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Managing the Stress of Illness

September 13, 2017|Behavioral Medicine

Living with a chronic or acute medical illness can be a difficult experience that can have a significant effect on one’s personal and professional life. Medical illness may prevent us from being able to participate in the activities we used to enjoy, take care of family and loved ones in the way we would like, or even enjoy the foods we used to love. Illness can also cause less visible effects, such as how we view of ourselves or alter our feelings of self-worth or self-esteem. The stress of living with an illness may affect our ability to properly care for our illness, particularly when caring for the illness is complex. The stress may even exacerbate the illness itself, such as with disorders like irritable bowel syndrome or chronic pain.

When confronted with the challenge of managing both the symptoms and stress of a medical illness, it’s understandable that sometimes it feels easier to avoid thinking about it at all. For example, we might “push through” an activity, even doing the activity causes physical symptoms to get worse and it may be better for our health to take breaks during the activity or not do it at all. We may have thoughts or emotions such as, “I can’t let these symptoms ruin my life” or “it’s upsetting that I can’t play sports like I used to,” that influence how we act when experiencing symptoms. These thoughts or emotions, which we may or may not realize are occurring, can make it more difficult to manage the stress that comes with living with an illness.

One strategy for addressing the stress associated with medical illness is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to our in-the-moment experience and noticing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors without judgment. Through both formal meditation and informal meditation practice mindfulness meditation can help us notice our reactions to events and give us the ability to choose how to respond, rather than just react.


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