What are you struggling with?
Chronic pain, diabetes, chronic fatigue, lupus, or migraines? Maybe your illness is rare and not well understood, but just as life-changing?
Pain that persists and twists your world changes who you are, how you operate, and how you relate. Regardless of your condition’s name, the struggle to adjust is real and, often, the reality is difficult to accept.
Still, you can cope, starting with acceptance. Acceptance that life will be different as you adjust your life to manage your condition. You don’t have to let the illness define you. Positive thinking is a great tool to cope with difficult circumstances. Positive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, more commonly known as Positive CBT focuses on what’s working and not on the negative factors you are facing. Ask your therapist to include Positive CBT in your treatment plan.
To move forward, let’s consider the following strategies for coping with chronic illness:
Become an Advocate for Yourself
Doctors and specialists are likely a part of your life for the foreseeable future. Recognizing your need for self-advocacy will be important. Being chronically ill doesn’t mean you lose the right to receive information or make decisions as you see fit.
However, maintaining your ability to speak up and retain your confidence when you’re hurting isn’t easy. Facing the experts and well-meaning service providers requires thorough self-education and communication tools that may be uncomfortable for you at first.
Consider work with a therapist to ensure you come up with a game plan that ensures your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are met.
Set Reasonable Expectations
No matter how tempted you are to deny it, ignore it, or rage against it, your chronic illness is not just an illness, it is your new normal.
To live well will require acceptance and the willingness to rethink your expectations of yourself. There is no shame in acknowledging how your thoughts, emotions, and behavior have been affected. It’s okay to feel and be different now. It’s okay to live your life differently, according to your new values and standards.
Change is part of this process. Uncertainty needn’t drive you toward depression or drive wedges in your relationships. Working with a counselor to help set expectations and limits (for your self and others) is crucial. Accepting and facing your life situation honestly is healthy, not an admission of defeat.
Prioritize Superior Self-care
Your self-care is no longer the option or back-burner activity it may have been in the past. You’ll find that self-care is both meaningful and mandatory. Daily positive self-talk is an important part of self-care. Thinking of all the negative parts of living with a chronic illness is in the past. Your newfound acceptance comes with an appreciation for what is truly important in your life.
Be sure to adhere to your treatment plan. Protect your emotional state with therapy sessions, journaling, or a similar practice of introspection and self-expression. Also, seek peace with prayer, gratitude meditation, and stress management exercises. Include expressions of gratitude when things go well. Express thanks to those folks who listen and care. Be mindful that some people may not understand and that’s not something to put your energy into.
Your priority is not to do too much or push too hard. Instead, cope by being intentional with your energy. Use the days you need to rest for renewal without guilt or apology. When you have renewed energy, use some to get outside and take in the beauty of nature and reap the benefits it offers.
You are the final word on what matters and makes you feel good. Furthermore, keep in mind that many chronically ill people find that their illness facilitates a more focused, purposeful period in their lives.
Resist the Urge to Deny Yourself Support
You will endure the gamut of tough times throughout your chronic illness. Having your team hold you up, push you forward, or just be there will make all the difference.
Don’t let pain, shame, or anger isolate you.
When you release the idea that you must face this illness independently and embrace support, you may find your burdens aren’t as heavy as you once thought. Ask for help. Allow space for the generosity of your community. Relax, breathe, and receive kindness. Doing so can boost your mental resiliency and soothe you physically.
Take the Next Step
You may be chronically ill but your life is still yours. You may not be able to change or erase your condition, but you can cope. You can even thrive.
Finally, remember that you are not chronically alone. Please seek out the people and resources that will help you through. Talk to someone who can hear you and empathize. Professional guidance can help manage the overwhelm.
If you determine that you need help managing the impact of your diagnosis on your life and relationships, please contact me soon. Together, we can work through some useful strategies to navigate the challenges of chronic illness. As a mental health provider and a person living with chronic illness, I understand how complex chronic illness can be and how it impacts you in your life. For six years, I have lived with two rare disorders. I can tell you, there is hope. You can find happiness with acceptance and a renewed sense of self. The coping strategies in this article are an outline of where to start. Finding what works for you, is the next step forward.