The Emotional Impact of Illness

emotional impact of illness

A health condition or illness – whether it’s caused by coronavirus, a misfortune like medical negligence or something completely unpredictable – can have a significant effect on your emotional wellbeing. The emotional impact of illness can be as much a trauma as the injury or illness itself.

Although it may not be the first thing you think about, your mental and emotional state could be hugely affected by the health problem you’re facing.

This makes it especially important to get the right kind of support to help you through.

How you might feel

When you’re first told about your illness, you might be surprised by the strength of your emotional reaction. There are a huge range of feelings you might experience. You may feel one overriding emotion or you might feel a ton of them.

  • Relief

You could feel relieved by the news – you finally know what the problem is. This is a more likely reaction when you’ve been left without a diagnosis for a long time. If your doctor can give you a clear and thought out treatment plan along with your diagnosis, you might not be surprised to feel relief.

  • Fear

One of the most common reactions to being told there’s something wrong, fear can manifest itself in physical sensations. You could find your heart start racing, your body temperature drop or rise or a sweat break out. This is often linked to a fear of the worst possible outcome for your illness.

  • Frustration

If you can’t control the outcome of your illness, you could feel hugely frustrated. It’s incredibly difficult to have to rely on others to make sure you have the best chance of fighting your illness. Frustration is also a common emotional reaction to being misdiagnosed or not being diagnosed quickly enough to boost your chances.

  • Depression

After you’ve been told what’s wrong and what your prognosis is, you might start to feel down. If the news isn’t what you wanted to hear, it’s easy to let sadness overwhelm you. This could be sadness for yourself and your hopes for the future or sadness for your loved ones, who will often be just as affected by your illness as you.

What to do

One of the most important things you can do when you’re given bad news about your health is to just let yourself feel. There are no correct reactions to the news of your illness. The way you feel is completely natural. Don’t think that you shouldn’t feel a certain way – and try not to let others make you think that.

If you have a support network in place, now is the time to use it. Lean on your loved ones. Let them give you the strength you might not be able to muster up yourself. There’s little doubt that they’ll want to be there for you, so if you’re struggling to deal with things, turn to them.

You might also find it useful to focus on work. If you start thinking too much about the ‘what ifs’, turning to work can help stop that. It can be a useful distraction during a difficult time. So let your employer and close co-workers know what’s going on and what you need. They might try to get you to take some time off. But if that won’t work for you, don’t hesitate to tell them that you want to keep working.

Specialist support groups exist for most illnesses. If you want to talk to people who know just what you’re going through, these can be the perfect place for you. They might be able to offer you some coping strategies you hadn’t considered before.

When it comes to dealing with the emotional impact of illness, try to remember to be kind to yourself. This isn’t something you face every day so cut yourself some slack and focus on what helps you get through.