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Hello ID: Coping with a chronic illness diagnosis

Making a plan and seeking out support are important steps, according to Dr. Julie Wood.

BOISE, Idaho — Receiving a diagnosis for a chronic illness can be a heavy weight to bear. Patients may be bombarded with many thoughts and emotions, but that is normal.

Optum Idaho’s Dr. Julie Wood says being diagnosed with a chronic illness can come as a shock.

"To hear that you have a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, illnesses that cause chronic pain, as well as some mental health illnesses that there is no cure for, but certainly treatment like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder – that can send a wave of emotion for you," she said. "People’s emotions go up and down and literally all over the place, but a lot of times when you hear that diagnosis there’s this sense of distress and turmoil within. People often feel guilty wondering what they should’ve done or could’ve done differently, blame themselves, they may blame other people."

Wood said that while some patients experience a sense of "doom," for others, getting an answer may come as a relief. Typically, a diagnosis comes after a lengthy experience of illness, and multiple visits to a doctor.

"Once they have a diagnosis, they may feel relieved that there are some things they can do," she said. "Our ability to cope with these emotions can change and we can start to feel normal again."

Wood said there are several ways to deal with chronic illness. The first thing patients should do is make a plan, educate themselves about their disease. Getting support is also key, she said.

"It’s really important to have a good support system when you have a chronic illness," she added. "It may be family and friends, but it also may be from a support group associated with that particular illness or disease where you talk with others that experience the same kind of things you are going through, and you can utilize that support to really help you cope."

Minimizing stress can also help, Wood said.

“Learning to live day-to-day really experiencing joy from the small things in life and focusing on that as well as finding support – those are things that can be helpful through those illnesses,” she said.

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