Living with chronic illness is an emotional rollercoaster with a variety of emotions, ranging from disbelief, anger, fear, hope, depression, acceptance, and finally moving forward. Research shows that people who have experienced higher rates of psychological distress have an increased chance of being diagnosed with a chronic condition.
But even people who have experienced little stress in their lives can find themselves shaken by a chronic illness. In fact, newer research has shown that chronic psychological stress is associated with inflammation and increased disease risk.
A whirlwind of emotions
Before chronic illness, most of us understood that strong emotions happen from time to time. But nothing fully prepares you for the feelings associated with chronic disease. The whirlwind of emotions and grief is characterized by ups and downs that are not necessarily experienced by everyone and don’t come in a preset fashion. The journey is different for each person, but it’s a normal reaction to chronic illness grief.
Your thoughts and feelings can change minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, and week-by-week. Each feeling has impact, affects mental health or physical health, and determines your overall attitude—regardless of whether the feeling is negative or positive. And chronic illness can keep you on an indefinite cycle, if you let it, due to the many triggers that keep the emotional rollercoaster in motion.
Taming the ride
Can you gain control of your emotions? Can you let go of the constant fear, anger, and grief toward your illness? Is there is a way to find balance? And how do you manage the emotional rollercoaster ride?
Here’s how you tame the ride.
Acknowledge your feelings. Own up to your feelings and emotions. Give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel. Tuning into your emotions will help you make sense of what you are feeling and to distinguish the differences between fear, sadness, anger, excitement, or any other emotion. Being able to tune in helps you see the differences between these emotions and to find what is normal and real to you.
Experience the process. It is okay to travel the rollercoaster, but being aware of the experience makes the ride a little less bumpy. Pay attention to what your body feels during the tough moments. Are your shoulders stiff? Is your heart racing? How is your breathing? Recognizing those physical aspects gives you insight to how your body reacts when your emotions take over. Once you understand what you are feeling physically, close your eyes and try to relax the parts of your body that are responding to stress.
Learn from the experience. Each ride on the emotional rollercoaster is a learning experience. Pay attention to the entire encounter. What are you feeling? How are you reacting? What happens when you change your responses? By looking back at your thoughts and emotional responses, you became aware of your reactions and actions. Being an observer to your own experience allows you to focus on changing your beliefs and creating new thoughts.
They say that time heals all wounds. And this is likely true. But it is what you do with your time that ultimately helps you to heal. Riding that rollercoaster is messy, but patience and practice will you help you gain the skills necessary to manage your emotions and experiences.
When you feel like your emotions have gone “off the rails,” what do you do to bring yourself back again?