Chronic health conditions are diseases that are persistent and require ongoing medical attention. These include diabetes, arthritis, asthma, cancer and stroke.
What is a Chronic Health Condition?
Chronic conditions are typically diseases that are persistent and require ongoing medical attention for the long term. Some chronic conditions can limit your ability to function in daily life.
Unlike acute conditions, where symptoms are limited in duration and usually go away with medication, chronic health conditions are slow developing and usually have many causes that change over time.
The reasons why people develop chronic health conditions might be different. However, the problems they cause for people are similar. Chronic health conditions are often the leading causes of death and disability in many countries.
What Causes a Chronic Health Condition?
Causes may include hereditary or lifestyle factors (smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet, stress etc.), exposure to environmental factors such as second-hand smoke or air pollution, and other physical factors such as low levels of thyroid hormone or changes in brain chemistry that may cause depression.
Symptoms of chronic conditions may take some time before it is noticed. We often start to notice the symptoms only after they significantly affect our life or when we receive an abnormal test result through routine health screening.
Why Talk About the Psychological Management of Chronic Conditions?
Unlike acute conditions, where full recovery is expected, chronic conditions are more complicated and may never go away. Symptoms may progress from mild to severe and may lead to loss of physical or mental functioning.
Chronic conditions may also be the result of multiple causes and other unknown factors, which makes it challenging to find an effective treatment. Those who suffer from chronic illnesses may end up feeling frustrated and helpless when faced with a cycle of physical and emotional symptoms that disrupt their lives.
Both disability and depression may bring about a loss of self-esteem. Some may suffer from sleep problems, fear and anxiety over questions such as:
- Will I be able to remain independent?
- If I can’t care for myself, who will care for me?
- Will I get worse?
- How bad will it get?
Because of this, it's important to find ways to manage and alleviate symptoms to improve one's quality of life.
Understanding the Chronic Illness Path
The first step towards getting yourself better is understanding your condition. Speak to your doctor(s)/healthcare professionals if you would like to know more about your condition and to clarify your doubts. Seek help as early as possible so that you and your doctor(s) can find ways to help you cope with your illness, as well as the stresses of the illness, better.
Tips to Improve Self-Management Skills
A positive attitude and certain self-management skills can make your chronic condition much easier to live with. Taking responsibility for what you choose to do will help you to manage your condition better. It will also give you a sense of control over your life. Research shows that the experience of pain, discomfort, and disability can be modified by circumstances, beliefs, mood and the attention we pay to symptoms.
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, healthy eating, good sleep habits
- Exploring stress management/stress-relief activities such as meditation
- Learning everything you can about your condition and making decisions about when to seek medical help and what treatments to try
- Taking active steps to manage your condition by listening to your body and tracking changes
- Working together with your healthcare team
- Using medications safely and effectively as prescribed
- Finding community resources support groups and relying on these for help when you need them
- Talking about your illness with family and friends
- Adapt your social relationships by letting go of unnecessary obligations
When to Seek Help?
It's normal to feel a range of emotions in the wake of a chronic disease diagnosis. However, if you sense that you are feeling overly sad, worried or fearful over your medical condition, speak to a professional such as a doctor about what you are experiencing. It's important to seek help as soon as you feel less able to cope.
If you feel very depressed with thoughts of harming yourself/others or taking your own life, visit a doctor as soon as possible to let them know you are feeling this way.
How is an Assessment of Chronic Illness Done?
Just like other medical appointments, you will be asked a series of questions regarding your past and current life events to understand you and your difficulties better. You may also be asked to fill out a series of questions regarding your mood, behaviours and lifestyle.
Some of these questions can feel very personal to you and it is common that you may feel slightly nervous and uncomfortable. However, your clinician will help to make the process easier and you can take your time to share. The healthcare professionals will help you come to terms with your emotions and the process of managing your illness.
Contributed by Department of Psychology.