A chronic illness diagnosis is a significant unexpected life event, one that can understandably bring many feelings to the surface, from fear and anger to grief and shame. It often means changes in day-to-day life and potentially shifts in your identity and relationships as well.
It’s not uncommon for the uncertainty of a diagnosis to affect a person’s mental health. About one-third of everyone with a serious chronic illness experiences symptoms of depression. Those with a history of depression or who faced significant stress prior to their diagnosis may have a higher risk for mental health issues. But no matter your health history or the specific challenges of your condition, taking good care of yourself and prioritizing your emotional needs can help you adjust to life after a diagnosis.
While learning to live with a condition is an ongoing and personal journey, the tips below can give you a starting point as you move forward and find the coping strategies that work best for you.
Instead of self-blame, focus on moving forward
When facing a challenge or in times of shock, it’s only natural to want to know why, or to think about what we could’ve done differently. Unfortunately, in the context of a chronic illness diagnosis, there isn’t always a satisfying answer to be found. Sometimes a condition runs in your family. In other cases, there may be no explanation of why you developed your illness.
Even if your condition is preventable, considering what you could have done in the past won’t give you more control over present circumstances. The best thing you can do for your health at this moment is to face your diagnosis head-on and move forward.
That means different things to different people, but acknowledging the limitations of a chronic illness while staying hopeful is key. You may not be able to do some of what you could once do easily, and you may need to adjust your responsibilities with work, school, or caregiving. However, that does not mean that everything is beyond your control.
It can be helpful to get literal about what’s changing. One strategy is to make a list of activities or tasks that are challenging to do with your illness and proactively think up solutions or alternatives. Depending on the specific challenges you’re navigating, that could mean asking for assistance with meal prep or taking up gentler forms of exercise.
As important as it is to move forward, it’s okay if it takes you time to do so. You are processing a substantial life change, so give yourself the space that you need.
Avail yourself of information
Your health journey is yours, with options and choices to make about treatment, lifestyle changes, and forms of support. Knowledge can empower you to decide how you want to live with a chronic illness.
Finding a provider that you trust is a crucial first step in learning more about your condition. It’s important that you can openly share your concerns and ask any questions you need to. In addition to looking for a physician with the appropriate expertise and credentials, make sure that you feel comfortable around them.
Though your provider may be treating you for a physical condition, let them know how you feel emotionally as well. Mental health issues can make it more challenging to stay on top of your treatment needs and manage your condition. Your provider is here as a resource and can offer referrals for counseling or medication if needed.
Medication is critical to the management of many chronic conditions. Appropriate medication use is necessary to experience the full therapeutic benefits, but unfortunately, medication is only taken as prescribed 50% of the time.
You’ll likely gain comfort and familiarity with your treatment plan in time, but there may be a learning curve to managing your medications, especially if you take more than one. Here are several tips.
Educate yourself about potential interactions and side effects
You should always know the answers to the following questions about any medication you take — your pharmacist is a great resource for information.
Can I take this medication with other medications?
Should I avoid certain foods or drinks when taking this medication?
Are there known potential medication interactions? If so, what signs should I watch for?
Even if you experience side effects, never stop taking a medication without first consulting your doctor. Rather, keep a log of side effects and share them with your care team. Your doctor may be able to adjust your dosage or help you safely switch to an alternative medication.
Find your preferred medication reminder system
There are a variety of tools to help you remember when to take your medication, from pill organizers to setting alarms and linking the act of taking your medication to another daily activity. The Alto app includes custom medication reminders.
Stay on top of refills
It’s also important to find your preferred system for remembering refills. Our app’s medication management features include auto refills and medication bundling. If you aren’t using a medication management app, check your prescription labels regularly to see how many refills are remaining.
This is your health journey, but you don’t have to go at it alone. One of the best ways to reduce stress during this time is to take some responsibilities off of your plate. That will likely mean leaning more on others, so make sure to surround yourself with supportive and reliable people.
Nonprofits related to your condition can provide additional support and valuable resources. If you feel overwhelmed by the feelings that have arisen, don’t hesitate to ask your provider for referrals to a therapist for individual counseling.
Stay active and get mindful
Mindfulness and physical activity are both important tools as you navigate this health journey. The former is all about present moment awareness and focusing on what’s happening right now, which is important since you may have many anxieties and fears about the unknown. Studies have also shown that mindfulness practices can help you cope with pain and stress. It doesn’t have to be a big endeavor. Just several minutes of quiet meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, or listening to music each day can make a big difference.
Physical exercise isn’t just good for your physical health — it’s also linked to improved mood and mental wellness. If some of your go-to activities are no longer possible because of your illness, there are plenty of alternatives to consider. To ensure that your fitness habits are appropriate for your needs at this time, consult your provider before trying any new exercises.
Choose the right pharmacy
As a reliable pharmacy partner, we make sure you’re never on your own in navigating the complexities of treatment for a chronic illness. Our pharmacists are here with information and answers, even during nights and weekends. And the Alto app gives you control and convenience in managing your medications, with auto refills, medication bundling, and custom dosing reminders.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.