Living with chronic illness

The mental disorientation is as terrible as the physical pain. The most common reaction to this unexpected and dire pronouncement is a flood of negative emotions that overwhelm the senses and mind and can include: fear, anxiety, despair, anger, and grief. Their appearance is detrimental to your health because each one induces stress. Individually or in unison, they can trigger a physiological reaction called the Fight or Flight Response. This ancient response to perceived danger increases the chance of survival in a life threatening situation by enhancing the body’s capability to identify and locate the enemy and either fight or flee. This reaction is also very physiologically stressful. Under ordinary conditions, the Fight or Flight Response mechanisms are ‘turned off’ once the danger has passed and the body resumes it normal and less stressful activities.

In the case of a chronic illness diagnosis, the doctor’s focus is on treatment of the disease and not on the mental impact of the diagnosis. Consideration and treatment of the negative emotions is usually minimal, if at all. Most often, the patient has to deal with them as best as she/he can. If unresolved, these negative emotions will continually trigger the Fight or Flight Response and a sustained high level of stress that damages the immune system, the body’s primary line of defence against illness and disease, and can – in extreme situations – lead to death.