February 21, 2017

Chronic Concerns: The Impact of Long-Term Physical Conditions On Your Mental Health

With physical health conditions, you tend to focus on the physical when it comes to coping.

Of course, there’s a good reason for this. If you have a limited amount of time to explore ideas, treatment options and coping methods – you focus on the area that needs help. Chronic conditions, especially those prone to deterioration, tend to require a lot of energy to support. No one is going to try and argue that time spent dealing with physical needs is not time well spent.

However, there is one area of concern. It’s far too easy to get lost in the physical, and forget how living alongside a chronic condition can impact you in other ways. Most noticeably, the impact on your mental health and wellbeing is not one to overlook.

Why is this so important? Because how you feel mentally has an impact on your physical health. There is some scientific back-up for brain power and “mind over matter“. While you’re not going to be able to think your way to fixing a skin condition or a long-term pain issue, you can change the way you feel about them.

Is all of this sounding a little bit confusing? Maybe you’re dealing with a chronic issue, from the mild to the severe, and you don’t feel that you have suffered mentally for it. In some cases, this will absolutely be the case – some of us are more robust than others! But for most, there are downsides to coping with a long-term health issue.

Tree in the sea

We may have been dealing with it for so long we have forgotten them, buried the resentment and don’t recognize the concept – but only by confronting them can you help yourself heal. Bringing together mind, body and soul is hugely helpful for healing – and you may just find the release valve you didn’t even know you needed.

So how is mental health impacted by chronic conditions? There’s a variety of ways, and we’ll go through them now. When you know the areas and emotions that you are more likely to experience, you can do something about them. Or – perhaps even more helpfully – it might just be good to know you’re not alone in how you feel.

  1. You’re A Martyr

Sculpture joan of arc

“You’re so brave,” a friend remarks, “I couldn’t deal with managing that condition!”

It’s meant to be a compliment, but somehow, it makes you feel miserable. While others may admire you for how you cope with the hand you have been dealt; it doesn’t stop you being uncomfortable with the fact you have to deal with it. Sometimes, you won’t want to be told you’re doing so well and are so inspirational. You want to be told: “that’s awful” and be allowed to vent about it.

Don’t bottle up your emotions, particularly any involving resentment. If that means people don’t see you as “so brave!” anymore, then so be it! It’s for you to feel comfortable with; you’re not a poster child for Coping With Chronic Illness. It’s okay to feel upset, frustrated – and to need to talk about these things.

  1. You Can Feel Like You’re Not Living Life To The Full

It’s likely at some point you will find yourself facing a decision. There is something you want to do – an event, a sport, a holiday – but you know it will exacerbate your health condition.

For example, you’re invited to a wine tasting evening with your closer friends – but you know alcohol can trigger your rosacea. Or you’re given a chance to go and explore old castle ruins – but you know it’s not going to be wheelchair friendly. You may be forced to walk more than you are comfortable with, which you know will irritate your sciatica.

At this point, you are faced with two choices:

1) Do it, and make yourself unwell

2) Don’t do it, and feel like you’re missing out on everything

The decision you make is entirely your own – go with what feels right at the time. But even having to choose between two options, where neither produces an entirely satisfactory result, can take a mental toll. Try and provide yourself an outlet for those feelings rather than letting them stew.

Sometimes, it might be worth a little physical discomfort in exchange for a new experience. Unless the repercussions are life-threatening (such as eating peanuts when you have a potentially life-threatening allergy), it’s worth going ahead and doing something difficult every once in awhile.

  1. The Lasting Impact of Dealing With Pain

Knee pain wooden figure

There are so many chronic health issues that leave you dealing with substantial levels of pain on a daily basis. The most well-known is probably fibromyalgia, though many others have the same impact. It might not even be an illness as such; old injuries can cause daily pain levels that have to be dealt with.

Even if you have pain managed via medications, TENS or whatever works for you – occasionally, you will feel dragged down by the reality of it. Knowing you are reliant on outside sources just to feel normal can make you feel powerless.

Just because you have been dealing with the issue for a long time doesn’t make it any easier. There is always that horrible point at the beginning of the day, before your treatment kicks in when you are confronted by pain levels. Most of the time, you will cope with this with ease – even when pain is severe, it does become routine if it’s daily. But it doesn’t stop it hurting.

People without these issues can sometimes underestimate what it’s like to live with daily pain. They think that they can because pain is a universal thing – what’s so hard to understand? But it is different when it’s permanent, when you can’t escape it.

The best way of coping is to talk to people going through the same thing, via internet forums or at in-person support groups. Other sufferers can validate your feelings and provide support in a way that able-bodied people cannot, so it’s worth exploring this option.

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