Living with chronic illness can sometimes feel like an insurmountable challenge. It can be demoralizing, frightening, isolating, and frustrating. The body’s automatic response to stress can make a chronic illness worse.

The more an illness consumes a person’s life and thoughts, the more negativity tends to take over. Then, perhaps the anxiety itself becomes an additional burden on top of the original illness, and the causes for anxiousness increase even more.

The stress response

Practitioners can help with the infection but more often or not they simply cannot help with the emotional and psychological issues, however comforting and reassuring your appointment is. It is worth understanding our bodies response to stress and how it affects our immune system. It is termed “the stress response”

The body has a built-in automatic emergency response that uses the nervous system and endocrine system to enhance the body’s performance when dangerous or highly stressful situations occur. This is made possible by the hormones it naturally produces during these occasions.

When the body is, healthy and functioning normally, the body’s chemical makeup is in balance. This is called the “normal state” (where all chemicals are within normal ranges). Balance keeps the body functioning and responding appropriately to the internal (the workings of the body) and external (the world around us) environments.

When danger or a stressful event is perceived, the body’s emergency system automatically changes the body’s balance by producing the “stress response” (also called the “fight or flight response.”). This change of balance – emergency readiness – is brought about via hormones – chemical messengers that are secreted into the bloodstream.

These hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine, and others) travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with the threat—to either fight with or flee from it. This intensifies vulnerability to infection by creating an imbalance in our immune function. Cortisol for example turns off aspects of the immune system that fight infections, impairing the body’s natural immune response. This in turn alters the type 1/type 2 cytokine balance, critical in the body’s immune system response to bacterial infection, thereby inducing low-grade inflammation and suppressing the function of these infection fighting cells. 

Sadly, our bodies are unable to determine the difference between physical, emotional or mental stress in its response and a person’s anxiety symptoms might aggravate their chronic illness. Excessive stress, panic attacks, fearing even everyday situations, insomnia, fatigue, tension and pain—these anxious reactions and more can impede a person’s healing and potentially make the symptoms of their illness even more serious. When chronic illness and anxiety are co-occurring, it is critically important that you receive comprehensive care and treatment.

Find support

Mindfulness, psychotherapy, counselling, group support and holistic therapies for stress relief can all help. Small changes, especially when early in treatment are actually big steps and this visualisation can be very useful for healing.

It takes tremendous courage, persistence, perseverance, determination and strength to maintain a fighting spirit in the face of so many challenges. It is important to acknowledge yourself for these qualities. It is equally important to have compassion and forgiveness toward yourself when you hit a rough spot.

Dr Kate Middleton, a psychologist, former-medic and Director of the Mind and Soul Foundation writes about the challenges of a chronic illness,  understanding the anxiety and fear you may be experiencing due to your chronic UTI and how to help yourself overcome these. Kate herself suffered from a chronic UTI for several years and her story can be read in our success stories.

Suicidal thoughts

It’s important to talk to someone you trust if you are having thoughts about suicide. Let family or friends know what’s going on for you. They may be able to offer support and help keep you safe. There’s no right or wrong way to talk about suicidal feelings – starting the conversation is what’s important.

If you’re feeling like you want to die, it’s important to tell someone. Help and support is available right now if you need it. You don’t have to struggle with difficult feelings alone. The following information is provided by NHS online:

These free helplines are there to help when you’re feeling down or desperate. Unless it says otherwise, they’re open 24 hours a day, every day.

Call 116 123

For men
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
Call 0800 58 58 58
5pm to midnight every day

For people under 35
Call 0800 068 4141
Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm
Weekends 2pm to 10pm
Bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Text 07786 209697

For children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won’t show up on your phone bill

For older people
The Silver Line
Call 0800 4 70 80 90

United States
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Lifeline Australia
Call 13 11 14