3 Ways to Improve Your Life If You Have a Chronic Illness

April 9, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Gary Small, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health.

Navigating a chronic condition such as Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease not only takes a toll on your physical health, but it also can weigh heavily on your emotional and mental well-being or strain relationships. According to the National Health Council, 133 million Americans live with a chronic illness.

“Anyone suffering from a chronic illness has to deal with managing medication, making diet changes and navigating doctor’s visits and hospital stays. In addition to these practical tasks, uncertainties about the future and worries about how the illness will impact their personal and professional life can sometimes make it hard to see the brighter side of things,” says Gary Small, M.D., behavioral health physician-in-chief at Hackensack Meridian Health and chair of psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center. “Despite these challenges, it is possible to take steps to live life to the fullest.”

Here are three ways to manage the emotional strain of a chronic condition.

  1. Practice gratitude daily. 

Whether you keep a journal or say what you are grateful for aloud each morning, having an attitude of gratitude can help shift your perspective as you battle the illness. “Mindfulness helps you focus on right now, not yesterday or two years from now,” Dr. Small says. “Meditation, journaling and other methods of therapy can help you release any anger, envy, depression or anxiety you may have in dealing with your condition.”

  1. Embrace a community of support. 

No one can do it alone, especially when facing a major challenge. Your family, friends, medical team and those who share your condition are all members of your community who can encourage you. “It’s important to have a close circle of loved ones and friends who can lift your spirits and support you,” Dr. Small says. “There are also many online communities that can help you cope.”

  1. Ask for help when you need it. 

Your primary care doctor, specialist and medical team can answer questions about your illness and work together to discover the best ways to treat it. Nurses and other health care professionals can also provide insights on making important lifestyle changes. When friends and relatives offer a helping hand, don’t feel guilty about accepting assistance. In fact, it likely brings them joy to be able to support you.

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.