The way that you feel physically will affect your mood and your mental health. If you have a chronic medical condition, managing your health may feel overwhelming. When you don’t feel your best, it can be hard to stay positive. If your condition limits the activities that you can do or the foods you can eat, it may feel discouraging or make it harder to do things that make you happy like socializing with friends or being outdoors.
Whether it’s the stress of a new medical diagnosis or the burnout that you may feel after managing your condition for years, your feelings may impact your mental health.
Roughly one-third of people with chronic medical conditions experience depression. People with illnesses like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, HIV and lupus are more likely to become depressed. And people who cope with chronic pain – including those with rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and chronic migraines — are more likely to experience anxiety.
Recognizing that your chronic condition is affecting your mood may help you try to counteract those feelings with lifestyle changes or seek help from a mental health professional.
If you’re starting to feel low, these 7 habits may help you improve your mental health:
Eat a healthy diet.
Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and other foods that your doctor has recommended, instead of sugary or salty treats and other processed foods. Healthy whole foods should help you better manage your condition, and some research suggests that eating them regularly may help to improve your mood.
Get some exercise.
Have you ever felt happier after going for a walk? Physical activity releases feel-good hormones, and it may lower your risk of depression. Ask your doctor about the best ways to exercise if you have chronic pain or other limitations. Some movement is better than none, for your mental and physical health.
Spend some time outdoors.
The fresh air and sunshine may boost your mood, even on a chilly day. Sunshine increases your levels of Vitamin D, which can also improve depression symptoms. If possible, visit a park or green space — the sights and sounds of nature can be calming and revitalizing.
Stay connected with friends.
Call the people who make you feel good about yourself, who can laugh with you about old times and who will listen when you need to talk about how you’re feeling.
Look to your community.
Having a chronic condition may feel isolating, but remember: You are not alone. Communicating with others who experience the same symptoms and setbacks that you do may help you feel calmer and more connected.
Focus on things within your control.
Spend time thinking about, planning and doing activities that you can do, rather than mourning the things that you can’t.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Every night, write down three things that you’re grateful for, whether it’s less pain than usual, a fun chat with your sister or a beautiful sunset. When you’re feeling low, flip back through the journal to remember all of the good in your life.
Sometimes, feelings of stress, sadness and anxiety may feel unbearable. It’s important to know that depression and anxiety are treatable, even if you have a chronic condition.
Teletherapy is available at Doctor On Demand
If managing your chronic condition is making you anxious or depressed, you may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional virtually. At Doctor On Demand, our licensed therapists and psychiatrists are available 7 days a week for video visits.
About the author
Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi is a board-certified adult psychiatrist who passionately believes access to mental health treatment should be available to everyone. She completed her undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins University, followed by medical school and residency training at New York University School of Medicine. She then completed a fellowship in Public Psychiatry at Columbia University. She has also done research on women’s mental health issues. Her approach to treatment is patient-centered and recovery-focused, dedicated to reducing mental health stigma and providing treatments that help patients maintain the quality of life they deserve.