Effective Strategies For Coping With Illness

How To Cope With The Stress Of Illness

Coping with illness can be challenging
Coping with illness can be challenging--many aspects of illness can be stressful. Creative RF/PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier/Getty Images

Facing a serious illness can be frightening and very stressful. You may have concerns about not being able to do what you need to do, at the very least. But dealing with potential pain, unknown outcomes with your health, and all the surprises that come along the way as you try to move back to physical health can be overwhelming. You may feel isolated as well, though you are not alone. In a poll on this site, for example, a significant number of respondents thought stress had contributed to the diagnosis of a serious illness, and anecdotal evidence bears this out.

Although I can't speak to the specifics of each disease here, this article can give you some general advice for now, to get the ball rolling on helping you find ways to de-stress and process all of this, and you can explore further resources afterward. (This way you won't be overwhelmed by too much information.)

Find Support

First, you may want to get with a good support group. There are all kinds of formal support groups available for people suffering from various conditions, and if yours is rare, you may find benefits with a more general support group for those dealing with serious illnesses. This provides the benefit of connecting with others who are experiencing feelings that are similar to yours at this time. Also, getting to talk about your experience in a welcoming environment may also help a lot. It may feel challenging to find time to get in touch with a new group on top of everything else you may be dealing with, but it's usually well worth the effort; online groups can be wonderfully supportive as well.

Having a supportive circle of friends is extremely helpful for stress relief, but having friends who are going through what you face can bring the added benefit of empathy and advice from people who are navigating the same thing you are. Both types of support are important.

Find General Stress Relievers That Work For You

Next, I'd like to recommend some basic de-stressing techniques that can help you to get your body out of stress mode (turn off your fight-or-flight response, which may be chronically activated at this point, understandably), and help your body maintain a healthier balance.

This article can provide resources and information on breathing exercises, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and other quick stress relievers.

Process Your Feelings With Journaling

I would also recommend maintaining an ongoing journaling practice. Processing your feelings on paper, as well as planning new courses of action, has been shown to have healing properties, and can help change your outlook as well. Here's an article that more fully explains the benefits of journaling, and can get you on the right path. Gratitude journaling, in particular, has been found to be helpful for those experiencing stress, negativity, and feelings of depression, so that's a form of journaling I would also recommend.

Keep Your Hope Strong

Many people find solace in their religion and spirituality. Prayer has been a lifeline for many, and meditation and prayer have been found to have powerful benefits for stress relief as well. Having the support of a spiritual community can help you to maintain hope and gain social support. In addition, visualizations, positive imagery, and positive affirmations can be other helpful tools in focusing less on what scares you about the future, and more on hopeful outcomes. This may be very difficult right now, but it's a good direction to work in.

Dr. Bernie Siegel writes about this in depth in his books, and there are articles that can quickly show you how to get started.

Know Who Will Support You

Talking to positive people with encouraging stories is also important. Hearing people's tales of hope and triumph can be much easier than hearing people's horror stories about someone they know who had it worse, so pay attention to who you can count on and who you may want to lean on less often. Talking to a therapist may be a good idea as well; don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

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