New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers

Conquering The Psychological Toll of Chronic Illness

Feb 14, 2024 | Adolescent Treatment, Adult Treatment, Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health, Stress

Advances in medicine and technology have endowed us all with a longer lifespan. Menacing diseases that once ran rampant — such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and polio — now find their terrorizing freedom curtailed by antibiotics and vaccines. The average global life expectancy now is more than 70 years, which is more than double the figure in 1900. The increased lifespan, however, comes with its costs. Chronic illnesses. — diseases that endure for more than a year, require ongoing treatment, and have no currently known cure — are now the leading causes of mortality, responsible for more than 35% of all deaths. 

Common examples of chronic illnesses include heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Living with a chronic illness is an arduous task that goes beyond the physical symptoms and medical treatments. While acute illnesses can be equally painful and stressful, they generally have a finite end that we work towards. Chronic illnesses lack this finitude and have an effect just as profound, if not more, on the mental health of those living with a chronic condition. 

The incessant uncertainty about the future and limitations posed by the illness can take a significant toll on one’s mental health. From emotional distress and social isolation to self-esteem issues and relationship challenges, the effects of chronic illness permeate various aspects of a person’s life. Cultivating inner strength and resilience in the face of these hardships requires us to first understand the myriad ways in which chronic illnesses impact the mind.

Impact of Chronic Illness on Mental Health
Mental and Emotional Strain

Living with a chronic condition can be extremely taxing on the mind. The constant need to stay vigilant of any changes in symptoms, and the relentless management of the condition can exhaust one’s emotional reserves and manifest as emotional burnout. Having to manage a condition that the individual never expected can induce immense grief and can bring about a feeling of hopelessness and guilt. This mental load only compounds the psychological impact of the ongoing struggle.

Identity and Self-Perception

Chronic illness can have a profound impact on one’s sense of identity. The various challenges that the condition poses can make once enjoyable activities difficult, and the subtle changes that penetrate what were considered mundane aspects of life can be very destabilizing. Life can feel disorienting as a person struggles to redefine their identity.  

Impact of Chronic Illness on Work, Study, and Finances

The physical implications of chronic illness can also spill into other domains of life. Work can become difficult to manage and some tasks can become especially challenging. A similar effect can be felt in one’s studies. Moreover, the treatment adds a financial burden that may affect one’s financial stability and add to the stress. This can become especially frustrating and even be a cause of embarrassment. The resulting exhaustion can disrupt the semblance of normalcy in these trying times.

Time and Energy Commitment

Effectively managing the condition can demand enough investment of time and energy to feel like a full-time job. The constant monitoring of symptoms, strict adherence to treatment regimens, and keeping up with frequent medical appointments take away time and energy that could have otherwise been spent on activities that provide pleasure and add meaning to life. This limitation can prove detrimental to the overall quality of life and feel like sacrificing an essential ingredient of life.

Adapting to Lifestyle Changes

The substantial adjustments to lifestyle that the illness demands can add to the feeling of being overwhelmed. It can impose restrictions on the diet and might involve making changes to the daily routine. These adjustments often take time and impact not only the individual but also the dynamics they have within their families and social circles. This period can be especially emotionally straining as one needs to adopt new habits and make changes that are undesirable and dispiriting.

Uncertainty and Lack of Predictability

Not having a clear prognosis due to the nature of chronic illness can bring about a sense of uncertainty that pervades all aspects of life. The inability to anticipate when any improvement will be felt, if at all, can leave one in a constant state of doubt. The true impact of this unpredictability is felt when making plans for the future. Not having control over one’s future can make one feel especially vulnerable to circumstances that are beyond one’s control.

Strain on Relationships

Chronic illness can test even the strongest of relationships; this happens particularly when the loved ones struggle to provide the help and support needed during these challenging times, or when they fail to comprehend the nature and intensity of the struggle that comes with being chronically ill. The strain this causes on relationships can leave one feeling isolated and lonely which could consequently compel one to withdraw from social interactions altogether. This only serves to exacerbate the emotional toll of managing the condition.

Invisible Effects on the Social Life

Not all effects of the illness are visible to others. The constant need the individual may feel to explain their condition to others can feel mentally and emotionally fatiguing. One might also wish to avoid the discomfort arising from sharing the impact of the illness on their life and choose instead to withdraw from social activities. The negative effect can therefore fray social bonds and leave the individual feeling even more isolated.

The emotional distress caused by chronic illness is immense. This can further complicate matters because it becomes difficult to distinguish whether the fluctuations in mood and emotions are caused by the challenges one is facing or just inherent features of the illness. However, one must always remember that our minds are astonishingly resilient and equipped to face any adversity. Our mind and body are always in our control, and while we delegate treatment to doctors with specialized knowledge, we need to take responsibility to tend to our mental landscape. By practicing effective coping strategies, we can place the illness in the background and enjoy the pleasures that life affords us.

Coping With Psychological Challenges

By employing strategies to control the psychological components of chronic illness, one can retain a positive outlook on life and keep their mood balanced.

Acceptance and Initiative

Healing begins with acceptance. Acknowledging the disease and its impact on life allows one to actively participate in the treatment and gain control over their experience. It becomes important, then, to gather more information about the illness. It could include preparing a list of questions to ask the doctors in the next appointment, setting alarms and reminders for medication, and reorganizing the space to minimize physical strain. This not only brings about more confidence, but it also helps one feel empowered. A positive perspective can keep depression and anxiety at bay.

Pacing Yourself

Setting realistic goals is very important. It is important to assess how much energy one has in a day and what tasks can be accomplished without straining oneself. Trying to do too much too soon can worsen the chronic condition. Setting small, achievable goals and gradually increasing the level of activity is a great way to find the perfect level of activity. This helps keep up the motivation and avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed and provides an opportunity to celebrate one’s progress and success.

Self-care

Taking care of both the body and mind helps in making the treatment more effective. Getting enough rest and sleep helps in feeling refreshed and energetic. A healthy diet ensures the body receives all the necessary nutrients that contribute to better physical health which would allow one to engage more in the activities they enjoy. Physical exercise is also tremendously helpful in reducing stress, provides an overall improvement in the chronic condition, and makes the management of symptoms easier. These healthy lifestyle choices act in synergy to evoke a positive attitude towards life.

The diagnosis of chronic illness can come as a shock and the uncertainty accompanied by it can make one feel like losing control over their life. While it is not possible to simply wish away the physical strain of the illness, taking care of one’s mental well-being can save one from self-criticism, blame, and guilt. A healthy mind views illness as merely a part of life, one that doesn’t define a person’s identity. Maintaining a positive outlook doesn’t allow the illness to deprive one of the joys and beauty of life.

Seek Professional Help

Adjusting to a new way of life is difficult and psychologically exhausting. Sometimes negative self-talk becomes hard to avoid, and negative behaviors become self-reinforcing and extremely hard to escape. Such a scenario puts one at risk of depression and various other psychological disorders that only exacerbate the difficulty arising from the chronic condition. If you feel unable to reign in the negative emotions, a mental health professional can help you navigate the difficult psychological terrain of chronic illness. Psychotherapy can assist you in better understanding your thoughts, feelings, and actions, which can then help you find ways to effectively manage these negative thoughts and emotions and see the joys and positivity even in the face of adversity.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you are struggling with a chronic illness and facing mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help.  We have outpatient counseling programs for adolescents and adults.  To learn more about our services, including Psychological Testing, Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP), Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP), and Interventions for Substance Abuse, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at www.nddtreatment.com.  To learn more about individual, family, and couples counseling visit www.mhthrive.com.