Medically reviewed by, Russell Braun RPH
You have not been feeling well for a while now. After putting off the visit to your doctor as long as you could you finally went to see them. You sit in shock as the doctor is explaining that you have a chronic medical condition. Wait… what? I am sick and it may never go away? Newly diagnosed with a chronic condition can be a downright scary situation.
Poof… your “normal life” has suddenly been pulled out from under your feet. Your doctor then proceeds to tell you:
“This chronic disease is degenerative and can be lethal. I am going to give you medications to control it. The medication may have side effects so we will have to monitor you closely.”
Just as the shock is wearing off your doctor hands you a prescription. Walking out the door she tells you to get it filled and she is off to the next appointment. As you get to the scheduling desk the questions in your head start to swirl. Did your whole world just change? How do you know what do to now?
Your not Alone!
Unfortunately, the western world is seeing more and more people being diagnosed with chronic disease at a staggering rate. The shocking numbers below are according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
|Cardiovascular disease||85.6 million|
|Autoimmune diseases||22 million|
As you can see, your recent diagnosis is part of a much larger problem. Even more concerning these diseases are not just affecting the elderly any longer. Now younger people and even adolescents are getting sick with chronic diseases.
Why Are Chronic Diseases Increasing?
Unfortunately, chronic disease is not just increasing. Rather, theses diseases are exploding worldwide in developed nations. The movement away from whole foods to ultra processed foods is fueling the fire. In addition urbanization of the population has lead to a much more sedentary lifestyle.
How do You Deal With a Chronic Illness Diagnosis?
Three simple words:
Get…. A…. Plan….
Just being diagnosed with a chronic illness or a worsening of a long standing illness can feel like a crushing blow. Having a guide that can instruct you with how to get on with your life is a great way to stabilize yourself. This guide will show you how to break free from “normal” in our culture and start to take your health back.
This is a compilation of strategies that will get you back to the rich, fulfilling and active life you deserve. The step by step plan below will ensure that you don’t allow the disease to continue to further damage your health.
Think of your body as a rain barrel, when your born the barrel is empty. During your life the barrel starts to fill up from:
- Harmful foods
- Toxic chemicals in products all around you
- Being sedentary
- Alcohol, smoking, drugs
- Constant stress
- Lack of quality sleep
- Poor relationships
For years your body can compensate and you feel “normal”. However, at some point the rain barrel becomes full and then overflows. That is the point when the disease rears its ugly head.
What Is Disease?
Disease is defined as any harmful deviation from the normal structure or function of an organism (humans are organisms too). There are specific signs and symptoms that are associated with each disease that are abnormal.
Do Chronic Conditions Get Worse?
Simply put, yes most chronic conditions get worse or led to other chronic diseases. The good news is they do not have to!
Simply taking medications to help mask the symptoms you are having does not address the root cause. The bad habits that have become the norm in todays western society will continue to wear on your body. Ultimately, most people end up with multiple chronic conditions that eventually lead to:
- Loss of quality of life
Some may have had symptoms for a long time, but were told it was all in your head. Or they may have thought they were being a hypochondriac. However, many chronic conditions lead directly to depression. In fact, people with chronic disease are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
As you can see in the diagram above this becomes a downward spiral. You feel depressed because of your new diagnosis or progression of disease. That leads to a decrease in healthy habits. Then depression causes people to:
- Make poor diet choices
- Exercise less
- Stress more
- Get poor quality sleep
- Turn to alcohol, smoking or drugs
The chart above shows the dramatic increase in people with chronic disease(s) who also suffer from depression. Keep reading to make sure you do not fall into this vicious downward spiral.
How Do You Get Rid of Chronic Disease?
1. Don’t go Into Denial
Hopefully the numbers above will help you realize that this is happening to a LOT of people. At first you may want to think it couldn’t happen to you. Have you wondered….
- Maybe the test was just wrong?
- I wonder if this will just go away?
If so, those are completely normal questions. However, more than likely you do have a problem. Diagnosing these chronic conditions are somewhat straightforward for your doctor.
Ignoring It Is Not An Option
Ignoring your diagnosis will lead you straight into the cycle of despair and worsening disease described above. Instead of trying to pretend it does not exist, draw a line in the sand. Your life should be divided into before and after the date you were diagnosed.
After that date, you will start to build new habits that will make you healthy again. Ultimately, leading you to be as healthy as when you were much younger. This will break the cycle for you and give you the story you can share to uplift others who also need to get healthy again.
You CAN change the bad habits and be free of the disease. However, to do that you must not go into denial and act like nothing is wrong. Those who deny and ignore will see the following results:
- Lose your freedom to do what you want with your life
- Change long term plans
- Lose sense of purpose
- Drift apart from friends
- Potentially become unable to perform at your job
2. Stop Blaming, It Is Not Your Fault
Many people feel ashamed when they get diagnosed with a chronic disease. That is unfortunate because there is no reason to blame yourself or feel ashamed. The world we live in is full of toxic chemicals and addictive foods, it promotes being sedentary, downplays sleep and triggers constant stress. Those factors interact with your genes over time and eventually one of these chronic diseases emerge.
Think about it, when is the last time you saw a broccoli commerical? However, I bet you can think of numerous commercials for pharmacietucal drugs… right?
That is the problem with todays society and healthcare. We try to fix things with drugs and not address the root cause. Do you think you have a deficiency in blood pressure medication? No way, that is not a chemical your body has ever seen in your life until it was prescribed to you.
If you want to understand more about why your lifestyle controls your health more than your genes read:
3. Your Family May Not Understand
Your chronic disease may have an impact your family. That could mean physically, mentally, emotionally or financially.
They may not get what you are going through and that can be discouraging. You may not look sick to them. That can cause issues for both parties. You need to make sure you talk to them early and often and get your thoughts off your chest, not bottled up inside. This is important as you are already probably stressing over your diagnosis.
That is why you need a resource that will be there for you on the journey back to health. Find out why an accountability partner is vital and will change your health habits going forward
4. Differences in Men vs Women
Males have more chronic diseases that are likely to be fatal. This is because they get more heart disease and cancer. Over time these become a primary cause of death.
Studies have found that men get more social support from family and friends. It is believed that this be due to men having better coping mechanisms.
Females actually have more nonfatal chronic illness. While women are increasingly at risk for heart disease they actually have a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
Women also tend to have a harder time dealing with the disease emotionally. This correlates in women also reporting depression due to disease more often.
5. The 5 Minute Rule
Find yourself a timer and get ready for an exercise that will help you immensly. Give yourself 5 minutes. These 5 minutes you can moan, cry, whine, complain and let all the negative thoughts in your head out. Make sure you take full advantage of all 5 minutes. Go ahead and set your timer now.
Shew.. that feel better?
Now your next step is to recite these four three words:
“Can’t change the past”
From here on out you are done complaining, whining and feeling like a victim. From here on out your going to learn how to get healthy and spend your time creating habits that get you there. In the future when you have negative thoughts in your head:
- Set your timer
- Spew out the negativity thoughts for 5 minutes
- State “Can’t change the past”
- Keep getting 1% better each day
6. Don’t Get Wrapped Up in Online Groups And Forums
Having strong support groups around you while you take on chronic disease is a great idea. However, many online groups and forums can become discouraging. You may start to think that the problems you have are everywhere and thus give up hope. Certainly there are groups that can be uplifting and encouraging. Just be sure to evaluate how you feel when interacting in these types of places.
Another issue is that you can get some really bad advice about your health online. You have to remember that everyones situation is unique. There are many variables that could affect things that would work for you compared to someone else. For instance differences in the following could completely change advise you should take.
|Disease states||Medications used|
7. Adopt A Routine
Having a routine grounds you and gives you the promise of hope for the things you look forward to. It also puts a cap on the length of time doing things you do not enjoy. Once you take the time to set a routine you will want to get out of bed to complete the tasks of the day.
One of the biggest benefits is routines reduce the stress. With all the decisions you make in a day it is easy for small things to throw you off your schedule. Routines with specific times for various tasks prevents that from happening.
Sticking to a routine increases the likelihood of healthy eating habits, exercise patterns and sleep schedules. These things will help you get your health back from chronic disease.
Follow this process to create a routine:
Get to sleep within 15 minutes of the same time every night.
Getting routine activities done helps reduce stress and causes you to exercise.
Try to eat at the same times each day. This helps keep blood sugar in normal ranges.
Getting 150 minutes of physical activity every week is vital. Split that up and put the time in the calendar.
Your routine will evolve. Try new things and make tweaks along the way. Do not stress over missed items, just don’t miss two days in a row.
8. Lifestyle Changes
You may think you have heard the lifestyle change thing before. Maybe you were overwhelmed with what you needed to do or didn’t know where to start. The difference this time is:
- You now have a guide, refer to it often.
- The diagnosis or worsening of the disease means your body is telling you waiting to start is no longer an option.
Make sure you adopt lifestyle changes you will stick to for the long run. Remember if you feel like you can’t even get out of bed today, little changes an add up over time.
Here are the major lifestyle habits that you need to adopt to get your health back.
Most people know they should eat healthy. However, most don’t realize how unhealthy most food options are. Ultra processed foods are driving many diseases and they should be avoided at all cost. Make sure you increase your servings of whole foods specifically fruits and vegetables. Ramp up the servings of these to 7-9 per day and watch how much better you feel.
Having deep connections with other people has been proven to improve your health. Loneliness and isolation has been proven to lead to depression especially in those who have chronic disease. Make sure to take time out to connect with family and friends.
Over and over exercise has been proven to be one of the most powerful ways to improve your health. At this point there is no contesting that. You need to ensure to get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. As you create your health routine, make sure to schedule no less than this amount per week for exercise.
Smoking, excessive alcohol drinking and sugar addiction likely played a role in your diagnosis. Depending on the problem there are different ways to cope with these addictions. Don’t get overwhelmed and tackle these in order from smallest problem to largest. That way you will build momentum as you go to beat all three harmful habits.
Even though you may feel more stressed than ever due to your disease you must fight back. Stress is a key drivers of poor health. Finding ways to deal with stress that you enjoy and will stick with is vital. Just like with exercise incorporate these into your routine.
Also known as the reason you do what you do. Studies have shown those without a defined purpose are not as healthy as those who do. What is your why? If you are not sure, then find something you can be passionate about. At this point it needs to be why do you want to get healthy? For your spouse, kids, grandkids or just so you can be happy.
Your brain is the key to regaining your health. Your mind creates the reality that you perceive. Even though you have succumbed to a disease, you can still change your mindset. When you do this and have a clear objective building healthy habits is going to become easy to do. Just like you exercise your body, you need to innercise your mind.
Your body restores and heals yourself from the stress of the day during sleep. Without good restorative sleep, you will not be able to get healthy. A minimum of 7-9 hours per night of good sleep is a must. Part of your routine should be going to bed and awakening about the same time every day.
9. Manage your medication(s)
Unfortunately, most diseases are quickly met with medications instead of changes in lifestyle. That is why according to the CDC 1/3 of Americans 60 to 79 years old use five or more prescription drugs!
The problem with medication is it simply masks your symptoms. What you need is to address the root cause of the problem. More medication means more risk of adverse reactions. Often this leads to another medication to deal with a side effect of the first.
Medication is also expensive. Many people struggle to afford the costs and many stop taking medication due to this issue.
What to ask
Even though it isn’t the best option it is where you will need to start as you take your health back. Here is what you need to do to deal with medication as you get well in hopes of getting rid of the medication over time.
- Ask your doctor these questions.
- Find out cost savings options with insurance.
- Follow up on these cost savings options outside your insurance.
- Get help with the lifestyle changes above so you can eventually get off of medications in a plan you make together with your doctor.
- Continually learn about the disease you have. Find out what you need to get checked out and how often. Here is a short list of the labs you should check into.
- Blood pressure – at home and at the office
- Kidney function
- Liver function
- Eye exam yearly
- Dental checkup every 6 months
- Blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C
- Vitamin D level
- Ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids
You Are In Charge of Your Future
There is a lot of things you can do to change your health in the future. Take a deep breath, go through this guide several times and remember your in charge.
Make a plan for turning your health around, create a 1, 3 and 5 year plan. Remember, if you never set a goal you will hit it every time. Keep in mind you are not destined to some predetermined genetic fate! Instead you can change habits listed in this guide and and end up being healthier than you have ever been.
Click here to get Dr. Jason Reed’s exclusive list of medication questions you MUST ask your doctor, for FREE!
Share Your Story
Do you feel better after reading this guide? Chime in below with your comments and thoughts.
Grams-Michalowska, Anna, et al. The effects of ultra processed food consumption is there any action needed? Nutrients. 2020:9: 2556-2557.
Vlassoff, Carol et al., Gender differences in determinants and consequences of health and illness. J Health Popul Nutr. 2007;25: 47-61