The number of people living with a chronic health condition is on the rise in this country. While much of it can be attributed to baby boomers growing older, it’s more widespread than that. Experts believe poor nutrition and a lack of exercise in younger people is causing rates of chronic illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes, to climb.

Medical professionals are also becoming more adept at identifying autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis. Each of these is also considered a chronic illness. It all adds up to a startling number of people left trying to navigate daily life with a protracted disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six in ten adults in this country live with a chronic health condition. Four in ten of them have two or more.

So, what does it take for a medical issue to be considered chronic and what are the common symptoms? We’ll explore both along with how to manage the stress that frequently results from trying to juggle daily life with a serious, ongoing health issue.

What Is Considered a Chronic Health Condition?

A medical problem is considered chronic if it lasts more than one year and causes functional or lifestyle restrictions or requires ongoing monitoring or treatment. As a category, they are among the most prevalent and costly health conditions in the United States. They are also the leading cause of death and disability.

Symptoms commonly associated with a long-term illness include:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Fear
  • Stress

It’s important to know that the last one, stress, can exacerbate the others. While anxiety and nervousness are recognizable signs of stress, people aren’t aware of other symptoms linked to it. Those can include irritability, stomachaches, sleep problems, and a loss of interest in friends and favorite hobbies.

By learning how to manage stress within the context of a chronic disease, people might be able to reduce their symptoms and suffering.

Overcoming Stress Associated with Chronic Disease

The type of illness a person is living with can inhibit their ability to try some of the following suggestions. However, most people will find a few to be useful:

  • Join an in-person or online support group: Connecting with peers who can understand and sympathize is one of the best ways to manage stress. If you are able, meeting others in person offers the added benefits of socializing and getting out of the house. For those whose illness prevents that, there are a variety of virtual options. You might want to first explore those offered by organizations dedicated to your specific illness. If that’s not possible, you might find the Center for Chronic Illness support groups to be a good resource.
  • Avoid alcohol and other unhealthy behaviors: When you are in pain or feeling down, it’s easy to develop unhealthy behaviors that seem like they help. It might be a few glasses of wine a day or overindulging in sugary treats. Sometimes it’s starting to smoke or increasing the amount of cigarettes you smoke in a day. While these might offer temporary relief, in the long run it will only make things worse. Be mindful of any habits you’ve picked up that might work against you.
  • Try to eat as healthily as possible: This suggestion usually helps you gain more energy and even sleep better. Instead of considering healthy eating a diet, think of it as a lifestyle modification. A Mediterranean meal plan, for example, is linked to lower rates of disease. It focuses on fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein. If your health condition makes it tough to prepare these types of meals and snacks for yourself, consider subscribing to a home delivery service that offers these kinds of prepared meals. Purple Carrot and Green Chef are two popular examples.
  • Learn to practice meditation: Though people often associate meditation with sitting on the floor with your legs crossed, the reality is much more accommodating. You can even practice it from your favorite spot on the sofa. An added benefit is that growing evidence shows meditation might help protect cognitive health. Watch “Mindfulness Meditation for People with Disabilities” to learn more.
  • Find physical exercises you can engage in: Depending upon what your chronic health condition allows, mild to moderate forms of exercise might also reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety. Whether it is a simple walk, a swim, chair yoga, or seated aerobics, talk to your physician for input and advice.

Art and Music Activities at Heritage Senior Communities

Our final suggestion is a popular part of daily life in our communities. Explore different types of art projects and music. Research shows that both offer therapeutic benefits including reducing stress and boosting mood. Click on the Events tab in the link for the community nearest you to view a copy of the monthly activities calendar!