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Chronic Illness and Mental Health
Living with a chronic illness is difficult in itself. Unfortunately, most chronic illnesses are coupled with mental health challenges, making life that much more overwhelming.
But it doesn’t have to be that way forever. Although it may seem like the odds are against you when managing mental health with a chronic illness, there are significant benefits to taking on the challenge. These benefits include improving your outlook on life, living with intention, and pursuing your greatest passions.
Here are six ways you can be proactive in taking care of your mental health while managing a chronic illness.
Accept and Appreciate Where You Are
An excellent first step to managing mental health with a chronic illness is to acknowledge and accept that you’re dealing with what you’re dealing with. Then, you can work on appreciating your current circumstances and showing yourself grace.
Managing a mental health condition and a chronic illness simultaneously can be extremely trying and defeating at times. So, it’s okay to honor feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, frustration, and negativity. Just do your best not to live there. Even if it’s shaving just a second off the time you spend in those feelings that make managing your conditions seem impossible; it’s worth working at it.
Next, ensure you’re in charge of your mental health and wellness journey.
Lead Your Mental Health and Wellness Journey
Chronic conditions coupled with mental health challenges require a lot of specialized care. Because of this, you’ll need multiple providers and, therefore, must be an advocate for your holistic health.
One of the main reasons you want to lead your mental health and wellness journey rather than it leading you is because silos in healthcare are ever-present. When people see a variety of healthcare providers that don’t communicate with one another, it results in everything each provider learns about a patient staying with them, instead of their findings being communicated to every medical professional involved in the patient’s care.
This lack of communication leads to costly duplicate treatment, inaccurate diagnoses, professionals prescribing unsafe combinations of medication, patients feeling dismissed and defeated because they aren’t getting better, and so forth.
Information technology systems, like Electronic Health Records, can help eliminate silos in healthcare because they allow medical professionals to update and view patient information and facilitate treatment all in the same system. But effective use of these systems starts with medical providers committing to treating their patients from a holistic perspective rather than a fragmented one.
It also starts with your ability to communicate your feelings, physical ailments, and other symptoms in as much detail as possible so you can develop a treatment plan and medical team that includes support for your chronic condition, mental health challenge, and emotional wellness all at once.
Each specialist you work with should be on board with transparent communication, effective collaboration, and creating a cohesive health and wellness plan that addresses all of your health concerns.
Additionally, self-educating yourself on the mental health condition and chronic illness you’re living with can help.
Self-education can aid a more positive journey in managing mental health with a chronic illness. Unfortunately, many people living with chronic diseases and mental health conditions have more difficult days than good ones because they feel so out of control of the entire situation.
Part of that out-of-control feeling can be attributed to a lack of knowledge. When you study your conditions, learn the best practices for managing them, and educate yourself on how to best work with your medical team, there’s a good chance you’ll feel more like you’re being proactive rather than reactive. And that can be empowering, encouraging, and impactful.
You can also manage living with a mental health condition and chronic illness with the help of a solid support group.
Find a Support Group
The right support group can be a powerful influence on your ability to manage your mental health with a chronic illness. It’s easy to feel like you’re alone in your battle. Support groups give you the comfort of knowing that you aren’t.
There are people out there going through what you’re going through. Hearing similar stories and different perspectives on healing and moving forward can keep you uplifted and positive throughout your journey.
You can use social media to find support groups dedicated to your chronic illness, mental health condition, or both. Join them virtually or in-person and begin forming those social relationships you need to succeed.
Furthermore, even if you don’t want to join a formal support group, surround yourself with supportive people who understand what you’re going through. They should also be willing to join you in activities that promote good mental health while managing chronic illnesses like prioritizing exercise and nutrition.
Prioritize Regular Exercise and Good Nutrition
Regular exercise and good nutrition are the keys to an overall healthy lifestyle. With that being said, prioritizing physical activity and eating well can positively influence those living with chronic illnesses and mental health challenges specifically.
For example, many people are living with chronic pain. Chronic pain can lead to anxiety disorders, severe depression, panic disorders, impulse control issues, and other emotional disorders. Also, because chronic pain is often treated with opioids, it can lead to addiction issues.
Instead of prescribing opioids to treat chronic pain and the additional medications to treat mental health concerns, regular exercise and good nutrition are at the top of the list of treatment options. Regular exercise can help you strengthen your physical body and improve your pain, eliminating the need for opioids. In addition, a nutritious diet can help you improve your mental stamina and the function of your insides.
Lastly, if you ever feel like you need more support, don’t be afraid to seek it.
Know When to See a Mental Health Specialist
Many of us need more than ourselves, family, and friends to navigate the mental, emotional, and physical effects of living with a chronic illness and accompanying mental health challenges. And that’s okay. Take the next step and see a mental health specialist when you feel therapy and additional guidance would be beneficial.
For example, two primary mental health challenges associated with various chronic illnesses are depression and anxiety. Although it may seem like they don’t overlap, they do more often than not. You can manage both conditions together by making lifestyle changes like getting better sleep, eating well, and practicing mindfulness.
But when your chronic condition, depression, and anxiety still interfere with your daily life and your loved ones share their concerns, it may be time to see a professional.
Ultimately, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional for help. Their qualifications and knowledge allow them to provide an additional layer of support and perspective on helping you thrive while living with a chronic illness and mental health challenge.
Managing mental health with a chronic illness requires a consistent effort and commitment, but it’s absolutely doable. Use the tips above to start on your path to mental wellness and successfully managing your chronic illness.