6 Tips for Taking Care of Your Mental Health When You Live with a Chronic Condition

Written by Elinor Hills on June 29, 2021 — Fact checked by Jennifer Chesak for Healthline

If you live with a chronic condition and have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition, you’re not alone.

Living with a chronic condition often comes with a significant emotional toll. It’s not uncommon to experience feelings, such as fear, sadness, or anger, especially right after a diagnosis or during a flare-up.

Often, these emotions are temporary and may come and go. Sometimes, however, they may persist and may be a sign of a mental health condition, like anxiety or depression.

People who live with chronic conditions are at a higher risk for developing a mental health condition. At the same time, mental health symptoms can cause a flare-up or worsen symptoms if you have a chronic condition.

Taking care of your mental well-being is an important aspect of caring for your physical health, especially when living with a chronic condition.

Members of the PsA HealthlineRA Healthline, and Migraine Healthline communities share their tips for navigating the emotional impact of living with a chronic condition below.

Know that anything you are feeling is valid

“Never feel guilty about your feelings. You’re entitled to all feelings and grief. We all go through several stages of grief after diagnosis.

When I was in my deepest depression, I reached out to a hotline that offered phone counseling. I cried my eyes out to a stranger on the phone. It really helped.

Since then, I’ve sought out therapy, and it’s helped immensely.” — Sphinx, RA Healthline member

Prioritize your mental health during flares

“Pain and fatigue have a huge impact on our mood. Flares can bring on worsening feelings of depression and anxiety.

When I flare, I often need to take extra steps to help my mental health, like speaking with my therapist, journaling, and trying to be extra kind to myself.” — GirlwithArthritis, PsA Healthline member

Focus on the present and keep moving forward

“I have terrible anxiety from living with rheumatoid arthritis.

I was diagnosed at 24, and I feel like my once young carefree life is now all about doctor’s appointments, making sure I remember my medication, and thinking twice about any plans I make.

My whole future feels like a question mark for me now. But I’ve also realized that if all I do is focus on my worries, I’m never going to do anything.

I have to push forward and accept what comes. I make adjustments to live the best life I can at any moment, because otherwise my whole life will be wasted.” — Anonymous, RA Healthline member

Be extra kind to yourself

“Flares really mess with my head. For me, when a flare comes on, it puts me through mental gymnastics. I start thinking: ‘What if this is the time it doesn’t get better? What if this is the flare that stays for good?’

I think what’s hard about flares is that you don’t always know how long they’re gonna last. It’s so exhausting.

When I’m in a flare, I like to make sure to be extra kind to myself. Though sometimes that feels hard, because a flare is invisible. I find myself thinking: ‘What if it’s just in my head?’

I wanted to write this all out to let you know that if you also experience these mental gymnastics during flares, you’re not alone.” — Jenny Parker, PsA Healthline community guide

Learn to recognize anxiety patterns

“When I have a migraine, it’s easy to panic. Not only is the pain intense, but there’s also confusion, and problems with light and sound.

I struggle to understand other people and what they are saying, and I struggle trying to get what I’m saying out in a way that they can understand.

Learning to recognize that this is a pattern has helped a lot. This isn’t to say I don’t still deal with it. It’s very real and very scary. Remember: You’re not alone.” — RJSenses, Migraine Healthline member

Remember that a little self-care goes a long way

“I find my anxiety has increased when balancing continuous work and family demands with trying to now manage my health and pain.

I’ve been trying to do some meditation, listen to some positive affirmations, and remind myself to be in the moment.

All of this helps reduce my anxiety. Still, every day I have to remind myself to do some self-care. It’s so important.” — JWW, PsA Healthline member

The bottom line

If you live with a chronic condition, it’s likely you spend a lot of time and energy managing the physical impact of your condition.

At times, it may feel more urgent to address more visible, physical symptoms rather than your mental health. However, it’s important to remember that your mental well-being isn’t separate from your physical well-being.

Mental health conditions can cause physical symptoms that make living with a chronic condition even more challenging.

Talking about your mental health can also be challenging or uncomfortable. Finding a community of people who understand exactly what you’re going through can help.

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