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Coping with Anxiety, Distress, Depression Caused by a Life-limiting Disease or Chronic Condition

By Trish Duke March 29, 2022 Health and Fitness

Being diagnosed with a disease or condition that could change your life (and those close to you), often sends you on a rollercoaster of emotions. Usually, shock is the first hit along with fear and bewilderment.

Panic, dread, numbness or confusion (why me?) can go into the mix. In one day, you can experience all these emotions as well as stress, anger, crying and hysterical laughter. Have you been there? Are you still there?

I’d like to help you to make a plan to empower yourself to get off the rollercoaster and stabilize.

Emotional Health Is Often Not Addressed

Medical teams are focused on your treatments and often don’t have time to help you emotionally… or even recognise that you are struggling inside.

People can feel ashamed not to be coping emotionally, financially or with new or added strain on relationships at home and work.

Would you agree that life is full of ups and downs, but after months or years of treatment everyone could have times of feeling down? This is true for the carers as well.

Research shows that how you cope with a challenge is related to how well you are supported, no matter how strong and independent you have been before a health issue rudely showed up in your life!

Women Living Alone Are at Greater Risk

It can be hard enough when you are well, without adding a disease or condition that threatens every corner of your life. Thankfully, we are better at asking for help than the male part of the species!

A pill isn’t a ‘cure all’ for distress or loneliness when practical solutions could become life skills to learn for other ‘down’ parts of your life.

If you need medication, then ask your GP. If it’s not working as well as you expected, then ask for a referral to a psychiatrist for a stronger or different dose. They have time to give you more support.

You Can Empower Yourself to Face the Challenge

Would you like to learn how to empower yourself as a patient or carer, taking charge of what you can do to make the downs less potent and the ups more frequent?

This is like a war against the enemy of anxiety or distress, so do make a battle plan rather than just ‘going with the daily flow’.

Getting Out in Nature Lifts Your View of the World as High as the Clouds

Going for walk, a drive, sitting indoors or outside, where you can see magnificence and natural beauty lifts your soul. It’s the antidote to wanting to curl up in bed and be miserable.

Human Touch Is Vital for Our Emotional Health

Research shows that without at least 14 non-sexual touches per day, ladies can suffer from what they call ‘skin hunger’.

Do you remember when, decades ago, babies died in incubators because of the lack of parental touch? Now they allow parents to touch these neo-nates. A cuddle, gentle touch or slow massage from a loved one (or a professional) is relaxing and can be emotionally healing.

Pets… Yours or Borrowed

Pets can be great company, giving unconditional love even when we are at our grumpiest. Research tells us that dogs are hard wired to love us. Could you borrow a pet for the days a lonely animal is home alone while the owner is at work? The interaction, touch and caring for an animal is emotionally nourishing to you as well as to them.

Healthy Food, Not Sugary Snack

What is your favorite comfort food? Dark chocolate and coffee come top of my list.

‘A little bit of what you fancy does you good’ is an old saying but we know that overdoing sugar can only give you short term energy then a slump later… as well as inflammation.

Plan to have frequent, small, healthy meals or snacks to get your metabolism working better. You wouldn’t put cheap gas in a Rolls Royce, would you?

Are You on a Sit-Down Strike?

As a physical therapist, I often see that inactivity can be closely linked to your mood. However, being in nature with movement is doubly beneficial.

If you have Goldilocks weather… too hot or too cold, then think what else you can do. Waiting for the kettle to boil gives you a valuable minute to march on the spot.

Placing an exercise bike next to a window or climbing stairs will increase your feel-good hormones… better than chocolate cake!

A little exercise can make you feel good as well as less stiff and uncomfortable.

Support Groups, Local or Online Can Be a Lifeline

Research shows that almost everyone benefits from getting support and information.
Local support groups are not always convenient to attend. As a trained cancer support group facilitator, I find that online groups also work well. Even when your treatment ends, stay in the group until any residual anxiety has eased.

Dig Out the Board Games in the Closet

Darts in the garage, cricket with the grandchildren, board games, jigsaws etc… make a list of what you have available and play as often as you can. Yes, play!

Positive Influences and People

Minimise time with negative people (tricky if you are married to them). Spend time with uplifting people, TV and movies that make you laugh and feel good. Someone who understands where you are at or has successfully gone through a similar challenge can be priceless.

Laugher Therapy

People have claimed they have healed themselves with laughter! Look for a local laughter group or YouTube videos and enjoy yourself. Visit the bathroom first!

Finding Purpose

Chronic health conditions can leave you in limbo and rudderless. Setting meaningful short- to medium-term goals can help you to get out of bed in the morning and give you satisfaction.

Last, But Definitely the Not Least Is Faith, Hope and Charity

Daily meditation can settle your emotions and anxiety. Research has shown that patients who have a personal faith cope better. Prayer and Bible reading such as Psalm 23 comforts us.

Helping others… phoning a lonely person, volunteering at your level of energy, finding ways to uplift someone else will make you feel good too.

Look at what is good in your life and what you can do rather than what you can’t do! Write your personal battle plan to fight the ‘downs’ so you can see when the enemy of anxiety is knocking on your door.

What has helped you or your loved ones to cope with anxiety and distress associated with a medical or life challenge? What didn’t help? Sometimes the carer has more emotional challenges than the patient, but they are often less supported. Is that your experience?

Let's Have a Conversation!

The Author

Trish Duke lives in Australia. In her 60’s she reFired. Using her physical therapy and life skills, she founded two companies. One takes seniors and slow walkers to Israel on bucket list tours and the other, www.MastectomyRecoveryCentre.com, coaches breast cancer patients to make the best recovery possible, physically, emotionally and sexually.

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