Handling Chronic Illness

Millions of adults deal daily with chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The presence of a chronic illness results from irreversible biological processes that ultimately contribute to the disability and potential death of the person with the illness. Although disability or death may occur decades after diagnosis, the lengthy course of dealing with a chronic illness results in stress on the person and their family. Also, persons who deal with a chronic illness are at greater risk for experiencing mental health challenges such as depression. However, there are activities people and their families may take to reduce the stress and strain of chronic illness. These steps can also help prevent the illness from getting worse.

  • Self-investment: Taking a vacation/staycation, spending time with family, eating a balanced diet, and, if possible, eliminating added stress from one’s life. Planning out self-care and family activities can also help. Other tips include losing weight and stopping smoking.
  • Coping skills: Using self-care, breathing exercises, walking daily, visiting friends or family, taking frequent breaks, and not using tobacco, alcohol, or substances to cope.
  • Medications: Taking medications as prescribed is important to preventing the disease from worsening or developing other diseases. Do not abruptly stop taking medications. Call your provider or pharmacist with any questions.
  • Involve family and friends: Ask friends and family to help you achieve your goals, like weight loss. Invite them to take the journey with you.
  • Inform yourself: Gather information about your illness, problems that may result from it, treatments and expected outcomes. Always consult your physician with questions or concerns.
  • Look out: Look out for depression or anxiety symptoms.
  • Get support: Reach out to family, friends, or health-care professionals if you have difficulty completing daily activities or feel worsening of your disease symptoms.
Nash J. Diabetes and Wellbeing: Managing the Psychological and Emotional Challenges of Diabetes Types 1 and 2. 2. Aufl. ed. Wiley-Blackwell; 2013.
Whittemore R., Dixon J. Chronic illness: The process of integration. Journal of clinical nursing. 2008;17(7b):177-187. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.02244.
Glasgow R., Funnell M., Bonomi A., Davis C., Beckham V., Wagner E. Self-Management aspects of the improving chronic illness care breakthrough series: Implementation with diabetes and heart failure teams. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 2002;24(2):80-87. doi:10.1207/S15324796ABM2402_04
Source: Paul Norrod, DrPH RN, Extension Specialist for Rural Health and Safety

Discover more about eating for health from our partners at the Food as Health Alliance. Discover their website to find recipes, resources, and information for healthy eating with diet-related chronic diseases here: https://foodashealthalliance.ca.uky.edu/