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How to manage chronic illnesses

Have you or a loved one recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness? If so, you may be looking for tips on how to cope. You may also be looking for reassurance that while all is not well, there are ways to find comfort. If you are asking yourself, "how do you manage chronic health conditions," below you will find some answers that will hopefully reassure you.

Maria Montgomery
· 11 min read

Have you or a loved one recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness? If so, you may be looking for tips on how to cope. You may also be looking for reassurance that while all is not well, there are ways to find comfort. If you are asking yourself, "how do you manage chronic health conditions," below you will find some answers that will hopefully reassure you.

Getting a second opinion

If you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you might decide to get a second opinion from a specialist. Having two doctors confirm it and discuss the plan of action moving forward will reassure you that you are receiving the best care possible.

Read up about your chronic condition

Before you sit down with your doctors to discuss your treatment plan, read up about your condition. What medications are available? What are their benefits and side-effects? What alternative treatments are available? Will any of these treatments interfere with medication? Are there any doctors that offer both traditional and alternative treatments?

When you sit down with the doctors, ask these questions as well. Bear in mind that not everything you find on Google is correct and that you need to discuss it with your doctors to get the full picture. Also, remember that just because someone has authority, that doesn't mean they are right. That's why second opinions can also be helpful.

Educate yourself from the point of view of a patient

Once you understand the medical side of things, have a look at how other patients are coping. What are their lifestyle strategies? Have they improved symptoms by doing something in particular? What helps calm their minds?

You are likely to find blogs on the topic, as well as various groups on social media. Look around and see what people are doing to help themselves cope.

It will be beneficial for you to do this before you sit down with your doctors to ask questions about your treatment plan. That way, you will know what other patients have found to be beneficial.

A note of warning:

Some people will have a negative outlook. You are not looking for their advice. They are not helping themselves, and they will not help you.

Set your expectations right

You should aim to reverse, or improve, your condition as far as possible. For some, that will simply mean managing symptoms.

However, beware that not everyone is at the same place. Just because someone else managed to do something doesn't mean you will. Don't measure yourself against others—simply use other peoples' stories as inspiration!

Follow your doctors' advice

Once you've done your research and maybe gotten a second opinion, you need to sit down with your doctor(s) and talk about your treatment plan. From then on, you need to follow it. As things change and your condition improves or worsens, you also need to update the plan accordingly together with your doctors.

Take action

As with anything else, it's one thing to read about managing your condition and another to implement those tips. Whether getting an adjustable bed or going for daily walks will help you feel better, make sure to do it.

Not unlike having a personal trainer, you might want to get a person to help keep you accountable for your goals. This could be your doctor or nurse, a physiotherapist, a life coach, a friend, or partner. It could be anyone willing to ensure that you implement the changes needed to make your life as comfortable and happy as possible.

The basis of wellbeing

While chronic health conditions usually last for life, changing your lifestyle might help you feel better and potentially improve your situation. Certain so-called chronic conditions, such as high cholesterol, or diabetes type two, are even reversible in some cases. And many chronic illnesses become manageable, even unnoticeable, if you make some lifestyle changes. For others, an improved lifestyle simply helps them cope better.

The underlying basis for a healthy lifestyle consists of:

  • A healthy diet—usually a whole foods diet rich in fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and pulses, as well as some meats and oils (a multi-vitamin a couple of times a week, as well as omega-3s and probiotics a couple of times a week, may also be considered).
  • Exercise—at least 20 minutes a day of moderate cardio, plus strength exercises and stretching a couple of times a week for 20 minutes or more.
  • Spending time outdoors in nature—so-called forest bathing doesn't just give you a dose of vitamin D but also improves your immune system.
  • Good sleep patterns—enough sleep at regular hours.
  • Happy social interactions.
  • Little negative stress (working on something demanding but which you enjoy is positive stress).

Depending on the chronic illness you or someone you know has been diagnosed with, the type of foods you eat, the exercise you partake in, and so forth will vary. A physiotherapist or nutritionist might need to be involved.

Many people don't realise that sleep, stress, time in nature and your social life all affect your mental and physical wellbeing. Make an effort to improve your overall lifestyle!

Terminal conditions

If your illness is terminal, then make plans for the hereafter—ranging from funeral plans and your will to grasping the idea of death.

Something that may benefit you is speaking to a therapist. Another incredible thing to do is looking into near-death experiences. What happened to those who died and came back? There are several articles on the topic, an excellent Netflix documentary, and the University of Virginia has a department dedicated to finding out about it. Anita Moorjani's story has been well documented, for example, and is in many ways similar to that of others.

Some psychologists and psychiatrists have even experimented with magic mushrooms to overcome peoples' fear of death! By experiencing an altered state of mind, people realise that life as we know it is just an interpretation, as is death. If you are terrified by the prospect of death, you may want to seek out some of these psychologists.

Having the right mindset

Dale Carnegie said many years ago in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living that it's possible to stop worrying if we only live in day-tight compartments. Meaning if we stop thinking about yesterday and tomorrow, we can cope with today.

Likewise, Jen Sincero said that you can do anything for ten minutes. Don't think about everything you have to do; just focus on doing it for ten minutes at a time. If you are having a difficult day, this might be just the ticket.

Sincero also mentions gratitude and kindness in her book You Are a Badass. She speaks about how a woman suffering an illness decided to do one action a day for someone else. By focusing on other people, this woman forgot her own worries, and her condition actually improved. Similar stories are being told worldwide, and science has actually proven that those who engage in volunteer work feel better mentally and live longer.

There are other books, such as Unf*ck Yourself by Gary John Bishop and Happy by Derren Brown, that deal with mindset and help you become happier. Trying out different breathing and relaxation techniques may also be beneficial.

It's hard being diagnosed with a chronic illness. Nothing is going to change that. What you can do is take charge of where you focus your time and energy. Doing things you love, spending time with loved ones, and partaking in activities helping others will all focus your mind on things that make you happy.

As the story goes, someone invented anti-wrinkle cream because people think about their wrinkles as they age. Do we have to think about our wrinkles? Does coffee taste worse as we age? Do the flowers smell less sweet? Is it less fun to laugh? No, we can enjoy life just as much as we did at 22, but we do tend to spend an awful lot of time thinking about the body we had at 22.

With a chronic illness, you may suffer in that you can no longer do certain things, you may experience pain, or you might fret about your life being cut short. However, what you do in the moment can still be wonderful. And if you live from moment to moment, your life can be fantastic too, even if with complications.

It's easy to say to choose your thoughts—it's harder to do so. That's why engaging in positive activities is so important. By doing things, you keep your mind occupied also.

That doesn't mean you don't have the right to be upset and cry. You need to face your condition head-on and feel what you're feeling. You can set aside time to see a therapist on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. You're also welcome to kick the furniture when you get frustrated. Those moments will happen. The important thing is that you don't get stuck in them. Face your grief and let it go so that you have space for other thoughts and experiences.

Get a bunch of books on how to improve your mood and get the right mindset. You may have a chronic illness, and it may not be easy, but nothing is saying you can't still be happy.

Set up a support system

Having a friend whose shoulder you can cry on, a partner to shop groceries when you're too tired, a therapist that can help you when you get into a funk... All those people are important. Don't think you should go at this alone. Instead, set up a support system where you have those around you who can make it easier.

Don't make the mistake of thinking you're burdening people either. If your best friend was diagnosed with a chronic disease, would you like to be there for them? Would you maybe even be offended if they didn't let you be there for them?

The only way you burden people is if you lean too heavily on one person or spew negativities around constantly. By setting up a big enough support network where people can help you with different things, no one will be burdened. Sometimes you will need a shoulder to cry on; sometimes, you will need help with a doctor's visit; sometimes, you will need someone to distract you by going out and doing something fun.

And for the record—we should all have a support system like that.

The thirty-second sum-up

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is often a shock and hard to deal with. And not just for you, but for those around you too. That's why it's essential to: 

  • Get a second opinion.
  • Find out as much as possible about the condition from doctors, patients, and alternative doctors (preferably someone who practices both alternative and Western medicine).
  • Once you've educated yourself, sit down with your doctors to ask questions and set up a treatment plan.
  • Take care of your overall wellbeing by eating well (possibly with the help of a nutritionist), sleeping well, spending time in nature, exercising (possibly with the help of a physiotherapist), socialising, and avoiding/combating negative stress.
  • Talk to a therapist if needed.
  • Prepare for the hereafter.
  • Set up a support network.
  • Work on your mindset—read books, learn relaxation and breathing techniques, and/or attend courses.
  • Face and accept your condition—allow yourself to scream—but don't get stuck in thinking about it 24/7.
  • Engage in activities where you give to others.
  • Engage in activities that make you happy.
  • Ensure you're held accountable on your treatment plan and other actions that will assist you with your life, health, and happiness.

If looking for further information, you can find some courses here.

Lastly, remember to give yourself a big hug and dole out as many hugs as possible. Never underestimate the comfort of love.

Maria Montgomery

Maria Montgomery

Maria has lived in seven different countries around the globe. While trained as an actor, director and producer, mainly she’s been paid for putting her words to pieces of paper. She also has an entrepreneurial streak and is the owner of Magique and That Woman Is A Woman Productions. Her blog, Confessions of a Dizzy Blonde, offers her life learnings, sprinkled with a large dose of humour…and sex!