5 Mental Health Strategies for People with Chronic Health Conditions by Roma Palmer
The team at Inner Good had the wonderful opportunity to speak with one of Vancouver’s top registered clinical counsellors, Roma Palmer, to get her take on the mental side of dealing with chronic health conditions (ulcerative colitis, crohns, cancer, IBD, diabetes, etc). When she said she would create a special article for us on the topic, we jumped at the opportunity.
If you are dealing with personal issues that you want help with, you can find Roma Palmer’s website information at the end of this post.
Repercussions of Chronic Health Problems
If you have a chronic health condition, it is likely you have experienced some negative mental health symptoms. Whether anxiety, grief, depression, guilt or isolation, these are normal responses to difficult circumstances. It can be challenging to shift these feelings; however, doing so can make a very real difference to your physical and mental well-being. In this article we will explore the mental health ‘side-effects’ of chronic health conditions and discuss some strategies to manage them.
Anxiety is essentially worrying about future events. When you live with a chronic health condition you may worry about what the future holds for you. Uncertainty is difficult for most people; and when you have a chronic health condition you may struggle with a lack of control over aspects of your life. You may not know how you will feel from one day to the next. It is difficult to plan events and you worry about letting others down if you are unable to meet your commitments.
The antidote to anxiety is acceptance. Easier said than done! It doesn’t happen over night; but accepting the limitations your condition has will help you to worry less. Leaving yourself lots of time to complete tasks and breaking down activities into small, doable steps is helpful in lessening anxiety.
As for tools to work with anxiety, your breath is your best friend. Taking time out to breathe may sound silly but it is often the best way to center yourself and come back to the present instead of worrying about the future. Slow down and take 10 deep breaths, counting to 8 on the inhale and again on the exhale is the key.
If your condition involves pain, or other physical limitation, guilt is often a factor in mental health. “Should I be experiencing this much pain? How can I fix it? Am I doing enough? What will people think? How will people judge me? Am I a burden?” are all questions that run through people’s minds who suffer from chronic conditions.
Guilt is a natural response as you try to ‘solve the problem’ of your chronic issue. It feels like the ‘responsible’ alternative. If you feel guilty then you aren’t taking advantage of anyone. Let me stop you right there!
Guilt masquerades as a helper but it really is the destroyer. No one but you knows what you are going through. Don’t let others’ judgements or your fear of judgement dictate how you feel about yourself. Concentrate on being ‘good enough’, not perfect. Let go of your need to carry the burden entirely on your own. The people who love you will want to feel needed. Asking for help allows them to feel like they can do something to lessen your burden.
Any big change in life involves grief. Transitions require a letting go of the past and acceptance of a new reality. You may struggle with the new reality, especially if it constantly changing. It is hard to get your feet under you. You may struggle with who you are now. You may question your value in the world. Perhaps you can no longer take part in activities you used to. Grief is a normal and natural response to change.
Where grief can become problematic is if you get stuck. Not being able to see hope in your situation can be cause for concern if it goes on long enough. If this is your experience, get help. Enlist friends, family, or seek professional support to help you find ways to change your world view.
Often people wonder how talking to someone can change the way they feel. I am pleasantly surprised everyday in my office by the number of clients who feel markedly better after sharing their story and putting it back together in a new, brighter way.
Along with grief can come depression. When you have a chronic health condition you may question who will understand your situation, feel despondent over changes in your abilities, and fear losing connection with others. You may not be sleeping, eating or exercising they way you used to and this can contribute to low mood. Your motivation may be lacking to make changes.
You will need to take action before you feel like taking action. Often we think we’ll do better when we feel better. Unfortunately we need to do better before we feel better. If you feel depressed, visit your doctor. S/he may have recommendations based on your situation that could make all the difference. If you are clinically depressed there may be medications that can help you; however, medication is definitely not the only answer. Taking care of your nutrition, sleep and exercise are key to helping your body feel better. Connecting with others is also important in helping mood.
When we feel poorly we tend to withdraw. You may feel or worry about feeling misunderstood. Pain may interfere with socializing. Poor sleep may affect your mood. All of these experiences may make you less likely to socialize. You may end up feeling like an outsider in your own life.
Granted, when you don’t feel great about yourself, it is difficult to muster the energy to meet up with family and friends. Brainstorm ways to connect with others that still feel ‘safe’ or ‘comfortable’. Perhaps smaller gatherings or getting together for a particular activity is easier to imagine than going to a party or other large event with people you don’t know. Be gentle with yourself. Appreciate that social situations take energy. You may feel different about being in social situations than you used to. That’s okay! You can still take part in social occasions: but pay attention to your needs. Perhaps you need to limit the time you are at an event or you need to block off time before the event to prepare or after the event to wind-down. Listen to yourself.
Chronic health issues can definitely bring up Mental Health challenges. If you have had a significant change in your health, you may find yourself struggling with some of the concerns mentioned in this article. The big takeaway is to gently take action and connect with others: both personal and professional as needed. When you are so close to your own situation it can be hard to gain perspective. Seeking out others for help or for company can be the best medicine!
About Roma Palmer Counselling
Roma Palmer is a professional counsellor located in Vancouver, BC. The modern world can be complicated and difficult, especially when you’re suffering. Roma helps individuals with the tools, training and insight to help you discover a new and exciting inner strength.
You can check out Roma’s website by clicking here. Be sure to look at the LEARN page and find out about upcoming events and resources for those that like to keep up on the latest from the world of psychology.