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Coping with the Emotional Impact of a Chronic Illness

Being diagnosed with a chronic condition can feel stressful and overwhelming. Learn to recognize and cope with potentially harmful negative emotions.Being diagnosed with a chronic condition, such as heart failure or neurological disease, can be stressful and overwhelming. Your body may not be as capable as it was previously, and you may be expected to give up favorite foods or alter your daily routines as part of your disease management. In the face of such changes, feelings of grief, sadness, or uncertainty are normal. But if these negative emotions don’t fade as you progress in your treatment and learn to self-manage your condition, they can turn into more troubling issues.

As many as one-third of patients with a serious illness show symptoms of depression. However, just because a condition is common doesn’t mean that nothing should be done. Your emotional state is tied to your physical well-being, so taking care of your emotional health can be just as important for chronic disease management as medication and lifestyle changes. Read on to learn about the dangers of persistent negative feelings, and discover some steps you can take to help counter these troublesome emotions.

Worrisome Feelings

The following are some of the most common negative emotions that patients can experience when first learning about their chronic illness. In the long term, persistent feelings like these can have an adverse effect on your health.

  • Depression: If you feel low or hopeless, if you struggle to maintain interest, or if you no longer get satisfaction from things you used to enjoy, you may be suffering from depression. This is a common medical condition, and nothing to be ashamed of. Counseling and/or medication can help, so don’t hesitate to approach your doctor or clinician if you feel depressed.
  • Fear: When the future is uncertain, feelings of fear are to be expected. Your best defense is to better understand your condition and what you can do to improve your health and minimize risks, which can help you avoid envisioning worst-case scenarios.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety can make you restless, irritable, or tense, and possibly even lose sleep. At its most extreme, anxiety can take the form of a ‘panic attack,’ which can make you feel short of breath or sweaty, or cause you to have chest pain or irregular heartbeat. Relaxation techniques and/or anti-anxiety medication may help.
  • Anger: Feeling angry or upset about the changes in your health is not uncommon; however, excessive anger can be dangerous because of its effect on heart rate and blood pressure, especially for patients with heart disease. If you regularly experience rage or lose your temper, explore techniques to step back and avoid a blow-up.

Tactics for Coping

Many negative emotions can stem from uncertainty, so a major way to diminish these feelings is to seek understanding. Learn what you can from reliable sources, ask questions, and do the best you can to manage your condition. A support group may be a reassuring place to talk about your feelings and be heard by people who have shared your experience. If you’re feeling especially stressed or rundown, handing off some responsibilities may help you to focus on your health. You can also try relaxation techniques, meditate, pray, listen to music, exercise, start a hobby, or call a friend. The possibilities are endless, so seek out the tactics that work best for you.

If you feel like negative emotions are interfering with your outlook, well-being, or day-to-day life, share your feelings with a trusted loved one or a clinician instead of keeping them to yourself. Depression, anxiety, and similar feelings may be common in chronic illness, but they are separate from the disease, and working to reduce them can have benefits for mind and body alike. Speaking up about any struggles you may be having can be the first step toward solutions that could help restore quality of life and allow you to get better accustomed to a new normal.

To determine whether you or your loved one might benefit from home care services from Residential Home Health, call (888)930-WELL (9355) to discuss your specific situation with a Home Care Specialist today, or click the link below to take our 15-question, 60-second Home Care Assessment.