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7 Tips to Help You Better Cope with a Life-Threatening Illness


Cope with life threatening disease

After working with patients and families diagnosed with advanced cancers, I am sharing how you can preserve your quality of life and manage emotional distress in the face of life-threatening illness. By the end of this blog, you will have an idea of the steps you can take to better cope with your situation.


Emotional Reaction to Life-Threatening Illness

It is normal to experience a mixture of emotions in response to a life-changing diagnosis. Your reaction depends on many different things (your support system, the diagnosis, your age, your personality, the prognosis, etc…).


There is no right or wrong emotion. It is normal to feel angry, worry about the future, be concerned about your ability to cope, grieve the loss of health, feel hopeless, feel powerless, question who you are, experience guilty feelings, blame yourself, refuse to accept the diagnosis, and feel cut off from others.


Here's How to Better Cope With Life-Threatening Illness


Tip#1 Be Gentle with Yourself

Be gentle with yourself as you adjust to the circumstances and try not to judge yourself too harshly or tell yourself what you should be thinking or feeling. Whatever your emotional response, it does not indicate anything about your ability to meet the challenges ahead of you.


TIP#2 Be Open to Emotion

Painful feelings are difficult. It’s tempting to avoid feeling all together. Encourage yourself to feel whatever emotions that come up. The feelings are there for a reason and they will remain there even if you aren’t paying attention to them.


For more information on the purpose of emotions click here.


Emotions have a way of growing bigger and louder when ignored. If you acknowledge and feel what comes up, as it comes up, the intensity of the feeling will lessen and pass.


Don't force positivity. Opening yourself up to a wide range of emotions will not disturb or interrupt your recovery or lead to disease progression. Click here for a resource and more information on this.


Tip#3 Focus on What You Can Control

A diagnosis of a life-threatening disease brings tons of uncertainty. Things like weighing treatment options, waiting for test results, and waiting some more. This process highlights that a lot of life is out of your control.


Focus your energy on what you can control. Care for yourself. Eat well, exercise, get quality sleep and distract yourself with hobbies you enjoy and/or conversations with people you love.


Tip#4 Draw on and Build Support

Although it's normal to feel alone and that others do not understand, I encourage you to lean on your support system. Staying connected socially even when you feel no one truly understands, can lift your mood.


Let others support you on your terms. Choose good listeners to confide in. The people you confide in should be supportive and not try to tell you how or what to feel. You get to choose who you tell about your disease. You get to choose who you confide in, how much information you share, and who you draw on for support.


Let others help. Others want to help and asking for help could improve your bond with that loved one.


Build supports. There are many different platforms out there to connect with other people who are experiencing similar circumstance. Connect with individual peer support through a peer-to-peer program, try a support group, or join a Facebook board.


Check out this worksheet on the types of social supports and how to build support here


Tip#5 Manage Stress

Stress can aggravate your health. Stress management techniques can be used to combat this and improve your wellbeing.


Implement relaxation at least 5 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be a formal relaxation technique like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation either. Find something that relaxes you and take 5 minutes out of the day to do that thing.


Check out this information on Relaxation Techniques here


Tip#6 Pursue Meaning and Joy

You are not your medical diagnosis. Continue to pursue your life through hobbies, people, and things you enjoy. If a medical condition keeps you from pursuing these things, evaluate and find other activities that enrich your spirit and work for you.


Tip#7 Challenge Worry

Your disease diagnosis carries a lot of unknowns which naturally brings worry. Counter this worry with the questions found here.


Worrying will not make your life anymore foreseeable.


Talk to a therapist. Verbalizing what you are worried about can help you view things differently and learn about productive vs. unproductive worry.




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