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Mental Health and Chronic Physical Conditions

Overcome struggles commonly associated with chronic conditions

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Your physical and mental health are inextricably linked. Studies have shown that people diagnosed with chronic physical conditions are at a higher risk of developing emotional challenges, whereas lack of mental healthcare can make it difficult to cope or recover from a chronic condition. Just like there are ways to improve your physical well-being, there are preventative measures you can take to care for your mental health.

This activity card will help you: 

  • Evaluate your current mental health 
  • Take actions to overcome struggles commonly associated with chronic conditions

First, assess your current well-being. People with a chronic medical condition are more likely to develop depression than people without a chronic condition. While a mental health professional can make a diagnosis, noticing symptoms of depression in yourself can help you address them, and can be a signal for you to seek professional help. Do any of these patterns pertain to how you’re feeling currently? 

  • Isolation, or the longing to be alone 
  • Feelings of fatigue
  • Loss of interest in work, personal, and social life
  • A persistent feeling of sadness

If any or all of these pertain to you, here are tips to help you manage these feelings.

1. For isolation… Build meaningful and supportive relationships.

It’s tempting to isolate yourself, especially if you feel that none of your loved ones can truly relate to how you feel. However, having healthy relationships can help protect your mental health and improve your quality of life. Find family members, friends, or counselors you can turn to and engage with on a regular basis. Build meaningful relationships by being vulnerable and allowing others to support you in times of need. At the same time, remember that it’s important to reciprocate by serving others. Not only does it show others that you appreciate them, it also gives you a sense of purpose which could lead to a more fulfilling life.

2. For fatigue… Replenish and refuel your body with mindfulness exercises, a healthy diet, and sleep.

While there are different contributing factors to fatigue, the more common ones are stress, a malnourished body, and lack of sleep. 

Stress is often caused by one’s lack of ability to control their responses to stressors. While it doesn’t completely eliminate stress, one way to reduce the negative impact of it is by practicing mindfulness. When a stressful situation arises, take a few deep breaths, acknowledge your discomfort, connect inward with the experience, and then take action to lessen its impact.

There isn’t a magic diet to treat depression, however, it can help to eat more nutrient-dense whole foods, and fewer processed foods, sweets, and fried foods. 

Establishing a healthy daily routine that includes getting sufficient sleep can also positively impact your mental health. Try to go to bed and to wake up at the same times each day to create a regular sleep schedule.

3. For loss of interest in your work, personal, or social life… Be intentional and incorporate activities that bring joy into your day.

When experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s common to avoid the things that may bring you enjoyment or meaning. This can send you into a downward spiral that can make you feel worse over time and can be difficult to stop. With a chronic condition, it may no longer be possible to engage in some of the activities that used to bring you joy. Adjusting to that loss can often be a difficult process that comes with heavy emotions such as grief.

A downward spiral is created by a series of small decisions over a long period of time. So, the way out of that downward spiral can be small steps in the other direction. Take the initiative to plan some sort of pleasurable activity at least once a day. If you are in a transition phase, try exploring and finding new things that you are capable of doing, and that bring you joy and provide you with a sense of meaning.

4. For a persistent feeling of sadness… Create moments of happiness and gratitude in your life.

Although it’s completely OK to feel sad from time to time, it’s important not to steep in sadness for long periods of time. Try using this “self-soothe” technique: write three soothing activities that can become long-term habits, such as walking, meditation, taking a long bath, cooking, or whatever works for you. When you feel sad or depressed, turn to this list to remind yourself you have power over these emotions. This list will empower you to take care of yourself in a healthy, sustainable way. You can also keep a gratitude journal. Write down three things you’re grateful for each day, and reflect on the good in your life.

Understandably, strong feelings can sometimes be difficult to manage on your own. If you find that feelings of sadness or depression are overwhelming, try reaching out to a professional who can work with you to dive deeper into what’s causing these feelings, and create an actionable plan to regulate your feelings better. Don’t feel afraid to speak to a therapist who can help you with that. You can also reach out to a behavioral health coach, who can hold you accountable to your goals and get you on track to better mental health.