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From Coping to Thriving: Connecting to a Life Worth Living with Chronic Disease

Medical doctors have their purpose, but psychologists help people with chronic illness cope with their illness and try to resume their lives. Dr. DeFife discussed how most of us feel about our illness; we came from a point in life where we were comfortable, then suddenly we were in a completely unknown and frightening situation, and life is much different than what we expected. So how do you adjust to these changes?

Dr. Jared DeFife, Clinical Psychologist at Emory University, Atlanta, GA

Open up

When people are under stress, they tend to hide, but really what is most helpful is to open up. One technique is writing to yourself, which has been shown to have long term effects on improved wellbeing. Feelings of sadness, worry, fear, uncertainty, unfairness and anger are common and need to be dealt with rather than buried.

Have compassion for yourself

He also discussed self-compassion, where we can care for our wellbeing. One tool that can be used is to form an image of your “perfect nurturer” as images can cause physical changes. This image can be calming in stressful situations.

Practice mindful meditation

Avoidance is one of the mechanisms humans use to cope, however, avoidance can become very life limiting. Rather than avoidance, you can practice mindful meditation to be totally present and exercise mindful self-care through exercise, nutrition, and adequate sleep. Spend time “being”, not always doing.

Get support

Another helpful thing is to get support from other people. Loneliness and social isolation have negative health consequences, so stay involved with others. We all need caring interactions perhaps through a psychotherapist or a support group. He then discussed several different types of psychotherapy.

Focus on living by your values

Dr. DeFife closed by explaining the difference between being goal based and always doing versus focusing on living by our values, which is a process that is never complete.

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