Chronic Illness: Successful Coping Strategies
The key to coping successfully with a chronic illness is to acquire the right mixture of practical skills and mental attitudes. By combining these, you can promote a positive, realistic approach to your illness.
Attitudes for Successful Coping
Advice about maintaining a positive attitude may seem inappropriate or even infuriating when you’re in pain or exhausted. But there are certain attitudes and beliefs that have been associated with people who cope well with chronic illness. These include:
- Live for today, and one day at a time, not in the past or the future.
- Treat problems as challenges to be overcome.
- Take pride in your achievements in overcoming problems.
- Accept the illness and reject “why me?” questioning.
- Know about your condition and take responsibility for it.
- Be willing to use all the resources at hand for help.
Daily Living Tips
Being organized, setting realistic goals and prioritizing activities will go a long way to helping you cope well on a day-to-day basis. Decide what is really important and what can slide. Then live your life as fully as you can. Don’t try to do too much and don’t feel guilty for tasks not completed. Here are some tips you may find useful:
- Seek help as soon as you feel unable to cope.
- Allow flexibility and extra time in your plans.
- Take tasks that require concentration slowly if necessary.
- Find things you enjoy and find the time to enjoy them.
- Get your medicines and routines organized and written down.
- Do your most difficult tasks at the time of day you feel best.
- Recognize that your capacities may vary – what’s possible one day may not be another.
To stay as healthy as your illness allows, you also need to watch for warning signs. Stop and rest as soon as you begin to feel tired, and don’t do too much when you begin to feel better. In other words, learn to read your body and its messages. Keeping a journal of symptoms, feelings and activities will help you understand your body and your illness, as well as help you remember questions to ask your doctor.
For relationships to be successful and satisfying during this difficult period, you must be prepared to ask for what you need and be specific. You may dislike being a burden on others, but let willing friends and family take the strain and give you a break, especially when it comes to family responsibilities. Here are some tips:
- Get help from as many resources as you can.
- Help to educate your friends and family about your illness.
- Try to enjoy the company of others.
Chronic Illness and Your Emotional Health
Coping with a chronic illness presents many challenges. The illness itself may cause physical or mental disability, not to mention pain and fatigue. These, in turn, can lead to emotional health problems, such as stress, anxiety, depression and even grief.
Chronic illness can damage your self-image, leading to withdrawal from society, isolation and depression. You may become anxious and uncertain about the future, worrying about physical or financial difficulties down the road. Or the illness may stop you doing what you once found important or enjoyable, causing grief for the changes in your lifestyle and environment. For some, these emotional issues can have just as real an impact as the illness itself.
Self-Talk and Your Emotional Health
The first step in avoiding or reversing the emotional health problems that can often accompany chronic illness is to recognize and reject any negative thoughts that you may be having. It is not uncommon to experience feelings of denial, anger, worthlessness, resentment and loss of control as you come to terms with your illness.
However, a careful examination of your condition will show that you are still a loved and valued family member with lots to offer – despite the illness. Positive, reasoned self-talk can help you overcome negative thinking. Here are some attitudes that can prove helpful.
- Don’t blame anyone for your illness.
- Judge success as taking care of yourself well.
- Enjoy small pleasures when you recognize them.
- Know that you are not defined by your illness, or by what you can or can’t do.
- Remember that your value and worth have not decreased due to your illness.
Signs of Depression
Depression is a common and often unrecognized side effect of chronic illness. It may be hard to distinguish between a normal reaction to your illness and depression, so watch for these signs:
- Changes in mood
- A sense of hopelessness about the future
- Negative, critical feelings about yourself
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Suicidal thoughts
Physical symptoms can also be a sign of depression, not just of your illness. These may include:
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Loss of interest in sex
- Loss of energy and tiredness.