Managing chronic illness is about a lot of “invisible stuff”.
- It is about not knowing how to explain that even though you “look good” on the outside, the pain and fatigue you feel on the inside are real.
- It is about the underlying stress you feel when you don’t 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 finding the right medical team, and often experiencing the frustration of feeling unheard or misunderstood before you finally do.
- It is about not knowing how to move forward in a way that makes you happy in a world that may not understand what you’re going through.
- And now, it can also be about hope, because your diagnosis does not define you.
Can chronic health issues impact my emotional health?
Creating a “new normal” is not something that any of us plan for. For most of us, the transitions do not happen so smoothly. When you’re managing chronic illness, you might struggle with physical or biological symptoms. These may include pain, difficulty moving or doing certain tasks, and sleep issues.
Some health complications may compromise your hopes for the future or your feelings of security, which may lead you to grieve the loss of meaningful milestones you had hoped to obtain.
Most of the time, managing an ongoing chronic illness also becomes a “family affair”. Actually, 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. But what when those closest to you are unable to help you get through, telling you that everything will be “okay”, or worse, telling you that you need to be strong and get over it.
People may begin to treat you differently or respond to your needs in ways that are not helpful, even if well-intended. On the other hand, you may experience “feeling smothered” by your loved ones, never getting enough space to breathe and be yourself.
I’m so tired of being tired.
Your body may have less energy, less ability, and less independence than it used to. In essence, you are being pulled in many directions, and they all require your attention. Figuring out what to give your limited energy to is a daily struggle that has its peaks and valleys.
Over time, these effects of managing chronic illness take a psychological toll. You may begin to feel hopeless, helpless, and sometimes, invalidated by those who love you most. These emotional internal experiences can seep into your social life, and you may withdraw from others and fear relational connection.
All of these life stressors may lead to psychological distress. Some warning signs that you or someone you love is experiencing psychological distress in relation to their 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
How can therapy help me in managing my chronic illness?
People suffering from chronic health issues are at a higher risk of developing emotional and psychological difficulties. This includes depression, anxiety, and even suicidality. Chronic anxiety can compound the negative effects on your health, as it can have an impact on your immune, nervous, and digestive systems.
With the right mindset, strong coping techniques, and strategies to manage challenges, managing your chronic illness does not always have to feel overwhelming. With the right tools in your coping toolbox, you can reach beyond just “managing”. You can take back control of your life despite your chronic condition.
Your therapist of choice will work to help you:
- Modify your reactions to pain
- Decrease or better manage your worry about medical issues
- Add new coping skills to your “coping toolkit”
- Learn techniques to help you sleep better
- Increase your resilience and self-confidence
- Navigate family and relational issues
- Be more mindful, less anxious and a strong self-advocate
Managing chronic illness is a collaborative effort… we get that.
Perhaps you are struggling to comply with taking your medication for your chronic illness. Maybe the diet that you have been recommended is strict, causing you to feel resistant or even sadness about the constraints. Or, you might have been prescribed an antidepressant that might be having a GI-related side effect by your psychiatrist, who is unaware that you are also dealing with GI-related issues such as nausea, diarrhea or constipation.
We understand that when you are managing chronic illness, collaborating with your other care providers can help us give you the most well-rounded care. It is our goal to support you in the most informed way possible.
I’m not ready for therapy – how else do I cope?
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 coping techniques specifically for 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 stress:
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 and 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 may 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 learn about the support resources 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 a full recovery of your abilities will only bring more stress and grief. Making peace with yourself will ease your adjustment.
Look ahead and make new plans
Many people struggle with dwelling in the past and grieving the dreams of 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.
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’re going through. You may also benefit from researching support groups for your condition in your area, as many primary care and hospital settings offer these to patients for free or little cost.
I’m ready to speak to someone…
Creating a “new normal” can be a difficult transition. Therapy can help you better manage the transitions. Sometimes the adoption of coping skills alone is not enough to help you deal with the emotional symptoms that so often accompany chronic health issues. It is for moments like these when professional help through psychotherapy is needed.
Cohesive Therapy NYC provides 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.