Serious Illness and Mental Health: How to Cope

You hang up with your doctor’s office and can’t believe the news. You knew something was wrong, but even after all the tests and months of worry, you hoped it wasn’t serious. This illness will completely change your life. How do you tell your loved ones? What do you do about your job? How will you pay for treatment? You’re scared, overwhelmed, and angry.

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When you’re diagnosed with serious illnesses like cancer, autoimmune diseases, or diabetes, life becomes increasingly challenging to manage. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place with paid medical leave, that can help with some of the financial stress. Even still, there’s so much to do and so much loss. When this type of illness impacts your quality of life, it can cause significant grief and lead to mental health conditions.

At SMPsychotherapy, we believe in a proactive approach to mental health care, and that’s why we recommend mental health treatment as part of your plan for managing any chronic or serious health condition. In this blog, we’ll discuss how serious illnesses and chronic conditions can impact your mental health. We also give you some tools to help you ensure that mental health issues don’t slow your progress, keep you from getting the best possible treatment, and cause your illness to worsen.

The Link Between Problema and Illness

When heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or other conditions affecting your physical health affect the quality of your life, it’s normal to feel powerful emotions. You may feel angry at a physical impairment, sad about your prognosis, isolated, or hopeless. Feeling those emotions is part of the healing process. Sometimes, the feelings last several weeks or longer, making managing your health condition more difficult. If left untreated, mental health conditions can seriously impact your overall well-being. When your mental health needs aren’t met during a serious illness, you can experience the following.

body mind and spirit leading towards HEALTH
  • A feeling of sadness or emptiness that lasts despite your usual attempts at moving through it.
  • Anxiety that causes you to feel restless.
  • Hopeless or pessimistic thoughts about your prognosis.
  • Irritability that causes you to lash out at loved ones or caregivers.
  • Frustration over even small things.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or that you’re unlovable.
  • Lack of interest in things you once loved.
  • Lack of energy and motivation.
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering information, or decision-making – often called brain fog.
  • Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep.
  • Weight gain or loss, and changes in your appetite, including eating disorders.
  • Chronic pain, digestive issues, and other discomforts not explained by your illness.
  • Suicidal ideation or self-harm thoughts. Contact a suicide & crisis lifeline immediately if you experience these symptoms.
  • Increases substance use or abuse.

If you experience any of these symptoms, you could have a mental illness such as depression or anxiety. Often, a medical experience can cause post-traumatic stress disorder as well. PTSD is common after a traumatic medical experience or even after being ignored by medical professionals. Seeking treatment for these issues can help you better manage your daily life, cope with how your life is changing, and find the best possible treatment and health professionals for your physical condition.

Improving Mental Wellbeing While Managing Illness

It can be challenging to manage your life when you have mental health problems worsening your experience during a chronic or serious illness. The following tips can help you manage your mental health while you battle your illness. These strategies can help you feel more in control and empowered to make informed decisions about your mental and physical health care.

Learn About Your Condition

Knowledge is power, and organized knowledge makes you unbreakable. Go on a mission to learn as much as possible about your condition. Read books, listen to podcasts, and connect with support groups. Make it your mission to learn about prognosis, treatment options, how to slow progression, and who the best doctors are for your condition. Then, use that knowledge to advocate for yourself and the best possible outcome.

Plan for Joy Every Day

When illness alters your life, finding joy becomes more difficult. Make a list of things that bring a smile to your face and fill your life with hope and love. Then, schedule one of those things every day. Whether reading fiction, hugging your dog or getting outside, making time each day to do something you love will remind you of who you are and motivate you to keep fighting.

Find Ways to Move Your Body

man talking to a clinician

Exercise releases endorphins and can help you manage mental health conditions. With chronic illness or a serious medical condition, the ways you can exercise may change, but it’s essential to find ways to move your body. If you’re bed-bound, can you rotate your ankles, stretch your legs, or do arm raises? Does pain make it difficult for you to stand? Try chair yoga, or find exercises you can do on the floor. You may find it helpful to work with a physical or occupational therapist to help you find ways to move your body as you learn to live life in a new way.

Reach Out to Loved Ones

Many people won’t understand what you’re going through and cannot support you the way you need. But there will also be plenty of people in your life willing to stop by for coffee and a chat, deliver meals, or drive you to appointments. If you’re someone who struggles to ask for help, this part will be challenging, but once you start reaching out, you’ll find people and family members willing to love and help you in the ways you need now and support you as you get well.

Practice Self-Compassion

While battling an illness, understand that your energy levels will be lower than usual. Your laundry may not get folded and put away like it used to, and your meals may be simpler. You may not hit the gym as regularly, and you might cancel plans more often than you keep them. This doesn’t make you worthless. It just makes you a human navigating a challenging situation. Give yourself a break. The laundry will still be there next time you feel up to folding it.

Create a Self-Care Plan

When managing a serious illness, you need a self-care plan tailored to your new needs. Sore muscles? Schedule a bath every night, and don’t skip it. Trouble sleeping? Make time to nap during the day. Feeling lonely? Schedule phone calls with loved ones every day for a week and sees if that helps you feel more connected. During an illness, your self-care plan will include taking any necessary medications on time and making it to every doctor’s appointment.

Discuss Problema With All Providers

They should know about your mental health, whether you’re seeing a primary care doctor, neurologist, endocrinologist, or any other sort of -ist. Do not struggle alone. Your healthcare providers may have recommendations on medications with fewer side effects, ways to alleviate your worst symptoms, or information about support groups for peer support. If your doctors aren’t checking on your mental health, remind them that severe health conditions and mental illness often go hand in hand. Make mental health part of your patient care plan.

Make a Problema Provider Part of Your Care Team

word blocks spelling out mental health

Working with a mental health clinician while managing a chronic or serious health issue can keep any symptoms you have from becoming a severe mental illness or help you better manage a mental health issue you already have. You will need to work with a therapist well-versed in chronic health conditions and how they impact your mental health. At SMPSychotherapy and Counseling services, many of our providers have experience with people experiencing health problems. Contacta nuestra oficina hoy to schedule an appointment and learn more about managing mental health while managing physical health conditions.

¿Estás Buscando Más? 

For more about how medical challenges impact our lives, get on the waitlist for the new book, Unbreakable by Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services. The book releases in Spring 2023. It’s a story of one woman’s journey through adversity and how you can use her principles to build the life of your dreams. ¡Únete a la Lista de Espera Aquí!

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