By Shane Reeves, CEO TwelveStone Health Partners

mom hugging children after chronic illness diagnosis

It’s news no one wants to hear: You’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness.

Chronic diseases are long-lasting conditions that generally can be controlled but not cured. People living with chronic illnesses often must manage daily symptoms that affect their quality of life and experience acute health problems and complications that can shorten their life expectancy if not managed.

Chronic conditions can range from allergies and back pain to heart disease and cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, accounting for 70% of all deaths. Moreover, chronic conditions such as back pain and depression are often the main drivers of decreased productivity and increased healthcare costs.

After receiving this news, patients may be tempted to wallow in self-pity or become fixated on returning to living life as they did before the diagnosis. But neither will help manage the condition. So, what can patients do? 

Here are a few management strategies.

Become an Expert: Learn everything you can about your condition from reliable sources, which include your doctor, other healthcare providers, and reputable websites. Don’t rely on “Dr. Google” for outlandish cures and treatments that take you down a rabbit hole adding to overall anxiety.

Make a Plan: Your chronic condition diagnosis is, without a doubt, life changing. It is doubtful that you can return to living exactly as you had prior to diagnosis. This condition is now your new normal. Some lifestyle changes may be as simple as watching what you eat, exercising, and taking medication. Others may be more intense, such as a loss of mobility and a reduction in life expectation. 

Manage Your Emotions: Shock, sadness, anger, and resignation are just a few emotions you may experience—and that is perfectly understandable and normal. But what to do with those emotions? Support groups for those with your disease are an excellent way to manage emotions. Others with the same experiences can offer advice and coping techniques that worked for them.

Control Stress and Anxiety: These conditions, too, are to be expected. Perhaps you continually worry about finances, the outcome of your illness, or changes you must cope with. Again, these are normal feelings. Identify what triggers these stress emotions and address them. Talking to family and loved ones can help tremendously. Consider seeing a therapist or taking a prescription medication to reduce anxiety. Other coping mechanisms may include meditation, music therapy, or journaling.

Build a Support System: Talking about your condition instead of bottling up your feelings is an excellent management technique. Find those around you who are empathetic or just willing to lend an ear, including family and friends. Take it further and talk to your clergy, a professional therapist, or in-person or online support groups. 

Practice Self-Care: Be kind to your body and your mind. Light your favorite scented candle. Take a long luxurious bath. Indulge in a snuggly set of pajamas. Sip a cup of relaxing tea. These are the little things that can positively affect your mood and outlook.

Embrace Your New Normal: Your life will never return to “before,” even if your disease or condition is controlled or in remission. Instead of mourning you’re the past, embrace and accept your “new” normal. Celebrate the little wins. And remember, it’s not about going back. It’s about moving forward.