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 Rx: How to Live Well with Chronic Disease 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Body Health by . View all columns in series

Watch Your Self-Talk
The explanations you give yourself about your symptoms and disease can strongly influence your mood and ability to function. Many limitations and restrictions associated with chronic illness lie more in our beliefs than in our bodies.

Your expectations can become self-fulfilling prophesies. If you think heart disease means that you'll never be able to work, have sex, or see your child graduate, then your actions and feelings are likely to reflect these beliefs. Learn to "eavesdrop" on your internal dialogue. Challenge and rewrite restrictive, inaccurate, negative self-talk.

Don't Do It Alone
One of the side effects of chronic illness is a feeling of isolation. As supportive as friends and family members may be, they often cannot understand what you are experiencing as you struggle to cope with a chronic illness. There are others who know first- hand what it is like to live with a chronic condition just like yours. Connecting with these people can:

  • Reduce your sense of isolation
  • Help you understand what to expect
  • Offer practical tips on how to manage symptoms and feelings on a day-to-day basis
  • Give you the opportunity to help others cope with their illness
  • Help you appreciate your assets and realize that things could be worse
  • Inspire you to take a more active role in managing your illness by seeing others coping successfully.
Support can take many forms. You can read a book or newsletter about how someone lived with a chronic illness. Join a support group. Talk with others on the telephone or participate in an online chat session. Whatever means you use to connect, be sure to practice clear communication skills to express your feelings and wishes.

You're More Than Your Disease
It's very tempting for chronic disease sufferers to identify with the disease. Remind yourself that you are more than your disease - more than a "heart patient" or "lung patient." And life is more than just trips to the doctor and managing symptoms.

Cultivate areas of your life that you enjoy. Small daily pleasures can help balance uncomfortable symptoms or emotions. Experience nature; grow a plant or watch a sunset. Indulge in the pleasure of human touch. Enjoy a tasty meal or celebrate companionship with family or friends. Such special moments of pleasure are vital to chronic disease self- management. Focus on your abilities and assets rather than disabilities and deficits. Celebrate small improvements. If chronic illness teaches anything, it is to live each moment more fully. Within the true limits of whatever disease you have, there are ways to enhance your function, sense of control and enjoyment of life.

Illness Can Be an Opportunity
Even with its pain and disability, an illness - like any crisis - can enrich our lives. We may be forced to reevaluate what is really important, shift priorities and move in exciting new directions that we might never have seen before.

Jill has breast cancer. Since her diagnosis she has lived more fully than ever before. "I was lost and aimless after my children grew up and left home. One of the first things I did after the diagnosis was learn to swim with my head in the water. I had always kept it above the water, too scared to put my whole self in. That had been the story of my life. Now I do whatever I want. I don't think about how much time there is, just what I want to do with mine. I feel less afraid of living."

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 About The Author
David S. Sobel, M.D., M.P.H., is a practicing physician in adult medicine and Medical Director of Patient Education and Health Promotion for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He is physician lead for the......moreDavid Sobel MD
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