Chronic illness refers to life-long medical conditions. The CDC defines chronic conditions as “conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.” Chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are the principal causes of disability and death in the United States. However, life continues, despite the diagnosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, psychotherapy may help you improve your quality of life, adhere to your medical treatment, and adjust to life changes.
Examples Of Chronic Illness Include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Autoimmune diseases (e.g., lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic pain conditions
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson disease
- Progressive disorders (e.g., COPD, ALS)
Six in 10 adults in the United States live with a chronic illness, and 4 out of 10 suffer from 2 or more chronic diseases. Many individuals with chronic illness may experience sadness, shame, guilt, frustration, and grief. Moreover, chronic illness may increase stress and impact mental health.
Chronic Illness and Effects on Mental Health
Grief is a normal response to chronic illness; an individual may grieve the loss of a future that may never happen or the loss of their lifestyle. Mood changes, frustration, or distress may occur daily since so much may depend on their physical health. However, research has shown that patients who confront the reality of their diagnosis and seek help rather than retreat from it have greater life satisfaction and better adjustment.
Furthermore, those who seek empowerment by speaking with their healthcare providers and asking them all their questions report less stress when compared to other patients.
Chronic conditions can have a significant impact on the way we think, feel, and act. Chronic illnesses may also affect mental health. Other ways in which chronic diseases can affect mental health include:
- Anxiety Regarding Access Barriers: An individual experiencing a mobility impairment due to a chronic illness may begin to worry about access to everyday things, like access to a specific building or their ability to shop for groceries.
- Discrimination: Discrimination can harm your mental and physical health. According to a 2007 survey, 40% of disabled workers may experience workplace discrimination. Furthermore, people may experience discrimination outside of the workplace.
- Relationship Conflicts: Chronic illness may also affect relationships. It may be difficult for someone who’s been healthy their whole life to have to rely on someone else. It may also be difficult for them to share their thoughts and feelings.
- Medical Stress: Sometimes, patients may feel like they have the wrong diagnosis, were rushed, or had their symptoms minimized.
- Fear and uncertainty about the future: Individuals facing a progressive or terminal illness may fear the loss of autonomy, decline, and death.
- Self-Esteem Concerns: Although many people suffer from chronic illness, we are surrounded by images of non-disabled, healthy individuals, making chronic illness sufferers feel alone and causing them to question their self-worth.
- Anger and frustration: Health conditions such as cardiovascular disease or arthritis can prevent people from doing activities they like, which may cause feelings of frustration or anger.
- Worry & Anxiety: Some people may be concerned about their health and feel anxious. Furthermore, during the COVID19 pandemic, individuals with chronic illness may have increased worries regarding their conditions and the risk of COVID19.
- Sleeping problems: Stress and pain can cause individuals with chronic health conditions to have sleeping difficulties, leading to increased anxiety.
Challenges faced by people living with Chronic Illness
Individuals who live with chronic illness have to face a whole set of challenges that others may not understand. They may have to deal with the complexities of managing their pain, maintaining relationships through a new dynamic, dealing with lifestyle changes, financial changes, and the possible inability to work. It is normal to deal with changing thoughts and feel a slew of complex feelings when faced with a chronic illness, such as helplessness and fear.
Chronic Illness Treatment and Psychotherapy
Medical services and psychotherapy can enable people with chronic diseases to improve their well-being and enjoy a better quality of life. Sometimes, the mental health component and associated feelings of sadness, fears, or worries get overlooked. However, therapy can help an individual identify, manage, and cope with emotional concerns that arise. Psychotherapy and CBT treatment with a psychologist may be essential to managing and treating chronic health conditions.
Chronic Illness Treatment and CBT
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a structured talk therapy, can assist us in accepting and adapting to our circumstances and medical conditions as best we can. Although it is not a cure, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help improve our ability to function, recovery, and quality of life.
CBT shows us how to manage our thoughts, emotions, and actions, to help us improve and manage the adverse events around us. We can learn to live optimally even with chronic illness. Optimal living includes acceptance, values-based living, and working around our limitations.
CBT Can Help Chronic Illness Sufferers:
- Deal with frightening and very real symptoms
- Prevent anxious reactions that could cause symptoms to worsen
- Cope with feelings of sadness or low mood.
- Address negative thoughts and beliefs about the future, the world, and ourselves.
- Address and reduce tension placed by the chronic illness in your relationship.
- Deal with grief related to a loss of the future we had hoped for
- Cope with frustration and anger regarding your diagnosis.
- Work through regrets
- Adapt to the unpredictable nature of the illness
- Managing pre-existing mental health conditions
- Working through grief – loss of life and health
- Increasing self-esteem and self-compassion
- Making and maintaining healthier choices
- improving sleep
Behavioral Changes that individuals may expect through CBT:
Behavioral changes that one may expect in cognitive behavioral therapy treatment include:
- striving towards accepting physical limitations
- adjusting to chronic illness and its unpredictability
- Pacing oneself to accomplish challenges of daily living
- Engaging in suitable activities that help you feel fulfilled and optimistic.
How Can a Psychologist Help with Chronic Illness Treatment?
Talking to a psychologist can help you understand how your thoughts regarding your illness can affect your mood, behaviors, and even your symptoms.
Speaking with a psychologist who treats individuals with chronic illnesses may help you adjust to your medical condition. Adjusting to a medical condition may include:
- Helping you manage uncertainty regarding the future.
- Coping with the loss of control.
- Needing emotional support and openness.
- Helping you feel comfortable when seeking medical support.
Making necessary lifestyle changes and adjusting to chronic medical conditions can be very difficult. However, CBT has shown to be efficacious in improving mood, quality of life, and treatment adherence.
When patients challenge their unbeneficial thinking patterns and make appropriate changes in their lives, such as adapting to what they can no longer do and focusing on their strengths, they may begin to enjoy fulfilling and happy lives.
Therapy is most helpful if the patient is willing to participate fully in sessions and completes tasks between sessions. Working with a therapist helps us understand the effects of our thinking and behavior patterns.
Therapy can help us gain a new appreciation for life and the things that matter to us. It provides us with the opportunity to re-establish and re-evaluate our priorities and, after that, live life to our fullest potential.
Chronic Illness Treatment with CBT in Florida
If you’re experiencing chronic illness in Florida, we’re here to help!
Hello, I’m Dr. Carolina Raeburn, a licensed Clinical Psychologist with a subspecialty in neuropsychology in Miami. I help people with emotional concerns, adjusting to life changes, or those who want to improve their quality of life. I offer coaching and bespoke psychotherapy for individuals and couples, providing cognitive behavioral therapy, depression treatment, anxiety treatment, panic attack treatment, stress management, as well as help those going through life changes, such as grief and loss, chronic and terminal illness, injuries, retirement, perfectionism, and much more.
If you have any questions about my services, please feel free to reach out through the contact form. Or, if you’re ready to start your path to a better tomorrow, please make your appointment today.
*All the information published in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Any information provided here is offered in generic form. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.