The psychological effect of chronic illness
If you experience chronic pain it can affect your day-to-day life drastically, making perfunctory tasks increasingly more difficult than they once were. To ease daily life you have to alter your lifestyle and change your old habits. These changes can majorly change your perspective on your health and bodily functions that were often taken for granted. This adjustment can be seen as returning to equilibrium (Moss-Morris 2013), allowing yourself to reunify with your body, which can be both terrifying and liberating at the same time.
How can you cope with chronic pain?
We all know that no two people respond the same, and this applies to chronic pain, too. However, when responding to the demands of a chronic illness there are generally two types of strategies: approach oriented and avoidance oriented.
- Information seeking
- Problem solving
- Seeking support
- Finding an outlet for emotional expression
- Wishful thinking
What approach should you take?
Although at first glance it may seem like there is a clear favourite coping strategy, this isn’t the case. Flexibility in your approach to chronic illness is most important and a melange of the two strategies would be preferred. A hands on approach to an illness can become incredibly anxiety inducing and lead to worsening of physical symptoms, whereas disengaging from the illness can sometimes be positive as it allows you to focus on the now and be more motivated. Despite this denial can cause you to ignore your symptoms and without adapting your lifestyle to them you could possibly in turn worsen your condition.
Knowing that something is wrong with your health with no clear diagnosis is distressing especially if you take into account all the unpredictable symptoms. It only takes a quick google search to find out that you could be dying, and although that’s most likely not the case this uncertainty is going to build up and have a knock on effect on your symptoms.
Something else that is often disregarded is the grieving process for your loss of previous health. If your body is changing and you have to adapt to these new conditions it can feel as if you have left the old you behind. This grief can progress into negative thoughts such as “why me?” “I’m a failure” and worrying about the future. This is why 30% of people with long term conditions also experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety (Naylor C et al 2012).
So why don’t we talk about this?
Many of us with chronic illnesses mask the daily pain and emotional turmoil because chronic pain is misunderstood to the point where it’s looked down upon, we fear personal judgment and we don’t want to be a burden to the ones we love. We are riddled in shame for something we cannot control.
Dolezal and Lyons (2017) state that it’s likely that chronic internalised shame will cause prolonged stress in bodies and affect physical health over time. We are actively putting our health at risk to make others comfortable. We need to put ourselves first. If that isn’t enough reason to open up about your condition here are some more:
- To form relationships through being open and vulnerable
- Those who love you want to help you
- If we hide our pain, our condition is more difficult to accept internally
Put yourself first. You deserve happiness.