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The Stresses of Chronic Illness

What is chronic illness?

Chronic illness is any disease that lasts for months, years, or a lifetime. Some examples include:

  • AIDS
  • cancer
  • cerebral palsy
  • diabetes
  • heart failure
  • Parkinson's disease.

What kinds of stress does it cause?

A chronic illness can affect all aspects of a person's health. The disease often causes tiredness, pain, lack of energy, or just a feeling of being down in the dumps. When someone is first diagnosed, it is common to ask "why me?" It is also normal to feel angry, frustrated, sad, and bitter.


Living with a chronic disease can be a constant struggle that involves managing medicines, dealing with financial stress, keeping appointments with healthcare providers, and conserving physical and mental energy. Living with a chronically ill family member is stressful for every person in the household.

What can I do to help myself or my loved one?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial. Staying physically and socially active is very important. Having regular sleeping and eating patterns will also help you. If you have a chronic illness:

  • Learn about the condition. Let others support you through the low spots.
  • Set realistic goals and priorities. Avoid the temptation to take on too much. Learn to say "no."
  • Know your stress signals, such as headaches, fatigue, anxiousness, diarrhea, aching muscles, or flare-ups of the symptoms of the disease.
  • Learn ways to reduce stress, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. Change the things you can, and learn to accept what you cannot change.
  • Learn which activities make you feel better and do them often, such as getting out in nature, listening to music, or watching comedies.
  • Develop a positive attitude. A positive attitude does not mean denying that you have a chronic illness. It means not focusing on your illness all of the time. Continue to pursue your goals and desires.
  • Share your feelings with trusted friends or loved ones.
  • Continue to give and to help other people.
  • Spend time exploring your connection to life and to others, which may include spirituality and religion.

If someone you love has a chronic disease, the most important thing to remember is to respond not only to the person's disease, but also to the person.

  • Ask the person to share concerns about their disease or treatment. Really listen to what they say. Having someone who will listen is a great comfort.
  • Stay with the person during hospitalizations and painful procedures.
  • Encourage activities such as arts and crafts, video games, or learning about subjects of special interest.
  • Help the person maintain as normal a routine as possible. Encourage hopefulness and humor.
  • Let the person know that feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, and fear are okay.
  • Talk about ways to reduce or cope with the effects of medicines or treatments.
  • Seek help from a mental health professional if someone seems overwhelmed with emotional issues related to living with a chronic disease.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.


HIA File beha4433.htm Release 13/2010

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