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Coming to Terms with a Chronic Illness

It can be difficult to deal with a diagnosis of a chronic illness. News of a long-term or lifelong condition can take its toll on both your physical and mental health. It can also affect your relationships, home, career and finances.

Each person diagnosed with a chronic illness likely will react differently. There will be challenging times ahead, but adopting certain strategies and knowing that you are not alone can help you cope in the best way possible.

Your reaction to your diagnosis often can take you through a roller coaster of emotions, such as denial, anger, distress, sadness, guilt, and shame. These feelings are normal and will pass.

Those who experience anger may find that they direct it at their closest friends and family, putting a strain on those relationships. It may be helpful to see a therapist. They are trained to listen nonjudgmentally and offer impartial advice.

If you find it too difficult to talk, then write. Keeping a diary or writing letters that you might not necessarily send can help you to vent and see the source of your frustrations more clearly.

Although experiencing a range of emotions is normal, you should watch out for signs of depression. It is thought that around a third of those diagnosed with a long-term medical condition develop depression symptoms. If at any stage you begin to feel overwhelmed, seek help immediately.

Keep your loved ones informed by involving them in your appointments and meetings, if possible. This will help them gain a better understanding of how your illness affects you.

People with chronic illnesses now live longer and take a more active role in their disease management. It is widely agreed across the health sector that self-management is the way forward and it will enhance chronic illness outcomes.

Taking an active approach to the management of your illness can provide confidence when it comes to decisions about changes in treatment. Patients who feel capable should remain as informed as possible about their condition. This is said to help limit health deterioration.

Keep an updated list of questions to take with you to each of your specialist appointments. This way you can be sure that each of your questions will be answered at your next meeting.

Try to maintain your daily routine, including working, socializing and exercising. Maintaining a level of normality may prove beneficial for your physical and psychological health.

However, your diagnosis may lead to some unavoidable life changes. These can range from a change in your mobility to adapting your job role so that it suits your health. You may be offered support from a counselor to help you come to terms with these changes. Your employer should support you through any alterations that are required to enable you to do your job. There are laws in place to protect chronically ill workers.

Your home may need to be altered to better suit your needs. An occupational health therapist may be assigned to you to look into the specifics and make suggestions.

Your hospital, community social worker or welfare rights advisor may be able to provide advice regarding the financial aspects.

If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, then you should continue with sports and other activities for as long as you feel comfortable. Physical exercise can provide you with a whole host of potential benefits.

Your diagnosis may mean that you are required regularly to take medications. This in itself can be demoralizing. It can take a while for your body to physically adjust to the presence of medications, but it can also take time from a psychological standpoint.

You have been prescribed medications in order to treat or manage your condition. You are taking them for a very good reason and should not feel bad about relying on them.

It is important to routinely report any side effects you encounter. In some cases changes can be made to dosages or the type of medicine to help you cope better. If you have doubts or questions regarding your medications, you should direct them to your doctor.

There are numerous support networks available for people living with chronic illnesses. Not everyone living with a long-term medical condition will want to seek the support of a community; however, many people do find it to be cathartic.

Charities, online forums and local meeting groups give the opportunity to open up about your experience or to learn about others’.

You should not be afraid to ask for help. If you feel that you are not coping physically or mentally then you should speak to your doctor or specialist.


Goldberg, J. (February 8, 2014). WebMD. Coping With Chronic Illnesses and Depression. Retrieved from:

The European Network on Patient Empowerment (April 10, 2012). Patient Empowerment – Living with Chronic Disease. Retrieved from:

Goodwin, N., Curry, N., Naylor, C., Ross, S., Duldig, W. (July 20, 2012). Managing People With Long-term Conditions: An Inquiry into the Quality of General Practice in England. Retrieved from:

Patient on oxygen photo available from Shutterstock

Coming to Terms with a Chronic Illness

Wayne Osborne, MD

Dr. Wayne Osborne is Head Practitioner at online health website

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APA Reference
Osborne, W. (2018). Coming to Terms with a Chronic Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Nov 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.