Dealing with an illness: How to cope

Published on
Updated on
Use a read speaker Print a document

Living with a long-term health condition such as diabetes, juvenile arthritis, cancer or HIV is very different from having a cold or flu. A serious illness changes your life in many ways and it’s common to feel a wide range of emotions.

Living with a long-term health condition is very different from having a cold or flu. At first, you might find it difficult to believe that you have an illness. You might feel shocked, angry, scared, sad or helpless. You might ask, “Why me?” or “What did I do wrong?”

Coping with your emotions

Being diagnosed with a serious illness can turn your life upside down. It’s common to feel strong emotions about the impact of a long-term health condition.


You may find yourself getting mad about many things, including:

  • the unfairness of your situation
  • your parents or doctors not being able to “fix” you
  • feeling different from your peers or getting unwanted attention or treatment for being sick
  • needing to depend on adults (doctors and parents) while your friends are becoming more independent
  • not feeling in charge of your own body
  • having to go to doctors’ appointments and do medical tests or treatments
  • the side effects of medications or treatments
  • your illness getting in the way of school, friendships and activities


It’s scary to live with a long-term illness. Many people worry about getting sicker or even dying. Sometimes what we fear most is the unknown. Learning about your condition from trusted sources (like your doctor) will help you feel more in control.


You may worry about how your family members and friends are coping with your illness. You might feel reluctant to ask for help when you need it because you don’t want to burden others.


It’s common to feel sad about having an illness and how it might change your life. It can affect your social relationships. People may treat you differently and your freedom and choices may change.


Coping with an illness can be frustrating. It’s not fair that you’re sick. Your diet and activities may be restricted and you may experience side effects from your treatments. You may find that people don’t know how to support you or that they only see your illness, not you as a whole person.

Taking an active role in your care

Taking good care of yourself is more important than ever when you have a long-term condition.

Doctors and family members usually play a large role in helping young people manage health challenges, but you have an important role, too. It’s your body and your health. You can’t change the fact that you have an illness, but you can influence its impact.

Taking an active role in your own care includes:

  • learning about your health condition from trusted sources
  • asking questions when you don’t understand something
  • going to your medical appointments and keeping notes
  • taking medication and doing other treatments as prescribed
  • participating in decisions about your treatment
  • asking for help when you need it
  • eating a nutritious diet
  • getting enough rest and sleep
  • avoiding unhealthy activities like smoking and drinking alcohol

Once the initial shock of your diagnosis has faded, you’ll need to learn how to cope with and manage your condition day-to-day. Be kind to yourself and be patient — you won’t figure it all out overnight.

Focusing on emotional wellness

Despite the challenges of chronic illnesses, it is possible to live a happy, rewarding life that doesn’t revolve around your condition. Here are some things you can try to help yourself feel more positive:

  • focus on your strengths and abilities
  • take time away from your illness to enjoy life
  • use the time you spend at home or in the hospital to do hobbies
  • write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal
  • maintain a routine whenever possible
  • talk to others who are coping with an illness
  • join a support group for young people with an illness