The Emotions of Chronic Illness

The Emotions of Chronic Illness

On 10 Dec 2014, in stress, mental health

By Karen Vaughn, MEd, LPC, CEAP, SAP

Have you ever been hit with a ton of bricks, literally? I imagine that would be a painful experience. My clients who have been diagnosed with chronic illness have shared with me that receiving the news really did feel like they’d been hit with a ton of bricks. defines chronic illness as an illness that lasts three months or more. Common chronic illnesses include, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, fibromyalgia, lupus and multiple sclerosis, just to name a few. While the medical field has made great advancements in treatments for the physical effects of these conditions, the related mental and emotional health challenges can be overwhelming.


One of the biggest fears is the uncertainty associated with a chronic illness. Is this something that will get better or is it debilitating? How will it affect my daily life? How will it affect my relationships? Will I become a burden to others? How long will I live? Additionally, chronic illness can require lifestyle changes, such as giving up favorite foods or activities that you enjoy, having physical limitations and special needs, and having to pay for treatment and medications.

Dealing with the mental and emotional challenges of a chronic illness requires realistic thinking that’s also positive. Feeling good about the future may seem impossible at first, but it can be done. According to the American Psychological Association, a recent study of kidney patients undergoing multiple dialysis treatments each week found that their perceived mood and life satisfaction was no different from a control group of healthy people.

The American Psychological Association suggests the following for coping with chronic illness:

  • Stay connected. Establish and maintain quality relationships with friends and family. Many health organizations also sponsor support groups composed of other people experiencing similar challenges. These groups will not only aid your own well-being, but also provide rewarding opportunities to help others.
  • Take care of yourself. Don't allow worries about your illness to get in the way of eating properly, getting rest and exercise, and having fun.
  • Maintain a daily routine of work, errands, household chores and hobbies as much as possible. This will provide you with a feeling of stability amid the chaos and uncertainty of your illness.

A more novel approach that has recently come to light is the idea of a Chronic Illness Coach. This is a person who can provide support for:

  1. Determining what changes would improve quality of life
  2. Developing a plan of action that includes those changes
  3. Support to help with following through for sustained changes.

Chronic illness coaching can help clients feel a sense of success in dealing with their illness, continued progress toward a better quality of life and increased knowledge on how to obtain the best care.

Finding out that you or a loved one have a chronic illness can be devastating. But you don’t have to deal with it alone. Reaching out for help re-establishes equilibrium and brings a feeling of empowerment over a situation.

For more information or help with this issue please contact BJC EAP. We are here to help.

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