A Chronic Condition Is Not Just About Your Physical Health…
It is about the underlying stress that you feel when you do not have the energy to do what you need to do that day.
It is about the feelings of guilt that you have when you watch your loved ones try their best to help.
It is about not knowing how to explain that even though you “look good” on the outside, the pain and fatigue that you feel on the inside is REAL.
It is about feeling isolated and misunderstood.
And now, it can also be about hope, because your diagnosis does not define you. If you are struggling with a chronic health issue, whether it is a digestive disorder like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), cancer, chronic pain, major surgery or long-term diseases that we have not yet found a cure for such as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis), the impact on your emotional, social and mental health is not only substantial, it is also far-reaching.
Creating a “new normal” is not something that any of us plan for, so for most of us, the transitions do not happen so smoothly. When trying to understand the complex emotional impact of chronic health issues, it may be easier to look at it from the perspective of what is commonly referred to as the biopsychosocial model:
Biopsychosocial Model | Chronic Illness | Cohesive Therapy NYC
When people experience severe and/or chronic health issues, they often struggle with physical or more biological symptoms, such as pain, difficulty moving or doing certain tasks and sleep issues. Your body may have less energy, less ability, less independence.
Over time, these take a psychological toll. You may begin to feel hopeless, helpless and sometimes, invalidated by those who love you most. You might begin to doubt or question yourself, growing more and more cynical about the world. To make matters worse, some health issues will compromise your hopes for the future and feelings of security. You begin to grieve your dream career, your future relationships, or even having time enough to live to see your children grow old.
These experiences can begin to seep into your social life, as you may withdraw from others and fear relational connection. People may also begin to treat you differently and respond to your needs in different ways. You may begin to feel that your calls or texts are being avoided by friends from whom you never would have expected such behavior, or you may experience “feeling smothered” by your loved ones, never getting space to breathe and be yourself.
These difficulties can all stem from your health issues, thereby producing additional life stressors. Some of the warning signs that someone is experiencing psychological distress due to a medical condition might include:
- Loss of purpose or meaning
- Bouts of tearfulness or sadness
- Anger or irritability
- Hopelessness or helplessness
- Isolation from friends and family
- Thoughts of death or ending one’s life
- Poor medication adherence (not taking medicine, skipping appointments, etc.)
- Difficulty with sleep
- Loss of motivation
People suffering from chronic health issues are at a higher risk of developing emotional and psychological difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, and even suicidality. Chronic anxiety in and of itself can compound the negative effects on your health, as it can have an impact on your immune, nervous and digestive systems.
In most cases, an on-going chronic illness also becomes a “family affair”, as it is almost impossible to manage without the help or support of family or friends. All too often, the need to use or gather a support system leaves you feeling anxious, depressed and guilty for “burdening” those closest to you.
Without having the right frame of mind, strong coping techniques or strategies, managing a chronic illness can feel and be overwhelming, but with the right tools in your coping toolbox, you can reach beyond just “managing” and take back control of your life despite your chronic condition.
You can cope with the stressors of having a serious medical issue in a number of ways, and certain things work better for some than others – which is why we like to tailor those specifically to each of our clients. Feel free to be creative and find what works best for you! To get you started, here are some of our go-to suggestions for managing that stress:
- Find space – Your loved ones may not be providing you with enough space to think, reflect, or be alone. You may need time to be more independent, to be your own person, all on your own. This will help you feel more connected with who you are – rather than what is happening to you.
- Be a self-advocate – Although they do it with good intentions, your loved ones may be a bit overbearing or protective in response to your condition. This means that they may be taking care of you in ways that you do not need or doing things that you could do for yourself. Try to be your own advocate and try to do everything that you can to learn about the support resources that are available to you and how to get access to them.
- Adapt and accept – Find ways to adapt and compensate for your new ability level, but also give yourself compassion for the things that are now beyond your reach. Longing and yearning for full recovery of abilities will only bring more stress and grief and making peace with yourself will ease your adjustment.
- Look ahead and make new plans – Many people struggle with dwelling in the past, grieving over the future they once had. Although the pain of this loss can take time to fade, you can find some relief by looking to your future and finding things to work towards – no matter how small.
- Open up – Talk about your thoughts and feelings to a trusted loved one. Many of the people around you want to be a support, and you can unload some of your stress by sharing what you are going through. You may also benefit from researching support groups in your area for your condition, as many primary care and hospital settings offer these to patients for free or little cost.
Creating a “new normal” is not something that any of us plan for, so for most of us, the transitions do not happen so smoothly. Sometimes coping skills alone are not enough for dealing with the emotional symptoms that so often accompany chronic health issues, and it is for moments like those when professional help through psychotherapy is needed.
We provide individual and family therapy for adults who struggle with chronic illness or chronic health issues because, no matter how bad things get, you deserve to have a hopeful, meaningful and joy-filled life. It is an honor for us to help our clients learn how to create and live their lives to the fullest. That is our desire for you- what is YOUR desire for you? Let’s start there.