Chronic Illness and Disability: 8 Tips to Cope

An older woman wearing a gray turtleneck top smiling while looking into the distance with trees behind her.

Chronic illness is more common than you think. The CDC states that six in 10 American adults have a chronic disease, while one in four U.S. adults has a disability. Long-term medical issues are particularly common in adults over the age of 65 but more and more children are developing chronic conditions too.

If you’re chronically ill, you probably don’t need to be told that living with chronic illness can feel isolating and lonely. 40% of adults who have a disability or chronic condition say they experience feelings of loneliness or being socially isolated which can make physical health issues worse. 

Below are nine tips you can use to help cope with your illness and create a life you enjoy even in the midst of long-term health struggles. 

1. Educate Yourself

Take an active role in your care by learning about your condition(s) and the best tips to manage them. Ask your doctor for reputable, science-backed resources you can use to educate yourself about your situation. 

Once you’ve reviewed the information, you may want to talk to your doctor about shifting your diet, exercise program or lifestyle in addition to managing through medication or any other prescribed treatment. You should feel empowered to make decisions about your care. As they say, knowledge is power!

2. Find A Community

Finding a community of people who are chronically ill can be a game-changer. It’s often difficult for people to understand what it’s really like to live with chronic illness and/or disability. That’s why it’s important to find those who have firsthand experience — who just automatically “get it” without you having to explain. 

This community will often be online if you struggle to get out and about or you live in a rural area. Even if you’re undiagnosed, you can still find people on forums, Facebook groups or other social media sites who also have long-term health challenges.

3. Practice Self-Care

Self-care isn’t always bubble baths and candles. It could be hard stuff like going to therapy but studies show it may ultimately pay off in helping you feel happier and less anxious, depressed or stressed.

Here are some self-care ideas to try:

  • Write in a journal
  • Talk to a friend
  • Take a walk or have someone help you get out
  • Clean and tidy your environment
  • Try something new
  • Volunteer
  • Help somebody else
  • Cook a new, healthy recipe

4. Share With Others

You might be reluctant to share details of your health with the people in your life who are not sick. They might not understand and could unintentionally say things that are hurtful or simply unhelpful. This could tempt you to keep the latest medical updates to yourself.

However, for the family members and friends who truly care about you, keep trying. Look for illustrations like the spoon theory that could help you explain. You’ll need and want their support down the road, so don’t give up on your in-person community.

5. Ask For Help

Be willing to ask for help when you need it. Chronic illness often brings new limitations, needs and lifestyle. Your job is to recognize, acknowledge and accept these limitations and learn how to tell when you need help.

You might need:

  • A ride to a doctor’s appointment
  • Someone to pick up your prescriptions or groceries
  • Someone to clean your home or care for your pet
  • Companionship when you’re stuck at home
  • Help preparing meals

Everyone’s needs are different. Whatever you could use help with, don’t be afraid to ask.

6. Do Things You Love

Doing the things you love might be difficult with newfound limitations or symptoms. But continuing to pursue your hobbies, interests and passions can help you retain your sense of who you are.

Consider what modifications or accommodations you might need. Could you sit down while gardening? Use accessible gadgets to cook? Read large print books or listen to audiobooks?

You could also explore new hobbies. Who knows you may find something else to love that’s a better fit with your current limitations and level of functioning. 

7. Rethink Your Schedule

Every chronically ill person should learn the art of pacing. Pacing refers to spreading out, breaking up and prioritizing tasks while also building in rest time to create a sustainable pace of life so you don’t crash and burn.

Pacing requires taking a good hard look at your schedule and figuring out what’s most important to you. Let go of any obligations that you feel like you should be doing but are too hard for you now and bring you stress. Then consider how to break up the things you truly need and want to do so you can maintain your energy while getting them done. 

8. Get Professional Help

Therapy is a great way to cope with illness and disability. You don’t have to have diagnosed anxiety or depression to see a therapist — many people benefit from therapy, particularly those dealing with long-term challenges like chronic illness. 

You might be able to find a therapist who specializes in working with people who have chronic illnesses or chronic pain. If you’re struggling to afford therapy, look into nonprofits, online therapy platforms or financial assistance programs. 

It’s especially important to see a therapist if you are experiencing any of the following on a regular basis:

  • Feelings of overwhelm
  • Social withdrawal
  • Constant worry, anxiety and stress
  • Anger and resentment
  • Feelings of apathy and losing interest in life
  • Hopelessness

Build A Life That Works For You 

Chronic illness is difficult, but these methods of coping may help make it a little easier. 

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