How to Cope with Illness

by Cynthia Mascott, LMHC

Letís face it -- no one wants to get sick. And yet, it happens. Whether you suffer from a common cold or a life-threatening disease, itís not easy coping with illness. When you are sick, you may experience a variety of emotions and feelings. Furthermore, you may be faced with making all sorts of adjustments to your life that you had not anticipated. At times, you may feel overwhelmed.

But help is on the way! by understanding your feelings about getting sick, developing a good relationship with your health care professional, and seeking social support, you can cope better with your condition.

First and foremost, know that you will go through all sorts of feelings once you have been diagnosed. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying (1969), identified several stages a person goes through before accepting a terminal illness. Even if your condition is not life threatening, you may go through the same emotional stages before you can accept your disease. These include:

  • Denial: You canít believe you have been diagnosed with a major illness. It couldnít possibly be happening to you! It must be a mistake!
  • Anger: You feel rage and you take your anger out on people you care about. You feel helpless. You believe you have no control over your situation.
  • Bargaining: In this stage, you begin to strike bargains, usually with some sort of Higher Power. You negotiate that you will go to church or temple every week, will be nicer to your mother or husband, or do the laundry more often. The list is endless. Bottom lineÖif you do what you have promised, then your Higher Power will release you from the disease that has made you ill.
  • Depression: Depression is a difficult stage and may be accompanied by feelings of overwhelming sadness. You have difficulties eating and sleeping. You donít want to get out of bed in the morning and have little motivation during the day.
  • Acceptance: This is the final stage and one that takes some time to reach, but you will arrive at this stage once you have experienced the preceding emotions.

Having a good relationship with your health care provider is extremely important. In choosing a provider, be sure to find out as much as you can about his or her credentials. Make sure your provider has experience working with people with your illness. It is also critical that your provider has good communication skills. You can learn more about physicians you may consider seeing by checking the American Medical Directory or the Directory of American Specialists at the library or by calling the American Board of Medical Specialties at (800) 776-2378. For more information on Physician Assistants, you may contact the Physician Assistant Foundation at (703) 519-5686. Learn more about Nurse Practitioners in your area by contacting the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners at (512) 442-4262.

Support groups are particularly helpful and can assist you in a number of ways. Being able to share your feelings with others who have had similar experiences can be extremely helpful. Furthermore, most support groups offer access to educational resources. For most major illnesses, a group or organization provides help locally as well as at the national level. Check out your Yellow Pages or inquire at the Social Services Department at your local hospital for support group listings. Check out the Internet for websites and chat rooms on your condition.

Research has also shown that a variety of stress management techniques can help people with chronic conditions. Relaxation training, yoga and meditation can be very helpful.

Having a major illness can be a devastating experience. Yet many people with serious health problems have spoken about learning life lessons, which they believe have made a difference in the quality of their lives.


Kubler-Ross, E. (1997). On death and dying: What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy, and their own families, Reprint Edition. New York: Simon & Shuster

Article by : Cynthia Mascott, LMHC Date published: 2/14/00 2:48:13 PM

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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