Managing emotions when diagnosed with a chronic illness

Receiving a chronic illness diagnosis is overwhelming. Learn about common emotions you may experience, how to support yourself and where to go for more support.

December 16, 2013 - Author: Suzanne Pish, Michigan State University Extension

Learning that you have a chronic illness can bring on many different feelings. Learn about common emotions you might have if you are diagnosed with and, or live with a chronic illness. Learn how to support yourself and where to go for more support.

Getting used to chronic illness

It can be a shock to learn you have a chronic illness. You may ask “why me?” or “where did it come from?” 

  • Sometimes nothing can explain why you got the illness. 
  • The illness may run in your family. 
  • You may have been exposed to something that caused the illness.

As you learn more about your illness and how to take care of yourself, your feelings may change. Fear or shock may give way to: 

  • Anger because you have the illness 
  • Sadness or depression because you may not be able to live the way you used to 
  • Confusion or stress about how to take care of yourself

Your image of yourself may change

You may feel like you are not a whole person anymore. You might be embarrassed or ashamed that you have an illness. Know that, with time your illness becomes part of you and you will have a “new normal.”  You will learn to live with your illness. You will get used to your “new normal.” For example:

  • A person with diabetes learns to test their blood sugar and give insulin several times a day. This becomes their new normal. 
  • A person with asthma will carry an inhaler with them and avoid things that may cause an asthma attack. This is their new normal.

Expect to feel overwhelmed

You may be overwhelmed by: 

  • How much there is to learn. 
  • What lifestyle changes you need to make. For example, you may be trying to change your diet, quit smoking and exercise.

Be gentle with yourself

  • Know that you will adapt over time. You will feel like yourself again as you learn how to fit your illness into your life. 
  • Know that what may be confusing at first starts to make sense. Give yourself time to learn how to take care of your illness.

Feelings and emotions over time

Know that it takes a lot of energy to manage your chronic illness every day. Sometimes, this can affect your outlook and mood. Sometimes you may feel very alone. This is especially true during times your illness is harder to manage. You may sometimes feel some of the feelings you had when you were first diagnosed. 

  • Depressed that you have the illness. It feels that life will never be okay again. 
  • Angry. It still seems unfair that you have the illness. 
  • Afraid that you will become very ill over time. 

Know that your range of feelings is normal. Stress can make it harder for you to take care of your chronic illness. You can learn to cope with stress to help you manage day to day. 

Find ways that work for you to decrease stress, and that you may even enjoy. Here are some ideas:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Read a book or watch a movie.
  • Try yoga, tai-chi or meditation.
  • Take an art class, play an instrument or listen to music.
  • Call or spend time with a friend. 

Finding healthy, fun ways to cope with stress helps many people. But if your stress lasts, talking with a therapist might help you deal with the many feelings that develop. Ask your doctor or nurse for help finding a therapist, you can also contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

Learn more about your illness

  • Learn how to live with your chronic illness. At first it might seem like it is controlling you, but the more you learn and can do for yourself, the more normal and in control you will feel. 
  • Know more about your illness so you can manage it and feel better about it. Find information on the internet, at a library and from social networks, support groups, national organizations and local hospitals. 

Ask your doctor or nurse for websites you can trust. Not all the information you find online is reliable.

Tags: aging, caregiving, chronic disease, diabetes, family, food & health, healthy relationships, managing relationships, msu extension

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