Understanding the Stages of Adjusting to Chronic Illness

How people adapt to chronic illness depends on a wide variety of factors. Everyone is different and everyone’s situation is unique. Your personal experiences, your responsibilities, as well as the resources, coping strategies, and support you have in your life all play a role in determining how you adapt to being chronically ill. 

Feelings of Loss Are Common

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But one experience shared by many chronic illness sufferers is the sense of loss. It may be an actual physical loss of functionality in your body, or it could be a more intangible loss of the activities, goals, or ways of being that you once previously enjoyed. No matter what kind of loss you may be experiencing, it’s common to go through stages of adjustment as you get used to the changes associated with a chronic health condition. 

Stages of Adjustment

Before I share the stages of adjustment with you, here is one caveat: you may find that some or all of this list does not apply to you. If the shoe doesn’t fit, no problem! It can still be helpful to understand that painful and difficult feelings are common with chronic illness, so you know that you are not alone. 

So here are the stages that many people go through when they are struggling with long term illness:

  1. Shock. You may remember the moment you got your diagnosis. For many people, the whole thing can often feel unreal, leading to an experience of numbness and emotional shutdown. 

  2. Hopelessness. As you begin to thaw out, the reality of your situation can bring about profound feelings of hopelessness and despair. You start to realize that you are losing the person you thought you were. The roles, dreams and activities that you were used to can fall away, creating a feeling of sorrow.

  3. Anger and depression. These feelings are extremely common when the reality of your condition begins to set in. 

Mourning is an Important Part of Adjusting

Mourning is a very common and natural part of coming to terms with chronic illness. If you are like a lot of people, processing your feelings about your illness may feel similar to the experience of losing a loved one. Mourning can be a critical step on the road to adjusting. Mourning means honoring the person you were, allowing time for reflection on your situation and finding a new emotional balance. 

Letting yourself feel the feelings of grief can ultimately lead you to a greater appreciation for where you actually are in your life now. It can help you take a look at your situation realistically and be willing to adapt so you can make the most of it. 


Acceptance is ultimately what allows people to move through all of life’s challenges. Accepting your limitations means that you are in touch with reality. This means that you accept the reality of the you that you are now, rather than the you that you used to be. Acceptance is what allows you to move forward in the most optimal way possible.

People vary in their ability to reach acceptance of their chronic health condition. If you are suffering from feelings of emotional immobility, or feeling excessively angry and hostile or getting self-destructive, it’s essential that you reach out for support. There is no need for you to suffer needlessly. Help is available. You can learn vital strategies to reduce your anxiety and help you reach acceptance.

If you are suffering from chronic illness and don’t have a therapist to walk with you and help you achieve a new state of peace and balance, let’s connect over the phone and see how I can help you get the results you want much faster.

You can contact me at the number below. 

Click on the orange button below to set up your free 30-minute consultation so I can find out about your goals and how I can help.

I look forward to hearing from you soon! 

For more information about Chronic Illness Counseling with me, click here.