If you've been diagnosed with a chronic illness, many thoughts may start running through your head. Those of us who have received a chronic illness diagnosis may slip into crisis mode. Depending on the condition, our lives might come to a standstill.
No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, it's easy to become preoccupied with the challenges that this newfound illness throws our way. Below is a list of six actions that can help anyone navigate a chronic illness diagnosis:
From the moment of diagnosis, our minds often become overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty. We may find ourselves withdrawing into our own private cocoons, or worse, mired in self-pity. For those afflicted with cancer, in particular, a new awareness of imminent mortality lurks in the background. When it becomes impossible to ignore our mortality or when we begin to feel overwhelmed by the daily adjustments of life with an illness such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease or Crohn’s disease, the best way forward is to realize that we're not alone.
Support groups or associations can be found through hospitals, medical practitioners, online searches, and social media. Sign up with trusted organizations or professional support groups with structured programs. They can be empowering and inspiring. It can be especially uplifting to find a virtual connection with others who share in our experiences, even if we’re separated by hundreds of miles Be careful, however, of the self-doubt or uncertainty that can sometimes accompany excessive internet searches or forum participation. We must make sure to stay grounded in our own medical reality, and to consult with our care providers if we have specific concerns about our diagnosis or treatment.
Every person afflicted with a chronic illness should learn at least the basics about his or her condition. Ignorance breeds fear. We should talk openly with our healthcare providers — doctors, nurses and support staff — until our questions are answered. There are also professional organizations that disseminate informative newsletters and updates by email about many illnesses.
3. Regain control.
One consequence of a chronic illness diagnosis is the threat of depression brought on by our seeming helplessness. To regain control, we should discipline ourselves in our daily lives. Even taking ownership of small details — like organizing our bedrooms, homes or offices — can help us feel more in control of our lives and can effect much larger changes than we may at first realize. Meditation or a yoga practice can also help us feel more calm and at ease about our situation.
4. Eat well.
Poor diet is a major contributor to the development of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. This can also be a major hindrance in fighting chronic illnesses — remember that everything in the body is related, and that we should optimize our health through holistic care.
The key to healthy dietary practices is to have a plan; even one as simple as "I'll watch the amount of salt I eat for the next two weeks." The benefits of these moderate changes are rewarding and motivating. Starting slow and building upon each new change is essential to forming new, lifelong habits.
A few of the most constructive changes we can make to our diets, even if we are not afflicted with a chronic illness, are to limit the amount of processed foods we consume; eat natural, high-nutrient foods; understand which foods exacerbate our illnesses; and be aware of what’s in the food we’re eating, even when something is labeled as “natural,” “low-fat” or “healthy.”
5. Be mindful.
We shouldn’t let our minds take over our bodies by over-analyzing our conditions. The last thing we want to develop is another chronic illness or new symptoms, such as insomnia, as a result of stress and anxiety. No matter what the diagnosis, having a healthy lifestyle is of paramount importance.
6. Reach out and help.
There are plenty of people out there who are struggling to make ends meet, who are in need of support or care, or who would benefit from the loving outreach of their community. Contribute to those who are in need. Volunteer with a local charity, nonprofit, or program to lend a helping hand. This will shift the focus from our own maladies to the positive change we’re capable of influencing in the world around us, reminding us that we are much more than our illnesses.