Over half of adults in the United States have a chronic condition or illness of some kind. Chronic illness is a broad term, and chronic illnesses are defined by the CDC as “conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.” Although it’s by no means an extensive list, some examples of chronic illnesses include irritable bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Chronic illnesses may range significantly in symptoms, and they may impact your life in a variety of ways. So, what are the ways that a chronic physical condition can affect your mental health, and what can you do about it?
Chronic physical health conditions can be stressful and isolating. There are the challenges and symptoms that come with the condition itself, and then, there’s the fact that a lot of people feel alone in what they’re going through. Research shows that those with ongoing chronic physical conditions:
Chronic health conditions can come with a certain sense of mourning. It can feel grievous and helpless, and it can be filled with emotional ups and downs. This is just one reason why it’s so vital to spread awareness about chronic illness and how it can affect emotional, psychological, and social health. So, what can you do?
Here are some things to do when chronic illness impacts your mental health:
It can be tough to go through something that makes you feel as though you’re all alone. Finding a support group for others coping with your specific chronic illness or a group for those with various chronic conditions can be advantageous. You might be able to find these in your local area or online. Social support is shown to improve mental health outcomes in many ways, including increasing one’s ability to cope with stress and illness.
Chronic illness can impact your quality of life and the activities you’re able to engage in, making it particularly important to find joy. Whether this is through music, playing a game with friends, art, blogging, time outdoors, or something else, it’s crucial to find things – no matter how big or small – that make life better. Leisure activities support well-being, and having something to turn to for a smile can be helpful. If you aren’t able to do everything that you used to be able to do, it can be tough. Finding something new that makes you happy, or adapting old hobbies to fit your current needs, can be advantageous.
With chronic illness, some days are harder than others. There are days where your symptoms will be worse than others, and there are days when you may find yourself feeling more down than others. On these days, it’s important to be gentle with yourself and have coping skills you can turn to. This might mean reaching out to your support system, having breathing exercises that you can use during moments of nervousness or stress (if appropriate for your state of physical health), journaling, creative activities, meditation, or something else.
It’s important to have a place where you can talk about what’s on your mind. A therapist can help you find solutions and coping skills that work for your unique situation, and therapy is a confidential, non-judgmental space that’s just for you.
Chronic illness can be hard to live with. If you’re in need of immediate support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Whether you’re facing chronic illness, symptoms of a mental health condition, concerns related to interpersonal relationships and family life, or anything else that’s on your mind, a counselor or therapist can help. To find a therapist, you can ask your doctor for a referral, search the web, contact your insurance company to see what they cover, or sign up for a reputable online therapy company like BetterHelp. Online therapy is often more affordable than traditional in-person services without insurance, and it’s a fantastic way to get the support you need from the privacy of your own home or anywhere else with a reliable internet connection. The BetterHelp website features articles, FAQs, and information about therapy that may be helpful. Click here to read an article on the BetterHelp website. No matter how you find a therapist, you deserve to get the support you need.