Having a chronic illness like a rheumatic condition can bring up a lot of uncertainty, anxiety and uncomfortable feelings. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people living with a chronic illness may be more likely to suffer from depression. The added stress of these turbulent times can make coping even harder.
Like rheumatic diseases, though, mental health conditions are treatable. Caring for both your physical health and emotional well-being can help you cope better with chronic illness, as well as life's challenges.
Below are some tips that may help you live better with your condition.
Having the knowledge and information to make the right choices and decisions can help you feel empowered — which is vital to the management of your illness.
It is important that you feel comfortable expressing yourself and asking questions. To find a rheumatalogist or other specialist, you may want to explore a trusted teaching hospital and/or contact your insurance company. You can also talk to others with the same condition for recommendations, such as through a support group, and you can consult with a provider whose opinion you trust. Look into virtual care options if attending an in-person appointment feels stressful to you.
Depression and anxiety can make it difficult to manage and treat your condition. Your provider needs to know how you are feeling both physically and emotionally. Together, you can explore the best way to address your feelings, which may include referrals for counseling, talk therapy or sometimes medication. Social workers, psychologists and other mental health providers can help to provide vital support to cope with the challenges of a rheumatic condition. Additionally, HSS offers a number of support and education programs that are tailored to people with conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Living with a rheumatic condition can shift your priorities and affect your sense of self and identity. Your roles may change at work, school, in relationships or with family planning or caregiving, or you might need some care yourself. You may experience feelings about these changes and may want to consider talking with someone you trust.
Life might change for you, and you may need help with specific tasks or emotional support. Family, friends, neighbors, support groups, religious/spiritual communities and healthcare providers can help you at different times or for different reasons. Think about and clearly describe what you need. National organizations for your specific illness can also provide support and resources.
This can be hard and requires some self-compassion. It involves recognizing the need to care for yourself without shame or guilt. Is it reasonable to do it all on your own or to delegate and ask for help? Perhaps you might not have the energy to do everything on your “to-do” list in a given day. Give yourself permission to cross off the items on the bottom and save them for another day.
. For some people, purpose is found through connection to family, friends, love and volunteerism. Some seek meaning through spirituality and religious affiliation. Explore what you value and what enriches your life.
Studies show that mindfulness-based practices are effective in improving the ability to cope with pain and stress. Focus on the here and now. Just 10 minutes of quiet reflection, deep breathing or guided imagery may bring relief from stress and also increase your tolerance for it. Take time to listen to music, relax and try to think of places and feelings that bring you joy.
Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on mood. HSS offers virtual health and wellness classes. Walking outside is also an excellent option. Remember to consult your provider before starting any exercise program and to go at your own pace.
Every day, do something that reaffirms the beauty and joy of living. Make time to call, video chat or take a walk with a friend or loved one. Or change your route home and take a walk through the park, paying special attention to the sights, colors and sounds around you.
When we talk about health, we acknowledge the whole person. Make use of tools, resources and activities that benefit both mind and body together.
Susan Rodriguez, LCSW, a Licensed Social Worker at HSS