For the past month I have been dealing with a chronic back problem from an old injury during my hospital nursing days. When it first began I just thought it will be better soon just like all the other times. But this time it’s been different. The pain more severe and lasting a lot longer than in the past. It got me to thinking about maybe it’s not going to go away or at least not going to go away quickly. Then I thought about all those other people who deal with long term chronic illness. So how can you or I improve our lives when the condition turns chronic.
Chronic illnesses include things like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. They can affect every aspect of your life and can increase your stress levels. Unfortunately, when your stress levels go up, this has a negative feedback on your chronic illness so that you can actually make your chronic illness worse.
The goal to effectively cope with your chronic illness so that you don’t stress yourself out and can live your life to the fullest.
Dealing with your Illness
Dealing with chronic illness can be extremely taxing and aggravating. What with doctor’s appointments, medications, and limitations on your daily activities, many people with chronic illness suffer from depression and chronic pain. Fortunately, there are things you can do that can help you cope with your illness:
- Decrease stress. Unless you are bedridden or otherwise incapacitated, you can better cope with your chronic illness by decreasing stress. This can involve meditation exercises or physical exercise. Just because you have a chronic illness doesn’t mean you have to limit your physical activities. While some activities will be prohibitive with certain chronic illnesses, there are gentle exercises you can do that will decrease stress and decrease your perception of pain. Think about doing tai chi, yoga, or qi gong, which are all exercise forms that also decrease stress. If you are bedridden, try de-stressing with things like meditation, which decreases stress and improves your quality of life.
- Eat a healthy diet. A body with a chronic illness needs all the nutrition it can get. Fighting a chronic illness requires getting adequate nutrients so that you can function at your best. This means focusing on eating a healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats or other lean sources of protein. When you eat a healthy diet, you improve your body’s chances of being able to fight off chronic disease and provide your body with nutrients that help the cells of your body function at peak efficiency. Avoid processed foods and junk foods as these often contain preservatives and trans fats that will not enhance your immune system and will not provide your body with the nutrients it needs.
- Get outside help. Many people with chronic illnesses feel as though they have to cope with their illness on their own. They don’t realize that there are many other people dealing with the same chronic illness and the same stressors as they are. Fortunately, many hospitals and HMOs offer support groups for those suffering from various types of chronic diseases. There are support groups for people with arthritis, support groups for cancer patients, and support groups for diabetics, among others. By talking with others who are basically dealing with the same things you are, you can get practical information on how to cope with your disease and can get the emotional support you need to better function in your daily life. Most support groups are free or are offered at a low cost so just about anyone can join and receive benefits from doing so.
- See a psychotherapist. Psychotherapists deal with people suffering from chronic disease all the time. Through cognitive behavioral therapy and other psychological therapies, you can learn coping strategies that will carry forth in your daily life. Many insurance companies recognize that people with chronic illnesses need psychological support and will pay for you to see a psychotherapist to help you overcome the stressors of having a chronic illness.
- Use a safe exercise program. You don’t have to be a star athlete to engage in aerobic exercise. People with chronic illnesses can benefit from a regular exercise program that can be as simple as walking, swimming, or cycling. Exercise releases endogenous endorphins in your brain, which provide you with a sense of wellbeing and can decrease the stressors of the day-to-day coping with chronic disease.