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When illness strikes, how to avoid becoming depressed and maintaining a positive outlook

Updated on July 27, 2013


Tragedy and illness can strike at any time. No one is exempt in this lifetime from pain and sadness that can come about from a sudden change in lifestyle due to medical issues. Here are some tips on overcoming feelings of depression that can overtake your life.


*These self-help tips are from my own opinion and not that of a mental health professional. Seek professional help immediately if you are experiencing feelings of despair that cause you to injure yourself or others.*

Unexpected illness

When illnesses occur, they are usually not expected. Illness can take a toll on your health and your lifestyle.

One day you are living your normal life. The next day you are out of commission and can't work. Perhaps the illness is so severe that you are out of work for a week, then two, maybe even a month.

This can have a very real negative impact on your mental and emotional health. You may feel an increase in anxiety. Emotionally you might feel unbalanced.

Sadness may set in and before you know it, your life isn't "normal" any more. It doesn't feel like it used to. It's no longer fun.

Medical bills might start to add up and what if you can't afford them? Pretty soon your financial stability is stricken by unexpected expenses. This can create further emotional unbalance and destroy any immediate hope that things will get back to normal soon.


What if you are the type of person who is never ill? You rarely catch a cold. Then one day you are not feeling so well and find out you have to have a major operation.

How will you feel after surgery? What will the surgery be like? Will you ever be the same again? Will you be the healthy person you once were? Will you be the fast-paced hard-working person that you've always depended on to earn an income?

These are some thoughts that may be on your mind when you find out you need surgery.

What happens if the surgery goes fine but you continue to get worse after? Or, what happens if you suffer negative health problems from surgery medications and anesthesia?

What if you are the caretaker!

What if you are the caretaker of your family or someone else. Now you are faced with having to be cared for. What about finding help to care for those that you care for?

All of these issues strike you at the most inconvenient time. You are not feeling well. You can barely function. Your life feels like it is spiraling down a hill.

Feelings of despair and overwhelming sadness

When you are faced with unexpected illnesses, surgery or tragedies, it's normal to feel sad and overwhelmed.

There is hope. You will make it through this.

You will be stronger from it when you get through it.

I always say that we have to go through it to get over it.

How bad are you really feeling? Put your feelings in perspective.

1 (worst) - negatives
3 (medium) - neutrals
5 (best) - positives
example: scared of surgery
example: time off to deal with health
example: you'll be healthier after surgery
Use this chart to record how your feeling. What are you afraid of? Record under column 1, the worst of your fears and concerns. Column 5 are the positive thoughts you are thinking. Column 3 is for neutral thoughts and feelings.

Tips for staying emotionally healthy in times of crisis

I define crisis mode by feelings of despair. When you think you can't go on like this any more. You've been rung out to dry and had enough. You don't think you can possibly take it any more.

I'm going to share with you my personal tips on overcoming crisis mode and helping you achieve happiness through the worst of times.

  • Think happily ever after. You've just been stricken by an illness that won't let you go. You feel overwhelmed. It's taken away your confidence. That go-getter that used to get up and conquer the world every day has now been set back by physical exhaustion and emotional disrepair. You are drained in every sense of the word. How do you get through this? Think happy thoughts. Keep your mind on pleasantries instead of focusing on your pain and sadness. What makes you happy? Is it your child's smile? Is it something you share with your spouse? Is it freshly brewed iced tea? We all have a happy place we can go to when we need a mental escape from this world's tortures. Take that happy thought a bit further. Convince yourself that you will overcome your despair by healing. Positive thoughts help us heal faster than negative thoughts.

  • Do what makes you happy in the moment. You might not feel like shopping today because you are tired. You just want to take a nap. Do it! Don't beat yourself down mentally and think that you are lazy or worthless. You deserve that nap. Don't listen to what anyone else says. This is an important piece. You owe it to yourself to rest and heal. The neighbor or a relative has no busy telling you how you should feel or what you should be doing. Don't let people take charge of your emotions. You are in control. If you need a nap, turn your phone off. Put some light music on. Wrap up in your favorite place to nap in front of an open window (when weather permits) and let your dreams take you to a happy place. If you are working, don't overburden yourself. Do as much as possible without wearing yourself down. Delegate tasks that can be taken on by others, explaining to your co-workers that you just need a little help until you feel better. Don't feel guilty. They would ask you if they were in your shoes.

  • Focus on the future when the present is overwhelming. If the moment you are facing is overwhelming and you don't know how you will ever get through this, think about the future. Focus on your goals and how you want to feel tomorrow. Don't focus on the horrific reality that is causing you stress or overburdening your psychological well-being. If you are facing surgery or medical testing and are afraid, remember a lot of people have had to go through this before you. Think about how much better off you will be when the present fears are over.

  • Keep your mind active on good thoughts. Don't beat yourself down further by stressing on things out of your control. So what if you didn't get all the housework completed or the lawn mowed. It's ok if you aren't perfect. You will accidentally add insult to injury when you beat yourself down when you are already feeling unwell. Don't let those negative thoughts keep you from healing. If you have the energy and time, plan some fun activities that you enjoy. Maybe take a stroll on the beach with an ice cream from a local dairy. Take your dog for a walk at the park. Walk around downtown and look in the little shop windows that you would never have time for otherwise. Think about the things that you can do right now that you would have never been able to do if you weren't ill, because you would be working too much or letting time past with things you had to do, instead of enjoying things that you want to do.

  • Take up a hobby you've been putting off. One thing that always lifts my mood is learning about a hobby I've never had time for but always wished I could learn. If you aren't in a position to go to a store and browse around for supplies, there are great tutorial websites online that you can view from bed if you need to. Those videos are time-consuming and otherwise I would have never had time to view them if it hadn't been for the bed rest after surgery.

Dragonfly resting on garden stake.
Dragonfly resting on garden stake.
  • Take your camera outside and photograph nature. There is something soothing about exploring your environment. This dragonfly was resting on my garden stake. It took almost 500 photos to get this one shot. But it took my mind off of worry when I was faced with multiple surgeries.

  • Go out to your favorite restaurant and relax. Sometimes we don't allow ourselves to be treated like we treat everyone else. Perhaps you would really love to try out a new restaurant, or order take-out from your favorite restaurant, but you've been too busy. Treat yourself. Go out to eat and don't worry about it. Relaxing helps your mind unwind. Worry will be there later. Your mind needs down time too. (Not everyone is in a financial position to treat themselves to expensive things. The point here to keep in mind is don't be afraid to do what you would willingly do for others. Treat yourself once in a while!)

  • Do an art project with your children. As a busy mom, I don't always get a chance to hang out with my children when they are doing an art project. But to be honest, nothing is more relaxing than sitting down and watching your child create a masterpiece. It's one thing when they bring you a drawing from school. It's much more rewarding when you can be a part of their creativity and watch their little hands create such amazing art. It will be beneficial for you to spend time with your children during this time and relax with them. Children can sense when a parent is stressed. Making downtime to be with your children at this time will be less overwhelming for them when you go through your surgery or have to be on best rest.


  • After surgery, remember how difficult times were before. Think about what you took for granted in the past and appreciate the ways your life has changed for the better.

Is second time around double jeopardy?

What if you heal from your surgery only to have a relapse a few months later. Your life went from good to worse over night. Your feelings of despair flood you once again and you are back where you started. Now you feel like you will never overcome this or ever be the same again.

Put those thoughts out of your mind. You don't have the ability to see the future. Who does, right? How do you know what is going to happen one minute from now, never mind two weeks from now! Think about it. You didn't know you were going to be ill. So how do you know what's going to happen. Maybe the not knowing is what's got you feeling emotionally let down. It's out of your control and it makes you feel defeated.

Be at peace

The second time around should be easier than the first. While it's frustrating to have to be ill at all, think about how you survived the first round. You are a survivor. What drives you? What motivates you? What makes you keep fighting? What keeps you strong?

Gaining your confidence back

While many fight for their strength and health, one important point to make is that when you are not feeling confident, sadness can overwhelm you.

Maintain your confidence by thinking positively about who you are, what you've accomplished, and who you are fighting for.

Are you fighting for yourself or is there someone else that you need to be strong for? Perhaps your spouse or children.

You are a fighter. Put on your invisible boxing gloves and knock out despair.

Increase confidence by doing

Take it from me, I know exactly how you feel. Your world has spiraled out-of-control. You don't understand why you have it so hard in life when everyone around you seemingly has it so easy!

Don't let that fool you. Everyone has problems whether you know about them or not.

One suggestion is don't allow others to beat you down. There is a saying, "don't kick a dog while it's down".

Surround yourself with people that love you. You genuinely find out who your true friends are when you are at your weakest point in life. Unfortunately, there will be people who seem to enjoy hurting you when you are already hurt by life. You don't need people like that in your life. I don't care who it is. Even when it's a relative, it's time to cut ties with them.

You need to heal. It's not a time to feel betrayed. A person who really cares about you wouldn't treat you that way. Leave it in their corner. Walk away from it.

You have enough on your own plate to finish without worrying about what someone else's menu looks like.

The more you do, the more you will gain your confidence back.

In my experience, what I hated most when I was sick, was all of the appointments I had to go. Relentless doctor appointments that took all of my energy. The last thing anyone wants to do when they are feeling totally defeated and exhausted is to have to get up out of bed and drive themselves to an appointment.

Take it from me, this is healthy for you. Seeing other people out in the world besides the stars on television you have grown close to during your bed rest, is healthy for your psychological well-being. It also boosts your strength by having to get out of bed and make an appointment. When you are forcing yourself to do something you don't really want to do, it's strengthening your confidence even though it doesn't seem that way at the time.

Imagine how strong you will be when this whole ordeal is over. You will be confident, strong, and emotionally healed.

Say no to overbearing friends and family

Having surgery is a major life-changing event.

Even the simplest of surgeries can take a toll on every aspect of your well-being.

You need rest. Prior to your surgery, take the phone off the hook. You don't have to answer questions of relentless people calling you night and day asking if you are ok.

The last thing you need is to worry about how to satisfy others when you yourself need consoling.

You don't have to talk to anyone. If you do, that's fine too. Just be prepared to tell people when you are too tired to talk.

When you go in for surgery, whether outpatient or in-hospital stay, you'll need to decide whether or not to accept visitors.

I've had several surgeries recently. The first time I was in the hospital for a couple of days. Nothing was more frustrating than the constant interruption by necessary medical care and blood pressure readings in the days that followed my thyroid operation. Then to add visitors to the mix left me without any time to rest. By the time I got back home, I was exhausted from visitors.

It's ok to tell well-meaning family and friends that you will see them and catch up on everything after you rest for a week or two.

The second surgery was out-patient for a routine gallbladder operation. I was sent home the same day. It would have been nice had those visitors come again and brought a dish or two so to help us out during the recovery. But this time no one came.

So I say to you, it's ok to tell people not to come to the hospital when you are recovering from surgery, unless you really want the company. Because most likely, even though it's nice of them to visit you, they won't be there for you if you were outpatient and needed a hand at home.

Unexpected illness and extended hospital stay

What if you aren't having surgery at all and you suddenly become ill. You are in a hospital room for days on end and have no idea what happened. A sudden illness struck when you least expected at the most inconvenient time.

I more than welcomed the company I received the days following my release from an 8-day stay at a hospital when I became paralyzed after having a flu shot. Doctors weren't sure if it was the flu shot or a migraine headache that caused sudden paralyzation of my right side which left me bed-bound.

When I got home I had to use a walker to get around. I wasn't able to cook for my family. It was re-assuring to me when family and friends brought food, dishes, and comfort. I more than welcomed the opportunity to tell them all about my ordeal.

Not only did it lift my spirits, but it helped me through a hard time when I needed them the most!

So you see, I am not suggesting you shut people out of your life when illness strikes. What I am telling you is that in order to keep your emotions healthy and to keep from feeling beat down, you need to cut ties with those that cause you more stress when what you really need it help.

It will get better

Take it from me, because I really do understand. Once you've gone through something like a sudden illness or tragedy in your life, what's left? What can you expect next?

Having been there myself, I can honestly tell you that "what doesn't kill you will make you stronger!"

I can't say for sure it won't happen again. Who knows! We can only hope that once we are through it, we can move on and be a better person from it.

These types of things take a toll on us emotionally, mentally and physically during the time they are happening. What about when they are done?

We have to pick ourselves back up and keep moving forward!

Think about the positives in your life. Think about what you HAVE instead of dwelling on what you don't!

What do to next

Everything is done. You are recovered from your illness and surgery. Your appointments are spaced out a little more now. You feel like you are slowly getting your life back!

This is a great time to view your life as an opportunity.

I could sit here and write all of the terrible things that came about after my ordeals were said and done. The worst part for me was that I didn't get my garden planted in time. I was too sick up until planting season, and then it rained so hard the garden flooded.

That's the worst thing that came from this because everything else seems not important any more.

My perspectives have changed significantly about things that used to control my life.

I used to allow myself to be controlled by deadlines, finances, and everything I had no control over.

Having gone through sickness and surgeries myself, I know how it feels. I feel like I got beat down, but I got up again and moved on.

Spread your wings and take flight!


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      These are some good insights to think through pre-need. It's important for people who have gone through so much to share what they learned about successful recovery to help others who may need to have hope for their situations.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      I love that Flourish! Thank you for sharing that.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Crafty, you have really been through it with the surgeries. I can identify with the fear, frustration, sadness and all the other emotions that go along with being unwell for an extended period of time, as I have struggled with MS for 10 years now. My motto, however, has become "Fall down 7 times, get up 8," a Chinese proverb. Remember that no matter what.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Whitney, thank you for opening your heart and sharing with me! I also have degenerative disc disease. It's awful! Last December I was in the hospital paralyzed for absolutely no reason at all except possibly a migraine headache. I thought it had something to do with the missing disc and protruding bone in my neck but the doctors said it didn't. And what's weirder, I have no idea how that happened! I take anti-inflammatory meds just to get up out of bed every day because my neck hurts so badly.

      After having my gallbladder surgery a few months ago, I started taking Nexium. It really helps with reflux! I used to have severe asthma attacks caused by reflux and I no longer do thanks to Nexium.

      Whitney, You have a stunning spirit! I know that God has a plan for you and you will reap many rewards in Heaven.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I know what you mean and how you feel. When I was born, I was diagnosed with Treacher Collins Syndrome and through out my 22 years of life, I've had 32 surgeries. I have a cyst in my brain, I have reflux disease, no immune system, degenerative disc disease and so much more. I am deaf and have no ears.

      I did power tumbling for ten years and one surgery destroyed my dream. But then I realized God has a different plan for me. Five years ago, I was physically, mentally, verbally and emotionally abused by a guy who I truly loved. Why did he do it? It was his way of controlling me. He has no control over me anymore. I've lost friends, and family members. I've been through so much and I am only 22 years old. How do I do it? I have God! I admit, I have my days just like everyone else, but over all I am blessed!

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi EP! I was hospitalized in Dec. But then in January I had started a whole new batch of symptoms. Finally, it took 3 or 4 months but they realized I had a totally unrelated problem with my gallbladder. After surgery I was so sick. Back to the ER 3 times in one week. I couldn't even stand up I would get so dizzy. They think it might have been the anesthesia. It took a while to recover, but I am definitely on the mend.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Such great advice. I had to have surgery about 10 years ago (exploratory) to discover that I had sarcoidosis. Everything from the pretesting, MRI's, cat scans, x-rays, blood work and then finally the surgery was terrifying. I didn't know what was wrong with me. Though I am fine now, I'll never forget the feelings I had, so this hub will be helpful for anyone going through an illness. Thank you!

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thank you for your comments! Moving on is the only track to healing. Not thinking about what's happening and just plugging through is a way to take your mind of the bad and focus on the good to come.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      6 years ago from sunny Florida

      Get up and move on...good advice.

      Having prolonged illness can be crippling. But it is all about the positive. Positive YOU and positive family and friends around you.

      Your suggestions are great and will help many to struggle through when illness and surgery comes to them or their family.Thanks for sharing. Angels are on the way ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      6 years ago from sunny Florida

      Get up and move on...good advice.

      Having prolonged illness can be crippling. But it is all about the positive. Positive YOU and positive family and friends around you.

      Your suggestions are great and will help many to struggle through when illness and surgery comes to them or their family.Thanks for sharing. Angels are on the way ps

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thank you for your comments! The worst part about being sick for an extended length of time for me was that I had multiple health problems going on at the same time. So ultimately, the doctors didn't really believe I had a gallbladder problem. It took them months to order the proper tests which resulted in them admitting I did have a nonfunctioning gallbladder and needed surgery. LOL

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Marvelous hub! You are right on with the advice you've given here. You've covered everything. Another problem we sometimes face is being very ill over an extended period of time and Doctors can't find a reason. Makes you think your crazy! By the time an answer is found you are on your way to feeling better. Urggggh. Voted up, UAI and sharing.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thank you for your comment! I was too feisty for the black hole. It shipped me back, return to sender! LOL

    • SavannahEve profile image

      Suzi Rayve 

      6 years ago from California

      Bless you! I will be referring people to this hub for sure. Some sage advice on climbing up out of the black hole! Thanks!


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