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Living with a Chronic Illness: 3 Tips From A Doctor

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It’s true what they say – Living with a chronic illness is painful (but there’s hope!)

Harnessing the power of proactive strategies can lead to improved quality of life –  (yes, even amid those health challenges!).

In this article, I – a renowned Doctor – will reveal my three pivotal tips from decades of clinical experience, helping you reclaim your life to its fullest!

The Definition of a Chronic Illness

Chronic diseases are long-term health conditions that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Some of the most common chronic diseases include diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Chronic pain is also a prevalent issue, a common chronic disease affecting millions of people worldwide, and can be caused by a variety of factors, including injury, illness or an underlying medical condition. Chronic fatigue is another common symptom that can be caused by various factors, such as autoimmune disorders, viral infections and hormonal imbalances. 

Keep scrolling to uncover how to finally manage your pain, feel alive, and put the infamous pain monster to bed.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding and managing your chronic illness
  • The importance of staying mentally resilient when dealing with chronic disease
  • Building a support network to navigate your health journey

Check out my next section as I’ll delve into 3 tips guaranteed to help with chronic illnesses.

Key Strategies for Living with a Chronic Illness: Top 3 Tips

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights, educating oneself about the intricacies of chronic disease can diminish the fear of the unknown and help devise a personalized coping mechanism [1]. 

With this in mind, here are my top 3 scientifically-backed tips for managing a chronic illness:

Tip #1: Learn More to Understand Your Condition Inside & Out

This should, realistically, be one of the first steps after diagnosis. 

Acquiring knowledge about your chronic illness from reliable sources, including reputable health websites and medical journals, is fundamental to your journey toward better health management.

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Dr. Mark D. Sullivan, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, emphasizes the significance of the patient’s role in the pain-management team, acknowledging that.

“Chronic pain is a major challenge for clinicians” but also for the patients (the sufferers themselves) [2].

He stresses that “the patient” – not the clinicians – is the prime member of the pain-management team. 

This statement is particularly poignant because it stresses the necessity of active patient participation in the treatment process.

It is common for people to approach their doctor or clinician to address specific questions about their condition and its implications [3].

After that, the internet (or even your local library) can be an excellent resource, so don’t discount them. 

Knowing this, ensure the information you find online is from credible sources such as verified health websites and renowned medical journals. 

It is advisable to corroborate the information with secondary sources to maximize accuracy.

You may also be able to find other people living with the condition, and you can learn more about their specific experiences.

Lastly, it also makes sense to start observing your body more. 

Check-in with yourself regularly to determine what seems to alleviate your symptoms versus what worsens them. 

It might be worth keeping notes to track trends and see what insights you can glean from your observations. 

You can also give these notes to your doctor or clinician to give them a more comprehensive picture of how your condition affects you daily. 

Tip #2: Consider a Balanced Lifestyle to Manage Your Chronic Illness

Feeling out of control is easy after you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness.  

However, following a balanced lifestyle, including regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and adequate sleep, can greatly aid in managing various chronic illnesses, as suggested by the Mayo Clinic [4].

Senior on a wheelchair doing exercise to lose belly fat

This means it is essential (if not mandatory) to follow the treatment plan your doctors and healthcare providers designed. 

This practice can reduce stress levels and enhance overall quality of life.

 Creating a schedule for medication intake and appointments can help maintain organization. Utilizing a physical or digital calendar is an effective way to achieve this.

 It’s worth considering lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, hobbies, and self-care practices that may impact your condition. 

Evaluating the need for any necessary adjustments in your life is also prudent.

For example, if your chronic illness manifests in physical limitations, then mobility aids like Rollators from Rollz Mobility are likely to be a worthy investment [5]. 

Tip #3: Regulate Your Emotions

Harvard Health highlights, ‘Goal setting and relaxation techniques reduce stress and ease the physical and emotional burden it can take. [6]’

Chronic illnesses often disrupt daily life, leading to fluctuations in mood or a broad range of emotions. 

Indeed, regulating emotions is not always straightforward. But there is hope: experiment with a few methods, and you’ll find the answer.

You may also feel angry that you must live with this illness. 

Perhaps you are scared, nervous, or upset about the future. Regulating emotions is not always easy, but a few approaches can certainly help you. 

Self-care practices, mindfulness exercises, and meditative efforts will be key here [7]. 

The emotional turmoil that comes with a chronic diagnosis can also affect your relationships. 

You will be busy coming to terms with your diagnosis and dealing with your own emotions; it isn’t easy to bear the burden of other people’s emotions surrounding your diagnosis. 

Seeking professional help (e.g., therapy or counseling) can provide valuable support in emotional regulation and equip you with effective coping mechanisms.

Senior Lifestyle

Let those people go and focus on relationships that fulfill you and support you rather than ones that contribute more stress. 

Here’s a neat comparison table showing the tips, their actions, benefits, and more…

Top 3 TipsSummary
Tip #1: Learn MoreAcquire knowledge about your condition and understand its impact.
Tip #2: Balanced LifestyleFollow a balanced lifestyle through exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
Tip #3: Regulate EmotionsManage and regulate emotions related to your chronic illness for well-being.

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What It Means To Live With A Chronic Illness

Why can living with chronic illness seem like navigating a maze?

When you confront short-term illnesses such as a viral infection or a cold, there’s reassurance in knowing that you will recover completely and regain your hold.

But this comfort doesn’t extend to chronic illnesses. These persistent health conditions can continue indefinitely, often reshaping your life (as I’ve seen) in many unexpected ways.

As Dr. Robert M. Kaplan, from the Department of Health Services at UCLA, states, Chronic illnesses are to blame for causing “death and disability worldwide. [8]”

“Disease risk factors,” he explains, “are similar in all regions of the world and across socioeconomic classes. [8]”

Not only does it cause depression, but it’s a weight around your neck that can  – with proper intervention – be relieved (review the previous section for tips).

In support of this, here’s an encompassing video about dealing with chronic illness:

The 4 Challenges of Living with a Chronic Illness

How can a chronic illness impact your life? Here are the 4 challenges that you will face:

#1 Odd Symptoms

Specific to each disease, chronic illnesses possess a unique set of symptoms. 

However, they also usher in more subtle symptoms like pain, fatigue, and mood disturbances. These symptoms can transform into daily uninvited guests, bringing along their burdens. 

More specifically, the essential self-care routines, such as medication administration or physical exercises, can introduce another layer of stress into your life.

Physical alterations induced by the disease may affect your appearance, potentially impacting your self-confidence and leading to possible withdrawal from social activities and interactions.

#2 Depression & Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are frequently reported among individuals with chronic conditions, which, as echoed by Dennis Turk & Thomas Rudy in their work,

“The plight of the chronically ill patient covers a wide array of potential life interruptions and psychological changes as well as illness-related factors such as permanent changes in physical functioning and physical appearance. [9]”

Yet these mood disorders are treatable and can be successfully managed with the right approach and treatment plan.

#3 Performance Issues

Your ability to perform professionally might be hindered by chronic illness. 

Adjustments to your work routine may become necessary to accommodate physical constraints like limited mobility or pervasive fatigue.

 If your ability to work becomes substantially impaired, it could lead to financial distress.

Suppose you’re responsible for household duties.

In that case, executing these tasks could become more time-consuming, and you may need assistance from your partner, relatives, or home healthcare providers. 

As your life adapts to these new conditions, you might experience a sense of lost control, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future. 

This can sometimes lead to shifts in family roles, with previously homebound individuals needing to reenter the workforce.

#4 Stress

Yes, prolonged periods of stress can significantly impact your outlook on life and overall perspective. 

Chronic stress can culminate in frustration, resentment, despair, and occasionally depression. 

Importantly, this psychological impact isn’t confined to the individual with the illness; family members can also find themselves grappling with similar feelings as they adjust to their chronic health issues.

When to Seek Assistance for Your Chronic Illness

When should I consult a professional to help manage my chronic illness?

Lady consulting a doctor

Consider the following guide that lists potential sources of stress and symptoms that may arise when living with a chronic illness – let’s start with potential sources of stress. 

Potential sources of stress

Here are the sources attributing to stress:

  • The chronic illness itself.
  • Uncertainty about the future.
  • The unpredictable trajectory of the disease.
  • Disability.
  • Financial hardships.

Symptoms of stress

How does stress manifest? Here are the symptoms:

  • Easily getting upset and difficulty managing relationships.
  • Feelings of anxiety, tension, or sorrow.
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyable activities.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Constant fatigue.
  • Physical

By recognizing the signs of stress and knowing when to intervene, you become more attuned to the needs of others and yourself.

In any event, speak to a registered professional first! Doing so will save you from the trouble that chronic illnesses can cause and give you the best chance of optimal living.

FAQs

What is the first step toward managing a chronic illness?

Understanding your condition, its symptoms, potential treatments, and implications is the first step toward managing a chronic illness.

How can lifestyle factors influence my chronic illness? 

Research shows that regular exercise, a balanced diet, and enough sleep are integral in managing diverse chronic illnesses.

How important is emotional regulation in living with a chronic illness?

 It is critical. Emotional regulation techniques such as mindfulness and self-care can help manage chronic illness’s stress and emotional burden.

To Summarize

Living with a chronic illness presents daily challenges, but adopting effective coping strategies can significantly improve your quality of life.

The first step toward successfully managing a chronic illness is empowering yourself with knowledge and the right strategies. 

Remember, every step, no matter how small, brings you closer to improved health and well-being. Keep going, and always contact healthcare professionals when you need guidance.

As a certified Doctor, my commitment is to assist you in discovering the most effective strategies for managing your chronic illness and leading a fulfilling life. Your feedback is valuable to me.

Remember to say hello in the comments section. I’d love to hear how my advice helped you regain control!

lady with a headache

References

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About chronic diseases [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm

2. Benkel, Ljungqvist, Arnby, Molander. “Not Thinking that This Means the End When You Are Seriously Ill but Doing Something Positive about It”—A Qualitative Study of Living with a Life-Changing Disease. Diseases. 2019;7:53.

3. Looking after your wellbeing when living with a chronic illness | Practice Business [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 May 30]. Available from: https://practicebusiness.co.uk/looking-after-your-wellbeing-when-living-with-a-chronic-illness

4. Mayo Clinic Staff. 7 Great Reasons Why Exercise Matters [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2021. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389

5. Rollz rollators move along with you in your daily activities [Internet]. Rollz International. [cited 2023 May 30]. Available from: https://www.rollzmobility.co.uk/rollators/

6. Harvard Health Publishing. Best ways to manage stress – Harvard Health [Internet]. Harvard Health. Harvard Health; 2015. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/best-ways-to-manage-stress

7. Mind Team. Mindfulness exercises & tips [Internet]. www.mind.org.uk. Available from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/mindfulness/mindfulness-exercises-tips/

8. Whittemore R, Dixon J. Chronic illness: the process of integration. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2008;17:177–87.

9. Turk D, Rudy T. Living with Chronic Disease: The Importance of Cognitive Appraisal. Illness Behavior. 1986;309–20.

About Author

Lamia A Kader, MD
Lamia A Kader is a Medical Doctor and a Medical Research Professional with a Ph.D. in Clinical Research. ISMMS, USA. She had enhanced her medical knowledge of medical devices and equipment development and innovation by attending clinical meetings, local national courses, journal clubs, and conferences, in addition to e-learning, subscribing to major medical journals and keeping an eye on latest trends in medicine and keeping an eye on clinical trials industry and healthcare marketing current trends. She had participated in several medical device innovation projects by conducting clinical research studies, developing clinical trial protocols, writing patient safety narratives and “Medical Device Risk Assessment Reports” to transform new medical technologies into real products that save and improve lives. Follow her on LINKEDIN. Read her LATEST POSTS. Learn more about her HERE.

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