ways to deal with them. They’re trained to recognise the specific difficulties individuals with chronic illnesses face and provide support tailored to your needs.
Therapies that have shown effectiveness in supporting individuals with chronic health conditions include:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a widely recognized therapy that focuses on identifying and changing unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours. It can help people with chronic health conditions address anxiety, low mood, and stress-related symptoms.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT is a form of psychotherapy that can help you learn to tolerate unpleasant feelings and events while also taking steps to move forward in your life in a way that’s consistent with your values and goals. In spite of the constraints imposed by illness, this therapeutic strategy can help you find meaning and purpose in life.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). MBSR combines mindfulness meditation, gentle yoga, and awareness practices. It has demonstrated positive outcomes for people with various chronic health conditions, including chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune disorders.
3. Prioritize Self-Care
The person most suited to caring for you is you.
Spend some time thinking about ways that you can care for yourself and your body that will improve your overall emotional state.
For some people, it's managing their chronic pain with long soaks in the bath; for others, it's cooking tasty anti-inflammatory meals or setting aside time to journal on their own, away from the demands of life.
By prioritizing self-care, you can reduce stress, enhance physical and mental wellbeing, maintain a positive outlook, and build resilience in the face of the challenges that chronic illnesses present.
4. Nurture Your Relationships
Even the healthiest of relationships can suffer when one partner has a long-term condition.
The presence of a chronic illness often brings about changes in the roles and responsibilities within a relationship, and combined with the emotional and physical strain of having a chronic illness, it can often be too much to bear.
Owen Smith, a counselling specialist from Association of Learning, believes there's hope out there for those struggling to maintain a healthy relationship on top of managing their chronic illness. "Even the healthiest relationships have their challenges! I think being ill can place a strain on a relationship, but it can also foster resilience, understanding, and growth."
He suggested some strategies to consider if you're struggling in this area:
- Open and honest communication. Any healthy partnership relies heavily on open lines of communication. If you have a chronic condition, it's important to be open and honest with your loved ones about how it's affecting your life and emotions. Get them talking about their worries, their questions, and their emotions. Better relationships, understanding, and empathy can result from open conversation. Online counselling courses can also empower you to navigate these complex conversations and give you the tools to work through any challenges you may face moving forward.
- Set boundaries and communicate needs. Setting limits and being clear about your requirements to your loved ones is crucial. Be clear about your limitations and how you can help others, and don't be afraid to ask for what you need, whether that's more time alone to recharge or help with something.
- Education and awareness. Provide your loved ones with educational materials or invite them to medical appointments to help them comprehend your individual chronic condition. This might give them the information and confidence to be more helpful. Instruct them to research your condition's signs and symptoms, available treatments, and possible complications.
- Quality time and adjusted activities. Try out some fresh approaches to family bonding. Watching movies, playing board games, or participating in reasonable hobbies are all great ways to spend time together and adapt activities to your talents and energy levels while still fostering connection.
Chronic illness takes a heavy emotional toll, and it's not uncommon for people to experience extremes of anger, wrath, despair, and loss. The emotional journey of living with a chronic illness can be complex and unpredictable.
Maintaining one's mental health necessitates being aware of and managing one's feelings.
In addition, it’s important to:
- Build a solid support system
- Seek professional support where necessary
- Prioritize self-care
- Nurture your relationships
While the challenges may be significant, remember that you have the power to cultivate resilience.
"Strength doesn't come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn't." - Rikki Rogers
You’ve got this!