Emotional adjustment to a chronic illness

Lippincotts Prim Care Pract. 1998 Jan-Feb;2(1):38-51.


The emotional reaction to the diagnosis of a chronic illness can be a greater challenge than coping with the physical manifestations of the illness. This article describes and explains the determinants of the emotional reaction to the diagnosis of a chronic illness: (1) personality before the illness; (2) unresolved anger or grief from the past; (3) the suddenness, extent, and duration of life-style changes mandated by the illness; (4) familial and individual resources for dealing with stress; (5) stages of individual and family life cycle; (6) previous experience with illness or crisis; and (7) codependency in the family system. Also discussed are the stages of integrating grief process with the benefits and pitfalls of each stage and signs of acceptance. The benefits and necessity of going through the grief process are explored. People who receive diagnoses of chronic illness may find their emotional reaction more disabling than the illness itself until they go through the adjustment process to embrace the new person they have become through the illness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Family Relations
  • Grief
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Personality