Chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s, accompany the person throughout their life. When people hear that they are being diagnosed with a chronic illness, the news immediately changes the way they see themselves and their lives. No one can determine with certainty how and at what rate the disease will progress. The plans for the coming days and years are affected. The weekend trip, the degree, the relationship, the family, the career – all are painted with uncertainty, even if the illness does not really affect these areas.
Uncertainty, physical symptoms, declining abilities, economic threat and changes in relationships can impair psychological resilience. The emotional consequences can lead to loneliness, alienation, disconnection and also a lack of motivation to respond to medical treatments, function in daily life and reach one’s personal potential. Helplessness, frustration, hopelessness, sadness, resentment, anxiety, intolerance, guilt, stress and anger are normal reactions as part of the mourning process and acceptance of the disease at the end. However, it should be ensured that these responses serve the process and advance the diagnosis towards a quality of life alongside the disease. We have compiled some tips that will help moderate the negative psychological reactions and speed up the acceptance process:
Learn about the disease
It is important to recognize that the psychological responses to the diagnosis of a chronic illness are to your subjective perception, which tends to be catastrophic in stressful situations. Knowledge can balance your perception, strengthen your coping skills with the disease and help relieve fear and anxiety. Information from the medical and nursing staff, from people with a medical condition similar to yours and from controlled sites will help correct the extreme vision and will be able to guide you to proper coping. Do you need to look at a carer to help? In this case, you should consider live in carers to assist you.
Contact support groups
Support groups provide tailored information that helps dispel some of the uncertainty that characterizes the early stages of a disease. Sharing with people like you, will help to understand that you are not alone in the battle and that there are effective ways to deal with the disease. Reducing feelings of loneliness and uncertainty will make it easier to cope with the disease, as well as knowing that there is a community to support when needed. Today, in addition to traditional support groups, there are also virtual support groups too.
Exercise is a very effective tool in managing stress. Using the body will help you “release steam” and soothe stress and anxiety and will help increase the sense of control over the body. Exercise also contributes to better sleep and can reduce from the fatigue that characterizes some of the chronic diseases. There is a mistake that in the (distant) past was also prevalent among medical staff because people with chronic illnesses should not engage in physical activity because of fatigue, weakness and pain. The contribution of physical activity to the patient’s physical and mental condition is now known and validated, especially for those with a diagnosis of chronic disease. If in doubt, ask your doctor about physical activity and if necessary contact a physiotherapist or fitness trainer who will guide you to an activity that is right for you, taking into account existing limitations.
Take care of yourself
Maintain a healthy routine, ensure proper eating, maintain your appearance, maintain a proper sleep and exercise – all of these will help you cope with the disease physically and mentally. Do not immerse yourself in thoughts and close, it is time for distraction and engaging in things that amuse and reassure you, especially those whose past experience has proven to be such.
Share your feelings
Sharing feelings and thoughts with others will probably make it easier for you. Find the right people with whom you can share what’s on your heart. The decision of who to tell is only yours, just remember that keeping a secret requires an unnecessary investment of energy. If you have difficulty telling your relatives about dealing with the diagnosis, share it with the attending physician or medical psychologist in the ward where you are being treated. Sharing allows others to listen and reassure, and helps put fears and anxieties in proper proportions. In the early stages it is difficult to see that the sensations are temporary and an external factor is often needed to help zoom out.
Do not ignore depression
On average, about a third of people with chronic illnesses will also suffer from depression (statistics vary depending on the disease). Studies have shown that the symptoms of depression most often appear in the first two years after the diagnosis of the disease. It is important to note that although there is a close connection between the mental state and a chronic illness, these are two conditions that need to be treated separately. A mental problem should not be seen as a “legitimate” phenomenon following the diagnosis or chronic illness. Distress, stress, depression and anxiety are reactions that require treatment and if necessary treatment, as early as possible.
Seek professional help
If the emotional reactions to the diagnosis overwhelm you, impair your ability to manage the disease and function in daily life, and the strategies mentioned earlier do not help you – seek professional help. You can contact a psychiatrist, medical psychologist or social worker directly at the place where you are being treated or in the community. A conversation with a professional, who knows and understands the processes a person goes through after diagnosing a chronic illness, can help in coping and may help change the thinking style. These conversations can be focused on the current coping, shorten the disease acceptance processes and prevent complications and aggravation in the physical, mental and social condition alike.
Keep in mind that this can be a turning point
Getting a diagnosis of a chronic illness can be negative, for obvious reasons, but not all people respond that way. Among some people, receiving the diagnosis is the end of a period of exhausting uncertainty, after expert visits, tests and hypotheses about their medical condition. Beyond that, there are people who find the diagnosis as an opportunity to make a change in their lives. There are many cases of people who changed their career path, lifestyle, got in shape and promoted their mental well-being following the illness. Accepting the diagnosis can be a “turning point” and become a point in time from which the future will be re-evaluated and significant changes will be made to make it better.