How to Live Well With Chronic Illness

Approximately 60% of Americans live with at least one chronic disease, such as diabetes, cancer, or heart disease. Living with chronic illness can feel challenging for many reasons, and you may struggle emotionally, physically, or financially.

While chronic illnesses may be difficult, having the right mindset, appropriate support, and healthy coping skills can make all the difference. Here are some tips to consider.

Separate Yourself From Your Chronic Illness

Your entire identity isn’t your illness, and your life is so much greater than a medical diagnosis.

You are a unique, whole person, and it’s important to be able to distinguish these other traits, values, and desires from feeling sick. Some people find it helpful to reframe their illness into saying, I have this illness, rather than, I am ill.

Others focus on integrating lifestyle changes that make them feel empowered. It can be profound to acknowledge that you can choose to take care of yourself rather than be stuck taking care of yourself.

Don’t Apologize For Your Limitations

Chronic illness can be particularly challenging for people who identify with people-pleasing tendencies or perfectionism. You may find yourself trying to “push through” your discomfort rather than honoring that you don’t feel well. This can exacerbate suffering and breed resentment.

Unfortunately, some people won’t be willing to learn more about your chronic illness or acknowledge its implications. You can’t force people to change, but you can focus on how you set boundaries and continue taking care of your needs.

You are entitled to your boundaries, and those may fluctuate throughout the course of a day, week, or year. Because chronic illness symptoms can be so erratic, it’s important that you practice self-compassion with yourself. Your emotional well-being matters. Even if you thought you could commit to a particular obligation last week, self-compassion means accepting that you might have to rescind your offer today.

Allow Yourself to Grieve While Moving Forward

People with chronic diseases sometimes ruminate about the past. They become fixated on the idea of getting “back” on track or “back” to the way things were. And while remission and recovery may be possible, chronic illness, by nature, is chronic.

It’s normal to experience a sense of grief in recognizing that your everyday life may never go back to the way it was. And while it’s important to explore treatment options and stay optimistic, it’s equally important to embrace a level of acceptance. At some point, coping with a chronic illness means recognizing that you can’t fully control what happens with your body.

Seek Ongoing Support

Managing chronic illness on your own can feel overwhelming and depressing. Even if you feel tempted to isolate yourself from others, support can help you feel less alone, and it can remind you to maintain meaningful relationships in your life.

Family members: Talk to your loved ones about how they can support you when your chronic illness symptoms flare up. Discuss how you can all work together to ensure household needs and other important tasks are addressed.

Friends: Stay in touch with old and new friends. If you find yourself lacking the energy to spend time together, discuss new ways you can remain close (i.e. regular video calls, meeting up for casual breakfasts, etc.)

Mental health providers: Therapists can provide support and coping skills to manage the emotional stress associated with chronic illness. If you are interested in exploring psychiatric medication, it’s also worth meeting with a psychiatrist.

Support groups: Joining a support group will connect you to like-minded individuals experiencing similar struggles. In these groups, you’re free to express yourself, and you may also learn new strategies for coping with your illness.

Embrace Positive Lifestyle Changes

Various changes can help you better manage your chronic illness. They might also offer a greater sense of control over your life. You can start this conversation with your doctor or therapist. But you might also begin by asking yourself, What do I need to start doing to better honor my body’s needs? What’s in my control to ensure I have more good days?

As you practice more self-care, these answers will come to you more readily. Some find they need more exercise and sleep during the day. Others realize they benefit from talking more about their feelings to family members.

How Therapy Can Help With Chronic Illness

Your physical health and emotional health are undoubtedly connected. People with chronic illnesses are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Similarly, poor mental health can exacerbate pain symptoms and discomfort.

Therapy offers a safe place to express your emotions and receive compassionate support. You are not alone with your chronic illness, and we can work together to discuss ways you can manage stress and feel more empowered in your daily life.

I am here to support you during this time. Contact me today to get started.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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