I recently posted about clinical/major depression. Now I want to talk about coping with depression caused by serious and chronic illness, as I have a serious chronic illness and many of my friends do, too.
Living with a serious and/or chronic illness can cause depression. 40% of cancer patients are reported to experience depression after diagnosis. Those who suffer from diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are six times more likely to experience depression than people without serious illness.
This type of depression is called ‘situational depression.’ It’s caused by the situation of our serious health issues.
But there are some great and effective coping strategies. There is hope!
1. Accepting Your New Normal
Accepting your ‘new normal’ is key to coping. But also know that better days are ahead and you must strive for them. We have to accept some limitations and fight to overcome other limitations, while also adding joy to our lives, often by implementing new activities that we are able to do. I can no longer hike or ski or dance, so I’ve replaced those activities with others that bring me joy such as writing, photography, fur babies, and spending time in nature/on the water. I may delve more into this topic in a future blog post.
2. Throw Yourself a Pity Party
We all need to do this on occasion, so do it without guilt! Don’t bottle it up or bury it! But throw that party for no more than fifteen minutes then move on. Have a good cry. Scream at the gods. Curse the cosmos. Do what you need to do that won’t hurt you or anyone else. It’s good for the soul. But staying there for more than fifteen minutes can have the opposite effect.
We need time to escape and get our minds off our health issues. This can be very difficult when your symptoms are severe and debilitating but if you can manage a hobby, do it. If you have children or grandchildren, you are blessed. What a wonderful distraction!
4. Pets/Fur Babes
Another wonderful distraction! If you don’t have a pet, adopt/rescue one! They really raise your spirits and provide years of joy! They improve your health on many levels. Click here for more on the health benefits of pets.
5. Make a Point to Increase Your Joy
Do something that brings you joy today and everyday. Even if it’s just a cup of tea or enjoying your fur babies, a bubble bath, reading a good book, or watching a great movie, in the comfort of your own home. Some days that’s all we can manage – but it’s joyful and that’s what counts. Book and movie choices should be uplifting. No sad endings! The purpose is to raise our spirits.
6. Count Your Blessings
Not cliché! This is scientifically proven. Counting 50 things you’re thankful for everyday really and truly cheers you up! It can pull you out of the dumps! You don’t have to sit down and list them, you don’t have to jot them down. Just do it in your head, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing and if it takes all day, that’s ok. If you repeat items from previous lists, that’s ok, too! So first thing when you wake up, get started! Think about what you’re thankful for, count as many things as you can and when you can’t think of more that’s ok, revisit and add to your list throughout the day. You will notice that you’re feeling more positive and cheerful and less depressed and stressed as the day goes on! And do it all over again tomorrow and everyday! Great coping strategy.
To the best of your ability, exercise. There’s a show on PBS called ‘Sit and Be Fit,’ there was a time, that’s all I could do. Walk, if you can, around your house and yard – and around your block or a nature walk. Some malls open early for walkers, providing climate control and safety. If you can walk, do it. Sometimes I do laps in my house. Exercise improves not only your physical health, but it improves your mental wellbeing, as well. If you can exercise more intensely, do it, but always be careful not to overdo it when you have health issues. I love physical therapy as it’s a trained physical therapist implementing your regimen. Ask your doc for a PT referral. Click here for info on how to decrease inflammation with exercise.
8. Get Your Nature Fix
Getting out in nature is extremely beneficial to the human psyche. If you live in the city, try to go for a drive to the country, a lake, the beach, or mountains. Even if it’s just a day trip. If you can’t drive, ask someone to drive. Get out and walk if you can. Bring chairs and just sit in nature if that’s all you can do. If you can’t get in and out of the car easily, just stay in the car but roll the windows down and breathe in the fresh hair. Bring your camera! Snap some pictures! Enjoy the sunset! For me, a day at the lake is very therapeutic. A few hours on the water makes a huge difference. Try to get close to the water or a waterfall or into a forest, for a negative-ion-rich-environment, for more about this, go here: ‘Nature Deficit Disorder.’ It really raises the spirits.
All terrain wheels on a wheelchair can open up a lot of wonderful possibilities for nature excursions.
Last fall, I invited my brother on an amateur fall-foliage-photo-shoot, just the two of us and we had the best time and have plans to do more photo shoots together! This was an activity I had been doing alone and had no idea he would he would be interested. Wonderful discovery! So then I invited friends on a fall-foliage-photo-shoot and lunch and we had a wonderful day together! All those fall-foliage-photo-shoots brought great joy!
9. Which Brings Us to Friends and Family
Try to connect with good friends and family. Not just through social media, but in person. Even if it’s just for a cup of tea or glass of lemonade. For more on this topic go here.
10. Support groups
Join support groups specific to your health issues. If you have diabetes, join their specific support groups, if you have vasculitis, join those specific support groups. Etcetera. Reach out to the members, they understand what you’re going through better than anyone. Online support groups are great! I’m in several Facebook groups. Since they are international, there’s usually someone available 24/7, especially beneficial since insomnia often plays a role in serious and chronic illness.
11. Meditation and Prayer
Meditation and prayer helps alleviate anxiety, stress and depression. You can YouTube some guided meditations.
12. Supplements and Essential Oils
These can really help a great deal as well. I’ve experienced it!
Omega 3 Fish Oil is beneficial in fighting depression as well as providing many other health benefits for inflammatory illnesses, as it’s anti-inflammatory.
Other depression fighting/mood enhancing supplements include 5-HTP and St John’s Wort.
As with all medications and supplements, you should always check possible interactions. This is an online source that I use:
“The top four essential oils for depression are bergamot, lavender, chamomile and ylang ylang. You can use essential oils for depression topically or aromatically, usually as a cream or in a diffuser.” – Dr. Josh Axe
I’m a huge fan of acupuncture and other alternative health modalities.
“A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that electroacupuncture – in which a mild electric current is transmitted through the needles – was just as effective as Prozac.” – Scientific American
Acupuncture also helps reduce and alleviate the side effects of prescription anti-depressants.
When seeking acupuncture, be sure to see a ‘licensed’ as opposed to ‘certified’ practitioner.
14. Is Physical Pain a Factor?
If pain is making it hard to cope: acupuncture, lidocaine patches, ginger, and turmeric, help a lot. I’ve had great success reducing and eliminating pain with these treatments.
15. Plan Something
For me, planning something really raises my spirits and gets my mind off my health issues! It adds joy and excitement to my life! Whether it’s a trip/vacation or a family get-together or lunch with a friend or a movie night or date night. Having something to look forward to and plan is really important for me. I have planned trips when I’m too sick to travel, for a date in the future when I’m hopefully well enough to travel, keeping in the back of my mind that I may have to cancel, but most of the time I don’t have to cancel! I think having something to look forward to helps to improve your health so that by the time the travel date arrives, you’re good to go! And travel itself definitely improves your health – a blog topic for the near future! When my sons were at home, I was always planning homeschool dances, science fairs, field trips and other events for our homeschool community. Now that I’m retired from homeschooling and my sons have all mostly moved away, I’m always planning our next family get-together which often includes travel as we all live in different parts of the state now. You can plan a lot when you’re sick! When the date arrives, you’re usually up for it, even if you have to rest a lot. I ran many a homeschool dance from a chair! I’ve done a lot of travel from the passenger seat with lots of naps.
16. Apps – 24/7 Access
There are even several apps for depression! Type “depression help” into your App Store search bar! Some provide 24/7 therapist access! Someone you can reach out to anytime, even in the middle of the night!
Counseling with a therapist that specializes in chronic illness has really helped many I know with serious health issues. It’s important that the counselor specializes in serious/chronic illness. Therapists who don’t often fall short in the area of serious and chronic illness.
18. Eat Well
The foods we eat greatly affect how we feel both physically and mentally. Eat clean. Eliminate fast food and junk food. Get your nutrient-dense-super-foods smoothie/juice on! For more on this, join my tribe, follow my blog!
19. Know that it’s Normal and Okay to have Sad Days
But use the strategies listed here to pull yourself out of them so that the sad days don’t turn into sad weeks and sad months.
20. And always remember: Be kind to yourself ♥️
Photo Credit: Me, taken from my front porch
Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Scientific American, Dr. Josh Axe, drugs.com, Neuro-linguistic Programming