Living with a chronic health condition is not for the faint of heart. No matter what the condition is or how severe the symptoms may be, the reality is that a chronic health condition impacts your daily living in ways both large and small.
And yet this is the experience of an estimated 6 in 10 American adults, many of whom are contending not only with one chronic health condition but with multiple chronic illnesses concurrently. But chronic health conditions don’t just affect your physical health or alter the way you live your life day-to-day.
Rather, living with a chronic illness can also take a profound toll on your mental health. Indeed, a large body of research indicates that those who experience chronic disease are also at a significantly higher risk of developing anxiety disorders.
The good news, however, is that chronic illness does not have to rob you of the happy, peaceful life you want and deserve. There are specific and highly effective steps you can take to manage your anxiety when you’re living with chronic illness.
The Connection Between Chronic Illness and Anxiety
When you’re contending with a chronic illness, it’s often the diagnosis itself that receives the most attention from family and healthcare providers alike. Indeed, you may be so focused on managing your own symptoms and battling the disease itself, that you might not give much thought to how the illness is impacting your daily life, let alone your mental health.
But the inevitable fact is chronic illness doesn’t just affect your physical health, it touches every other aspect of your life, from your work to your home life to your relationships. You may find yourself, for instance, unable to work the number of hours to which you were accustomed, which can introduce financial anxiety into your life. At the same time, your stamina may be reduced to the point that you can no longer enjoy the activities with friends and family that you once loved.
And then you factor in the uncertainty of chronic illness itself, the reality that chronic disease, no matter how well-managed, will also bring fears of the unknown. When you are experiencing a chronic illness, you are also likely to experience pain and fatigue every day. You’re also likely to become hypervigilant to changes in your body, with each new sensation taken as a potential warning sign that perhaps your condition may be worsening.
With all this in mind, it’s little wonder that chronic illness would increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder. But there is hope because a significant aspect of self-care when you have a chronic illness also involves attending to your mental, spiritual, and emotional health as well.
Managing Anxiety with Chronic Illness
Anxiety disorders can be borne of many factors, from genetic predisposition to life experience. Indeed, one of the most prevalent causes of anxiety disorder is an experience of trauma, for which a chronic illness most certainly qualifies.
But the great news is that no matter the cause or the severity of the anxiety, there are many options for managing the symptoms effectively. One of the first and most important of these, of course, is simply to seek professional help for your symptoms. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists can work with you to design a customized treatment plan that best suits your needs, such as the combination of talk therapy and anti-anxiety medications.
Another important strategy for managing anxiety is to design a living space that enables you to feel safe and comfortable as your health needs change. For instance, when you are experiencing a physical disability, you may face mobility challenges that make navigating stairs, bathrooms, and kitchens particularly anxiety-inducing. Retrofitting these spaces in your home for safety, functionality, and comfort can help restore much-needed peace of mind to your daily life at home.
When you are facing a chronic health condition, it’s also vital to focus on self-expression. After all, your life has changed and your future may not be what you had once imagined. Taking the time, every single day, to express yourself in some way, whether through journaling, art, music, or some other creative means, can be a powerful means of releasing those pent-up emotions before they can morph into stress, fear, and anxiety.
And, along those lines, keeping yourself moving can also be instrumental in reducing anxiety. For instance, an hour of gentle yoga each day will not only help improve muscle strength, flexibility, and balance, but it can also help you release stress hormones, such as cortisol, while increasing “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin.
Living with a chronic health condition isn’t for wimps. When you’re facing chronic illness, you’re at a significantly higher risk than the general population for developing an anxiety disorder. But with some simple self-care techniques, it’s possible to manage your anxiety and live the peaceful, happy life you deserve.
What are your best tips for managing anxiety with a chronic condition?
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