Did you know that for every five Canadians 20 years or older, three of us already have a chronic disease and four are at risk of developing one?
The Public Health Agency of Canada lists the common chronic conditions of diabetes, cancer, arthritis, mental illness, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases as major contributors to reduced quality of life, loss of productivity, increased hospitalization and health care costs, as well as premature death.
Statistically, most of us will develop one at some point in life.
The physical toll when dealing with a condition that saps your strength, limits your mobility and tests your resolve can be exhausting.
As if that’s not enough, it’s common to develop another set of challenges: frustration, depression, anxiety, anger and grief. These creep in or arrive skidding to our doorstep – it’s different for everybody. In some ways, managing the physical aspects can seem the easier issue when a chronic condition starts to affect employment, relationships, independence and our sense of mental well-being.
Individuals who suffer from a chronic illness are at higher risk of being affected by depression. Unfortunately, symptoms of depression are easily overlooked because they can be overshadowed by the physical illness itself, or are dismissed as being the normal feelings of someone dealing with a chronic condition.
There are things to do that can make a real difference.
When a chronic condition takes over, we rely on health experts for a course of treatment. Developing a relationship with your health care provider by asking questions, exploring different options, and fully educating yourself about the condition can make a big difference. When we become active participants in our treatment, our stress levels lower and we don’t feel as helpless as when we simply turn over our bodies to science.
Change your ways
It’s never too late to make lifestyle adjustments.
The Public Health Agency’s website outlines risk factors identified by the World Health Organization that can contribute to the likelihood of developing a chronic condition. None should be a surprise to any of us: tobacco use, alcohol abuse, raised blood pressure, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, obesity, unhealthy diets and raised blood glucose are the usual culprits.
A healthy lifestyle will reduce our chances of contracting a chronic condition, but still, the majority of us will find ourselves dealing with one sooner or later. That doesn’t mean we should give up on improving our health, regardless of the new challenges we face.
Eating well, avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol always have a positive impact. And adding more physical movement to your day, as difficult as that may seem, will elevate your mood. As always, it’s best to obtain an expert’s advice on the type of physical activity best suited to you.
Acceptance clears the way
Much mental energy can be spent mourning the loss of an old life. If reduced physical ability prevents us from participating in things we love to do, it’s easy to become fixated on what’s now out of reach, to the point where that loss becomes the centre of our thoughts. This does nothing to help us move on. Accepting where we are right now, without reference to the past or the future, may seem impossible, but it’s not. Making a decision to accept the situation does not mean we are giving in to it. It means we are clearing the way to move forward.
Feelings of isolation and being totally alone are common when managing a chronic condition. Withdrawal from our usual social activities is tempting when it helps avoid exhausting rounds of questions from well-meaning friends and family. We don’t always have the energy or inclination to participate in what can now appear as trivial activities, compared to facing a life threatening illness. It is all so tiring.
That’s true and that’s depression speaking. We can turn inward instead of reaching towards friends and family who care for us and truly want to help. Make a goal of connecting with at least one close person every day. And while your condition will no doubt be part of the conversation, try not to dwell on it. Ask about the other person, discuss common interests, and laugh.
Look after your mental health
You likely have a treatment plan you’re following for your physical symptoms. What about your mental health? It’s just as important – our physical health is tied directly to our mental health. Know that feelings of anger, helplessness, sadness, confusion, and grief are common in a chronic health situation. Speaking to a professional counsellor can make a big difference. Your assistance program provides you with free access to confidential, face-to-face counselling.
It’s also a good idea to let your primary health provider know if you feel depressed. Emphasize that you want help dealing with it, not just acknowledgement you are feeling low. And try exploring the many online forums or support groups in your area for additional coping strategies. You are not alone.