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Living with a chronic illness - dealing with feelings

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Learning that you have a long-term (chronic) illness can bring up many different feelings.

Learn about common emotions you might have when you are diagnosed and live with a chronic illness. Learn how to support yourself and where to go for more support.

Getting Used to Chronic Illness

Examples of chronic illnesses are:

It can be a shock to learn you have a chronic illness. You may ask "why me?" or "where did it come from?"

As you learn more about your illness and how to take care of yourself, your feelings may change. Fear or shock may give way to:

Your Image of Yourself may Change

You may feel like you are not a whole person anymore. You might be embarrassed or ashamed that you have an illness. Know that, with time, your illness will become part of you and you will have a new normal.

You will learn to live with your illness. You will get used to your new normal. For example:

Expect to Feel Overwhelmed

You may be overwhelmed by:

Be Gentle With Yourself

Over time, you'll adapt to living with your illness.

Feelings and Emotions Over Time

It takes a lot of energy to manage your chronic illness every day. Sometimes, this can affect your outlook and mood. Sometimes you may feel very alone. This is particularly true during times when your illness is harder to manage.

You may sometimes have the feelings you had when you first got the illness:

These kinds of feelings are normal.

Stress can make it harder for you to take care of your chronic illness. You can learn to cope with stress to help you manage day to day.

Find ways to decrease stress that work for you. Here are some ideas:

Finding healthy, fun ways to cope with stress helps many people. If your stress lasts, talking with a therapist might help you deal with the many feelings that come up. Ask your health care provider for help finding a therapist.

Learn More About Your Illness

Know more about your illness so you can manage it and feel better about it.

References

American Psychological Association website. Coping with a diagnosis of chronic illness. www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-illness.aspx. Updated August 2013. Accessed August 17, 2018.

Larsen PD. Psychosocial adjustment. In: Larsen PD, ed. Lubkin's Chronic Illness: Impact and Intervention. 9th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2016:chap 3.

Wagner EH. Comprehensive chronic disease management. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 13.

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Review Date: 8/4/2018  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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