If you suffer from a serious health problem, such as a chronic or life-threatening illness, such as cancer, or if you suffer from a major health event, such as a stroke, heart attack, or a debilitating injury, it can disrupt all aspects of your life.
The onset of many serious health problems seems to come out of nowhere, upsetting your life out of the blue out of the blue. You may feel overwhelmed by waves of difficult emotions-from fear and worry to profound sadness, despair, and grief-or just numb, frozen by shock or the feeling that you will never be able to cope. An emotional upheaval can make it difficult for you to function, think straight, and even induce mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, as a result of the emotional upheaval.
In spite of your diagnosis or your emotional response, it is important to keep in mind that you are not powerless in the face of this illness. The good news is that you can take steps to cope with your new situation, ease the stress and mental anguish that often accompany serious illness, and find your way through this challenging new chapter in your life.
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Common Emotional Responses To Serious Illness
- Anger or frustration as you struggle to accept your diagnosis—repeatedly asking yourself, “Why me?” or trying to understand if you’ve done something to deserve this.
- Being confronted with your own mortality and the possibility of death.
- Fear of the future, such as how you’ll cope, how you’ll pay for treatment, what will happen to your family, or how your life will change as the illness progresses.
- Losing your health and old life is a painful experience.
- An overwhelming sense of powerlessness, hopelessness, or inability to see beyond the worst-case scenario.
- Feeling of regret or guilt about things you’ve done that you believe contributed to your illness or injury. Shame at how your condition affects others.
- Denying that anything is wrong or refusing to accept the diagnosis.
- Isolation, feeling cut off from friends and loved ones who don’t understand.
- Loss of identity. You are no longer you, but rather your medical condition is who you are.
The degree of psychological distress you experience and the way in which you react emotionally to the situation are both determined by many different factors, including your age, your personality, the type and prognosis of the medical problem you are facing, and the amount of support you have.
In spite of the circumstances of your situation, you should know that experiencing a wide range of difficult emotions is a normal response to a potentially life-changing situation that may require you to make some difficult decisions. This does not mean that you are weak, going crazy, or that you will not be able to face the challenges that lie ahead in terms of your health and emotions.
The fear of your feelings can be overwhelming when you are dealing with a chronic or life-threatening health condition that puts your health at risk. Like many patients, you may think that burying your emotions, putting on a brave face, or forcing yourself to be positive and cheerful will help your illness to be treated in the most effective way possible. It is important to keep in mind, however, that being honest about any negative emotions that you are experiencing will not hinder your recovery in any way. As a matter of fact, it could have a negative effect as well.
The results of a 2020 review of studies into the coping styles of cancer patients showed that being cheerful had little effect on the success of treatment or recurrence rates. As a matter of fact, burying your emotions may only lead to more stress, increase the level of pain you are feeling, and make you more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression in the future. Often, it is our refusal to face our fears that leads to the feeling of hopelessness, sadness, and pain that can accompany fighting a serious illness as a result of refusing to face our fears.
By facing your emotions, even the most painful and fearful ones, you can relieve stress and suffering, better come to terms with your condition, and find greater peace and physical strength.
When facing a life-threatening illness, you can feel alone and cut off from those closest to you. Others may not understand what you’re going through. Maybe those around you are trying to be so positive that you can’t express how you really feel. If you talk honestly about what you’re experiencing, you may worry that you’ll burden other people. No matter what your situation is, now is not the time to hide away.
Various health problems can be exacerbated or contributed to by stress, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, chronic pain, postoperative and wound healing, and some side effects from cancer treatments. It is possible, however, to manage these health issues by practicing stress management techniques.
Stress management can help even after you’ve had a heart attack or had heart surgery by bolstering the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation or reducing the amount of blood pressure medication you need. Anxiety, fatigue, and sleep disturbances can be alleviated by managing stress if you have been diagnosed with cancer.