Chronic Illness

Michelle Velan, Wondersource Founder

60 percent of American adults have one chronic disease and 40 percent have two or more. Meanwhile, 80% of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and 68% have two or more. Meanwhile, 26 million people in England have at least one long-term health condition (LTC) and 10 million have two or more LTCs. 15% of young adults aged 11-15 have an LTC.

To date, chronic illness is the area that people reach out for support the most at Wondersource. One thing is clear, people need support.

Despite these statistics, adults can maximise health and quality of life by managing symptoms from current health conditions and incorporating stress management and healing techniques along with evidence-based tips to reduce the risk of developing other conditions.

To help you stay as healthy as possible, we highlight key information and prevention and management tips for chronic conditions according to the Cleveland Clinic, consistently voted one of the nation’s best hospitals in U.S. News & World Report’s annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey.

What is a chronic illness?

Chronic illness is defined broadly as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. They are also leading drivers of the nation’s $3.8 trillion in annual health care costs. You may also have a need for ongoing medical care and difficulties doing the things you need to do every day. These behaviours, called activities of daily living, include things like using the toilet and getting dressed. These challenges can also affect your family. Examples of chronic diseases include diabetes, chronic lung disease, like COPD and autoimmune diseases.

Many chronic diseases are caused by a short list of lifestyle behaviours:

  • Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Poor nutrition, including diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in sodium, saturated fats and sugar.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Excessive alcohol use.
  • Lack of consistent stress management.

An individual counsellor, coach or support group can help you deal with the stress, pain, and fatigue that may accompany a chronic illness. Signs that you are less able to cope include disturbed sleep, body aches, heightened anxiety, and irritability. It is ideal to seek help early.

Why can coping with a chronic illness be so difficult?

When you have an acute illness like the flu, you know you’ll feel better and be back to normal within a short period of time. This isn’t the case with a chronic illness. It may never go away and can disrupt your life in a number of ways.

It can be even harder when your illness is seemingly invisible to your family, friends and colleagues. Craig Brown knows this only too well. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2015. He said:

“If you see me around, I’m usually ok. This is because I have medication to control my symptoms. To a large extent they are invisible. Unless my medication wears off. When it comes to chronic illnesses, quite a lot of them have invisible symptoms. But we all share a fairly common theme. Firstly, it’s coming to terms with the condition and secondly, it’s managing day to day with controlling those symptoms.”

What are some effects of a chronic illness?

Chronic illnesses have disease-specific symptoms, but can also bring invisible symptoms like pain, fatigue, stress and mood disorders. Pain and fatigue may become a frequent part of your day. Along with your illness, you probably have certain things you have to do to take care of yourself, like take medicine or do exercises. Keeping up with your health management tasks might also cause stress.

Physical changes from a disease may affect your appearance. These changes can turn a positive self-image into a poor one. When you don’t feel good about yourself, you may withdraw from friends and social activities. Mood disorders like depression and anxiety are common complaints of people with chronic conditions. Thankfully, they’re treatable.

Chronic illness can also influence your ability to work. You might have to change the way you work to cope with morning aches and stiffness, decreased range of motion and other physical limitations. If you aren’t able to work, you might have financial difficulties.

If you’re a homemaker, your work may take much longer than normal. You might need to ask for help from your spouse, a relative, or a home healthcare provider. As your life changes, you may feel a loss of control, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future. In some families, there could be a role reversal where people who were able to stay at home must return to work.

Stress can build and can shape your feelings about life. Long periods of stress can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and, at times, depression. This can happen not only to you, but also to your family members. They’re also influenced by the chronic health problems of a loved one.

When should I seek help to cope with my chronic illness?

As soon as possible. Whether it’s talking to a counsellor or coach to process what’s going on, working with a healer or emotional freedom technique to help you manage stress and heal any lingering trauma, work with a personal trainer to ensure you’re keeping up with your fitness levels, and so much more. And when you start to build positive habits in one area of your life, they tend to positively affect other areas of life. Focusing on areas that will reduce stress and bring well-being into your life, can help you maximise health and quality of life by managing symptoms from existing health conditions and reduce the risk of developing other conditions. What’s more, studies show that empathy significantly contributes to overall well-being. Unfortunately, doctors don’t have enough time to dedicate to each patient and even the simple act of getting empathy from someone whether it be a coach, healer or functional medicine practitioner, can make a huge difference on your well-being journey.

The following is a checklist of the sources and signals of stress that you may experience with chronic illness. Seek help from a mental health provider or alternative healthcare practitioner as early as possible to help you understand and cope with your illness better as well as to better manage stress and / or heal trauma.

Your sources of stress:

  • Chronic illness.
  • Uncertainty about the future.
  • Unpredictability of the disease.
  • Disability.
  • Financial difficulties.

Stress symptoms:

  • Irritability and difficulty in relationships.
  • Anxiety, tension, sadness.
  • Inability to focus.
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed.
  • Disturbed sleep.
  • Fatigue.
  • Body aches and pains, including headaches.
  • Cognitive issues.
  • Lack of self-esteem and motivation.

If I have a chronic illness, how can I improve the quality of my life?

The most important step you can take is to seek help as soon as you feel less able to cope. Taking action early will help you understand and deal with the many effects of a chronic illness. Learning to manage stress will help you to maintain resilience and a positive physical, emotional and spiritual outlook on life.

If you ask for help from a mental health provider, spiritual coach, healer, mindfulness coach or alternative healthcare provider, the two of you can design a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. These strategies can help you regain a sense of control, reduce stress and dramatically improve your quality of life—something everyone deserves.

Thankfully there are things that you can do on your own that will help. These include tips like:

  • Eating a healthy diet (less sugar and processed foods).
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Getting physical activity often.
  • Meditate or practice mindfulness (there are many great free guided meditations on YouTube).
  • Avoiding negative coping mechanisms like alcohol and substance abuse.
  • Exploring stress-relief support like meditation, emotional freedom technique, reiki or hypnotherapy.
  • Letting go of obligations that you don’t really need to do or want to do.
  • Asking for help when you need it.
  • Staying in touch with family and friends.
  • Spending time in nature.
  • Doing things that you enjoy or make you laugh.
  • Journaling.

What kind of help is available for someone with a chronic illness?

You can find help for stress, mental health, healing and more, related to chronic illness. Counselling options include support groups, individual counselling, functional medicine, reiki, emotional freedom technique, life, health and mindfulness coaching.

Support groups

Support groups are a useful sharing experience. They provide an environment where you can learn new ways of dealing with your illness from other people’s coping strategies. You may want to share your own approaches, too. You’ll know that you aren’t facing hardships alone. You can often find these groups by contacting a nonprofit organisation that is dedicated to your specific disease.

Individual counselling or coaching

Sometimes people have problems that are better addressed in a one-on-one setting. By taking part in individual counselling or coaching, you may more effectively express sensitive or private feelings you have about your illness and its impact on your lifestyle and relationships.

Alternative healthcare treatments

Alternative health care methods have proven to help with anxiety, health, stress and depression. Emotional freedom technique for instance has proven to be effective for treating depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that for patients with chronic health conditions, Reiki has been found to be more effective than placebo for reducing pain, anxiety, and depression, and for improving self-esteem and quality of life.

A note from Wondersource

Chronic illness affects many people worldwide. Each has its own symptoms. If you have a chronic disease, you may find yourself facing increased levels of stress. There are ways to manage the stresses of everyday life. Make sure you talk to your healthcare provider or book a free consultation with Wondersource for tips about stress management or book a session with one of our curated coaches, healers, or trained experts.

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

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