June 16, 2024

How Chronic Medical Conditions Impact Your Mental Health

“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must, but take a step.”

Naeem Callaway

Our health is our most valuable possession, and when a chronic medical condition threatens it, it can have a ripple effect on all aspects of our lives. Living with chronic medical conditions not only requires a strict care routine but also changes our way of life, leading us to let go of the things we once cherished.

 

We often hear from our clients that they are mourning the loss of mobility and energy they used to have for activities they used to enjoy. If you are reading this while struggling with a chronic medical condition, know that you are in the right place. This blog post will explore the challenges and solutions for overcoming chronic medical conditions.

physical pain and mental health

What is a chronic medical illness?

A chronic medical illness is a long-lasting health condition that typically persists for an extended period, often lasting for three months or more. These conditions require ongoing management and care to control symptoms, prevent complications, and maintain overall health and well-being.

 

Examples of chronic medical illnesses include diabetes, heart disease, asthma, arthritis, cancer, and autoimmune diseases like lupus or multiple sclerosis. Managing chronic illnesses often involves a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, regular monitoring, and sometimes medical interventions to ensure the best possible quality of life for individuals affected by these conditions (a).

 

Understanding that chronic conditions can directly impact our mental well-being is essential. For example, the challenges of reduced mobility and low energy can lead to social isolation, triggering feelings of depression. Furthermore, grappling with a life-altering condition can cause significant anxiety. It is common for your primary care doctor to refer you to a mental health specialist to address anxiety and depression related to a chronic medical illness.

 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, chronic diseases increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety. Dealing with persistent depression and anxiety can also make us more vulnerable to other illnesses due to stress and significant life changes (b). Therefore, it’s vital not to neglect your mental health while navigating a chronic medical condition.

Signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety in relation to chronic illness?

Sometimes, the symptoms of anxiety and depression can be subtle and hard to notice. For this reason, listening to others who might notice slight changes in your routine and mood might be helpful. The following symptoms of anxiety and depression are closely related to living with a chronic medical condition (c):

 

Signs of Depression:

  • Persistent Sadness: Feeling down, hopeless, or experiencing a sense of emptiness.
  • Loss of Interest: Losing interest in activities once enjoyed.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or lacking energy, which the chronic illness can exacerbate.
  • Changes in Appetite: Significant weight loss or gain due to changes in eating habits.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia or oversleeping can be common.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Problems with focus and decision-making.
  • Feelings of Worthlessness: Negative self-talk and feelings of guilt.

Signs of Anxiety:

    • Excessive Worry: Persistent and uncontrollable worry about various aspects of life, including health concerns related to chronic illness.
    • Irritability: Feeling on edge, restless, or easily agitated.
    • Physical Symptoms: Symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, or shortness of breath.
    • Sleep Problems: Difficulty falling or staying asleep due to anxious thoughts.
    • Muscle Tension: Physical tension or muscle aches due to anxiety.
    • Avoidance Behaviors: Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety, such as medical appointments or discussions about the illness.

Tips for Living with a Chronic Illness

You can do several things to lessen the burden you have been carrying for months and years. These insights are shared when clients enter therapy for chronic medical conditions. For instance, educating yourself about what you are dealing with can help you set realistic expectations for yourself and respect your limitations.

 

Building a support system that understands your chronic medical condition from lived experience can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. At least someone truly understands what it feels like to go through what you are experiencing.

 

Setting realistic goals can help you reduce further strains and exacerbations of the medical condition. For example, if you used to run 3 miles a day, it might be unrealistic to expect the same goal after a change in your physical health. Straining the body can further setback the healing process, but a one-mile walk might help you continue with your routine for the time being.

 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is another valuable piece to safeguard against mental illnesses. For example, overeating, sleeping too much, isolating socially, and consuming drugs and alcohol are ways to invite depression. Learning to stay consistent in maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce further declining health.

 

Pacing yourself and staying organized are two ways to reduce daily stressors when managing your schedule. Ask yourself if you are keeping track of daily activities and whether you are doing too much. This will help you set realistic goals for your daily activities.

 

Lastly, practice self-compassion and reduce the chatter of “woulda, coulda, and shoulda.” If your mind constantly blames you for not caring for your health in the past, use this energy to ask yourself, “What is the little I can do differently today?”

Treatment Options for anxiety and depression

In current literature, a combination of psychotherapy and medication is recommended as a treatment option (d). For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) assists individuals in recognizing negative thought patterns and developing coping strategies. Additionally, Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) concentrates on enhancing communication and relationship skills to tackle social issues associated with depression. In relation to social support, Group Therapy tailored for individuals grappling with medical conditions can foster a sense of universality.

 

In terms of medication, antidepressants are prescribed to alleviate symptoms of depression, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). For anxiety, anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines or buspirone may be prescribed. It is important to note that certain medications work for certain individuals. Working with a psychiatrist or primary care physician can help you identify a medication that works for you.

 

In conclusion, pacing yourself and staying mindful of your mental health are essential for managing a chronic medical condition. By acknowledging the link between chronic medical and mental health, we can take proactive steps to address the challenges we face. Building a support system, setting realistic goals, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are crucial to navigating the complexities of chronic illness.

Seeking Therapy for Chronic Medical Condition

If you are struggling with a chronic medical condition and its impact on your mental health, seeking help from a specialized therapist can make a significant difference in your life. Panahi Counseling offers specialized therapy geared toward chronic medical management, depression, and anxiety. Our experienced therapists provide compassionate support and practical strategies to help you manage the challenges of living with a chronic medical condition.

 

To learn more about our therapists and availabilities, please reach out for a 15-minute consultation.

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