UPDATED 5/30/2019 Having a chronic condition, being in constant pain, or even feeling healthy but wondering when the illness will surface again, can cause emotional, physical, social, and even financial stress. Eventually, chronic disease can lead to depression. These are 8 coping strategies to help depression when you have a chronic disease.
What’s a chronic disease?
Chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes impact 6 in 10 adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control or CDC.
There’s a lot of debate in the medical community and government health organizations about what’s considered a chronic condition. There are various lists with different illnesses and time spent suffering.
However, two academics pushed for a more straightforward approach and way of thinking in a Frontiers in Public Health article. Stephanie Bernell and Steven Howard describe a chronic disease as any illness that persists for a long time.
For example, the authors believe lower back pain or hormone-related migraine headaches are chronic diseases even though the typical list includes issues like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
No matter what your condition is called, you’re probably experiencing financial, physical, and emotional hardships along with your caregivers and loved ones. Especially the longer you suffer. Eventually, you may even feel depressed.
Depression and chronic disease
Many people with chronic illness become stressed and also depressed. It’s estimated that up to one-third of people with serious medical conditions have some form of depression, specifically:
- heart attack: 40%-65% experience depression. The risk of a second heart attack increases if you are already depressed when you have your first one.
- chronic pain syndrome: 30%-54%
- Parkinson’s: 40%
- multiple sclerosis: 40%
- stroke: 10%-27%
- cancer: 25%
- diabetes: 25%
- coronary artery disease: 18%-20%
Of course, it’s normal to feel a spectrum of emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, and sadness, but the sense of overwhelm, stress, and/or depression that may surface and negatively impact your ability to keep perspective does not have to put your life on hold.
So, what are the symptoms of depression? According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms include:
- Unhappiness with life
- Loss of interest in daily life
- Problems concentrating
- Loss of energy
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Chronic illness, disability, and depression can result in a cruel, repetitive cycle. That can happen both in the person with the illness as well as in his or her loved ones or caregivers. The chronic condition leads to stress and depression, which can, in turn, get in the way of treatment, and can lead to additional physical and emotional disability.
Reduce depression symptoms with chronic illnesses
Here are some tips for avoiding or reducing the feelings of stress and depression that can accompany a serious, long term illness:
- Educate yourself so you can be your own healthcare advocate.
- Avoid isolation and build a strong support system.
- Manage your stress.
- Manage your anger.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Find a path to happiness.
- Be a healthcare rebel.
- Remember, you are NOT your disease.
Become a healthcare advocate for yourself
First, become your own healthcare advocate or seek one out if you or a loved one are not capable of that.
Education is the first step in advocating for yourself. It’s a cliché, but it’s such an important thought; knowledge is power when it comes to your health. This includes understanding your condition, your medications, and their side effects, and all treatment options.
It’s important to understand enough about what you’re going through to have some sense of control of your situation, which in turn can help reduce any accompanying feelings of stress and depression.
If you’re unable to educate yourself on your condition, seek out help within the healthcare system.
Build a strong support system
Avoid isolation and build a strong support system. This will lift your spirits and provide new perspective on your condition, which could educate you further about your chronic illness.
Of course, there are times you will want and need to be alone, but too much alone time can leave you focusing only on your disease and the sense of loss you may feel that your health is no longer what it used to be. Try to make conscious efforts to reach out to family, friends, and other resources such as support groups.
Also, seek help. In addition to making sure you reach out to health professionals to help with the management of your chronic condition and the stress and depression you may be experiencing, help can come from unexpected places.
Support may be available via online services as well as integrative practitioners such as massage therapists. Explore your options relative to resources such as health coaching, or disease management programs which may be available through your medical insurer or even certain drug companies.
PeopleTweaker offers health coaching for chronic conditions. Coaching may be for you if you want a self-care regimen, are interested in techniques to help you cope, want to develop healthy habits, or uncover life lessons in your condition.
If you’re frequently at the doctor, experiencing pain or discomfort, and facing a long-term illness, you’ll probably be stressed at some point in your medical journey. Stress can also make your condition worse.
Learn ways to manage your stress. These are 4 exercises to work with your stress. Second, find ways to relax your mind and body. Third, find an outlet whether it’s exercise, writing, music, or a friendship.
Change takes time and continuous work. The “Be Less Stressed” guidebook helps you manage stress over time with stress relieving exercises and inspiration.
Manage your stress. Don’t let it manage you.
Anger and chronic pain
Are you sick of feeling sick? If the answer is yes, you may have a fire burning in your belly that’s leading to anger. If you’re not feeling anger now, you may at some point. It’s normal and part of your chronic disease journey. However, it’s best to learn to manage it, so it doesn’t make you sicker.
Chronic anger , like stress, can lead to physical and emotional issues. It increases your chance of heart disease, stroke, respiratory or lung problems, lowers your immune system, and shorten your life span. These are conditions that will only complicate your situation if you’re already experiencing an illness.
So, reflect on why you’re angry. Of course, it’s the illness but what about your condition? Is it the fear or the uncertainty that makes you upset? Anger is a secondary emotion, so identify the primary one and work with it.
Explore anger management strategies like these. Conquer your anger, so you can find happiness in life.
It may be challenging to find positivity when you’re battling a chronic disease and feeling pain, frustration with the medical bills and medical system, and dealing with the physical toll it’s taking on your body and perhaps preventing you from doing activities you once loved.
However, it’s possible to begin a journey toward happiness with these 10 strategies. Let’s explore a few of them.
Practicing gratitude is one way to find a glimmer of light in your life, and to begin charting a path toward happiness rather than depression. Use a gratitude journal to recognize all the blessings in your life. They’re there if you start looking. Reflect, acknowledge, and celebrate.
If you’re grateful for someone else like a caregiver, express it. You’ll not only feel better about yourself, but the other person will feel good inside too.
Gratitude is proven to improve your well-being, lower stress, improve sleep, and help you move past challenges in your life.
Second, say yes to the life you have even if it’s not the one you imagined. Accepting your reality, will change your life because you’ll no longer be in denial.
Third, celebrate you! You’re unique and bring a lot to this world. Find the attributes that make you unique and celebrate them.
These are just some of the ways you can unlock happiness in everyday life. What are you waiting for? Make the change today!
Chronic disease mindfulness
You can help yourself directly for free by engaging in physical activity and mindful meditation regularly, which are known to be stress relievers. In some individuals, exercise can be as helpful as antidepressant medication.
Mindfulness for chronic pain can take away the anxiety for the future, and the sense of loss you may feel about the past. It will help you accept your situation and focus on the present moment. All you need are five minutes a day to being practicing and experiencing the power of mindfulness.
While some experts believe more research is needed, early studies show mindfulness offers promising results on pain symptoms, anxiety, mood concerns, and depression in pain patients.
When you’re in pain, the last thing you want to do is pay attention to it. If it’s debilitating, you may be forced to take pain pills to reduce the symptoms you’re feeling. With mindfulness, you’ll focus on your pain but in a new way.
Clinical psychologist, Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., and author of The Now Effect, suggests you engage with your pain and relate to it differently rather than focusing on reducing your pain. Learn about your pain instead of focusing on the goal of getting rid of it.
There are several ways to do this with mindfulness, including the S.T.O.P. (Stop, Take a Breath, Observe, Proceed) and A.C.E. (Awareness, Collecting, Expanding) methods. Through a series of instructional videos on these methods and other mindfulness techniques, you can begin to release the grip that chronic pain and illness have on your life.
If you have a caregiver, especially if they’re unpaid, recognize the pain they’re feeling too. Practice mindfulness together. It has the power to transform both your lives.
Be a healthcare rebel
Now, that you’re experiencing greater well-being due to your improved mindset, be a healthcare rebel. It takes courage, strength, and support to do this, but it can improve your outcome.
When you’re dealing with a chronic illness, hospital and doctor visits may be frequent. Frustrations may grow with the mounting bills and medical red tape, especially if it takes awhile to get answers on the pain you’re experiencing.
Learn how to be a healthcare rebel, so you get the best treatment possible. Find a physician who is a partner in your diagnosis and treatment. Ask questions, listen, and push for answers if you don’t like what you hear from your medical team.
You are NOT your disease
And perhaps most important of all, remember you are NOT your disease. Although you may have a chronic condition or ongoing health challenge, the essence of you remains.
You still have a lot of life to live and happiness should fill it.
If you don’t know where to start, begin here with The 12 Journeys. It’s a video full of inspiration to get you started.
Accepting that you have a chronic condition and devoting time to understanding it can help you better manage any recurring symptoms, including any stress and depression which may accompany them, and give you the strength to better handle the bumps in the road on your journey to better health.
What are your tips for keeping depression from becoming all-encompassing when battling a chronic illness?