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Psychological & Social Issues

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This information was reviewed and approved by CJ Bathgate, PhD (3/1/2024).

Living with a chronic illness can be very challenging. Patients and their loved ones need to find healthy and constructive responses to the stress of living with a chronic illness. Sometimes, even with excellent coping skills and strong social support, patients and their family members may feel anxious or depressed.

Psychological and social issues include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Coping Skills
  • Social Support
  • Giving Up Smoking
  • Insomnia
  • Memory & Other Cognitive Difficulties

 

Anxiety

Living with a chronic illness is stressful. It’s normal to feel worried or anxious at times. However, it’s important to seek treatment if anxiety becomes excessive. If symptoms of anxiety are interfering with your relationships, your ability to participate in your usual daily activities, or your sleep, this is a sign that you are likely to benefit from evaluation and treatment for anxiety.


Symptoms


Symptoms of anxiety include excessive worry and difficulty concentrating. Anxiety can also be a very physical experience that includes difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and dizziness.

 

Treatment


Treatment for anxiety can include medications, talk therapy, or both. Medications for anxiety include antidepressants, anxiolytics and other medications. Talk therapy may involve individual therapy or family therapy. Therapy may include developing new coping strategies and setting personal goals. Therapy also can provide support and encouragement for you and your family. You and your physician can choose which treatments suit you best.


Depression

Living with a chronic illness is stressful. It’s normal to depressed or down at times. However, it’s important to seek treatment if these feelings become excessive. If symptoms of depression are interfering with your relationships, your ability to participate in your usual daily activities, or your sleep, this is a sign that you are likely to benefit from evaluation and treatment for depression.

 

Symptoms


Symptoms of depression include physical symptoms such as fatigue and loss of appetite as well as poor concentration, difficulty experiencing pleasure, being unusually critical of yourself, feelings of worthlessness, and hopelessness.

 

Treatment


Treatment for depression can include medications, talk therapy, or both. Talk therapy may involve individual therapy or family therapy. Therapy may include developing new coping strategies and setting personal goals. Therapy also can provide support and encouragement for you and your family. You and your physician can choose which treatments suit you best.

 

Coping Skills

Coping skills help people manage stress. It’s important to be intentional about using your coping skills. Start by making the most of your existing coping skills, and then consider whether you need additional skills. If you need to develop additional coping skills, start exploring new things. Keep an open mind to learn which additional coping skills might work well for you.

Coping skills could be put into two broad categories: 1) activities, and 2) ways of thinking about stressful situations. Activities include things like reading, exercising, and breathing techniques. Ways of thinking about stressful situations include noticing and challenging automatic thoughts that tend to increase stress (such as jumping to negative conclusions), looking for positive aspects of difficult situations, and having a sense of humor.

You may need to “lighten your load” as part of coping with a chronic illness. Your time and energy are likely even more limited now than before you became ill. You may need to learn how to become comfortable saying “no” to requests from others. It’s okay (and, in fact, necessary) to prioritize your own self-care. 

It’s also important to recognize which aspects of your health condition are under your control. Meeting with your doctors, following through with medical recommendations, and utilizing your coping skills are important aspects of managing your health condition that are under your control.

Ultimately, it’s important to develop a variety of coping skills. If you need help developing additional coping skills, a therapist can work on this with you.

 

Social Support

Having a chronic illness can be isolating. One way to think about being diagnosed with a chronic illness is to think of it like being sent to live in a foreign country—against your will, suddenly, and by yourself. You have to learn a new medical “language and culture” specific to your illness. Your family and friends also have to learn about your illness in order to “visit” you in this foreign country and you will get lonely if don’t invite at least a few important people to join you on the journey.

Social support is helpful to all people, healthy or ill. In times of sickness, the need for support is even greater. Support can come from relatives, friends, other patients, medical and nursing staff, counselors, priests, ministers, and rabbis. The source of support is not as important as the feeling that adequate support is available.

Being ill often involves changes in relationships. You may have to depend on others a great deal more. It can be extremely difficult to accept help. Remember that relationships are a two-way street: you have supported and helped your friends and family members in the past, and now may be the time for you to allow them to support and help you. Accepting help is an important part of taking care of yourself.

Our Specialists

  • CJ Bathgate

    CJ Bathgate, PhD

  • Kristen E. Holm

    Kristen E. Holm, PhD, MPH

  • Jennifer Moyer Darr

    Jennifer Moyer Darr, LCSW