Transitions and Change

Caring for Aging Alcoholic Parents

Alcoholism in adults ages 65 and older is more common than you might think. The struggles of caring for aging alcoholic parents are familiar to a growing number of adults in the United States.

Alcohol is the most used substance among adults age 65 and older. Additionally, alcohol use is increasing at a higher rate for people ages 50 and over. This data suggests that alcoholism in aging populations will continue to be a growing concern.

This post helps you better understand alcoholism. It also outlines strategies and tools you can use to show your care and support for your parent dealing with it.

Signs of Alcoholism in Aging Parents

Sometimes the warning signs of alcoholism in the aging population go unnoticed. Having lived much of their life learning to be independent and responsible for themselves, aging people may not readily ask for help when they suspect they need it.

Signs to look for if you’re concerned your parents might have alcoholism include:

Sudden Behavioral Changes – These changes include increased aggression or irritability that you hadn’t previously noticed.

Lying About or Hiding Alcohol Consumption – Being dishonest about alcohol use can be a hallmark sign of problematic consumption.Smell – A strong odor of alcohol can also allude to problematic drinking behavior.Unexplained Injuries or Bruises – These could be a sign of several things, but if alcohol use is becoming more frequent. The aging population might have more bruises and small injuries from losing balance due to consumption.Memory Issues – Issues unrelated to other neurological conditions can be a sign of alcohol use disorder.Isolation – Withdraw might occur because your parent wants to conceal their drinking or have more time to themselves to consume alcohol.Slurred Speech or Loss of Coordination – These can be signs of alcohol consumption and can cause injuries.Lack of Self-Care – Not taking care of themselves could suggest that alcohol use is leading to the inability to do so. 

Some of these signs could indicate a different physical or mental health issue. But it’s essential to check in on your parent when anything out of the ordinary becomes more consistent. 

Impact of Alcoholism and Aging

The aging population is at an increased risk for physical and mental health issues alike. Physical declines and medications for chronic health conditions can impact how the body absorbs alcohol. 

Additionally, alcohol may affect people differently as they age. Drinking patterns in one’s 20s that remain similar in someone’s 60s can have vastly different consequences. So, even if a person maintains that they have “always done this,” the health consequences can change. 

The aging population dealing with alcoholism could experience:

Worsening Health Conditions – These conditions include the exacerbation of current conditions or the development of new ones.Impaired Safety – Alcohol can create safety concerns for them and those around them. Caring for children or driving under the influence can have serious consequences.Negative Interaction with Medications – Drug interactions often impact the aging population due to their increased likelihood of being on prescription medication.Dehydration – Dehydration due to alcohol use can lead to confusion and other health problems. 

Any of these factors are cause for concern. But a combination of one or more might signify that it is time to seek treatment.

Supporting Your Alcoholic Parents

Perhaps you feel it’s your responsibility as the child of your aging parent to get them the care they need. While you can always express concern and support, remember, it’s not your fault if your parent chooses not to seek treatment or care. Simply expressing concern and empathy for your parent can increase their likelihood of seeking help. 

Here are some ideas for how to support your parent through the process.

Talk to Your Parents

Having a frank conversation with your parent or parents is a great starting point. Think about what messages you want to get across before you approach your parent. You’ll feel more organized and efficient. Consider focusing on the impact their behavior has on the family.

Try to avoid shaming language such as “alcoholic” or “addict.” While your parent might fit into one of these categories, using this language can be hurtful. It also could lead to your parent’s refusal to seek services or an increased sense of isolation. 

Remember to maintain patience and empathy during these conversations. Be specific. Let them know that you’re there for them during this process. 

It’s also important to note that one conversation might not spark immediate change. The decision to seek support and treatment might take time and several conversations.

Connect Them to Treatment

There are various treatment options available for the aging population regarding alcohol use disorder and other mental health concerns. All Counseling offers a guide to therapists who specialize in aging populations. It is a great place to start looking for a treatment that best fits your parent’s needs.

Get the Support You Need

You might have the best intentions in caring for your parent who deals with alcoholism. But remember that they have to choose to pursue treatment. You can encourage and support them along the way, but ultimately, it’s their choice. 

Dealing with the repercussions of an aging parent with alcoholism can be difficult. Make sure you’re getting the help you need. Reaching out to a counselor for individual therapy is an option. Various support groups with people going through similar issues also can provide validation and comfort.

All Counseling provides a comprehensive list of counselors where you can tailor your search to your area, desired specialty, insurance coverage, and more. Not sure where to begin? All Counseling can help get you started finding the right counselor for you.

How All Counseling Can Help

If you or someone you know is caring for aging alcoholic parents, All Counseling can connect you to a therapist to help. Caring for aging alcoholic parents can be emotionally challenging. You or anyone going through this challenge deserves empathetic mental health care. Search All Counseling’s therapist directory for a counselor for your parent or yourself.


Substance Use in Older Adults DrugFacts by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Retrieved 22 December 2021, from
Transitions and Change

Embracing the Aging Process

People live in an age-obsessed culture, yet the aging process is an unavoidable aspect of being human. It’s difficult embracing the aging process when you see advertisements for products that try to sell you youth in a bottle everywhere you turn. Somehow, western society convinced people that the aging process is terrible, scary, and painful. 

From a mental health perspective, how can you embrace the process of aging when so many facets of society tell you to dread it? This post explains what the aging process entails, common experiences among the aging population, and strategies for embracing the aging process.

Types of Aging

As people grow older, their bodies change. Their attitudes and behaviors may change too. Some of these changes can be challenging, such as health conditions. Others might be enjoyable, like a higher sense of self-confidence. 

Biological Aging

The biological processes involved in aging include larger-scale changes such as physical mobility to small-scale changes on a molecular level. Numerous factors affect the pacing and magnitude of these changes. These changes can progress rapidly due to disease. Or they can happen more slowly due to external, environmental, and genetic factors. 

Changes in physical appearance are likely. The amount of muscle mass people have tends to decrease. Energy levels also may slowly decline. But, it’s important to note that every individual’s aging process is unique to them.

Psychological Aging

Similar to biological aging, various factors also influence psychological aging. People who report being more satisfied with their age tend to have higher levels of life satisfaction. 

Contrary to popular belief, people generally don’t experience a decline in cognitive abilities unless there are conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other neurological ailments. Some people experience increased self-confidence and a greater sense of security and self-assurance as they grow older. 

Social Aging

The social aspects of aging also vary considerably depending on life circumstances. People might find their social fulfillment needs changing as they age. Some people choose to continue working, others need to continue working for financial reasons, and others choose to retire. Work serves as a connective factor for many kinds of people. So depending on work circumstances, the aging population might not have as many social connections as they once did. People may have partners or family that they live with, faith services they attend, or volunteer work they do. These can all be pro-social factors in the aging process.

Practical Ways to Age Well

You could read dozens of blog posts and social media messages about embracing the aging process. But what is that declaration without actual ideas about how to age well? Caring for your body, mind, and spirit can help you accept, embrace, and draw inspiration from your unique aging process.

Care for Your Body

You’ve probably heard some of these tips your whole life. Eat a balanced diet, get a fair amount of exercise, prioritize your sleep, drink water, don’t smoke or work to quit smoking, and limit alcohol consumption. Keep up with doctor’s appointments, so you stay on top of your health. 

These things are vital. But try to find ways you can genuinely enjoy taking care of your health. Have you always wanted to try cooking vegetarian meals? Do it! Does your friend lead tai chi classes? Take one! 

It’s essential to do things that you’re interested in so that you’ll benefit the most. Aim to keep your body flexible and supported by your muscles, so you can maintain your balance and endurance.

Care for Your Mind

As you grow through life, you might have experiences in caring for your mental health. Perhaps you’ve been to counseling before, and it’s worked for you during a tough time. You may know what works for you and what doesn’t. As you age, you may find yourself pondering life itself, what matters to you, death, and other existential topics. These thoughts are common for the aging population. 

Various forms of meditation can reduce stress in your life, making it easier to embrace the aging process. Check out any local classes or apps you can download to your phone that encourage meditation activities. Consider adding daily affirmations to your routine. Counselors specializing in issues related to aging are also readily available to assist you in caring for your mind and mental health.

Related Reading: Finding the Right Counselor for You 

Care for Your Spirit

It’s important to maintain social relationships as you grow older that allow you to feel connected, whether that be your spouse or life partner, family, friends, or another community. Meaningful relationships are vital to feeling connection, empathy, satisfaction, and support. Allow yourself to spend time nurturing and putting work into these connections.

Think about what feeds your spirit. Do you enjoy participating in faith activities? Does meditation calm you and allow you to feel connected to your spirit? Does volunteer work make you feel engaged? If you don’t know, take some time to explore this idea. Continue to try new things and grow as a person. Don’t believe the ageist stereotype that says you have to stop learning as you grow older. Your older years have the potential to be the most beautiful and meaningful of your life.

Keys to Embracing the Aging Process

If you’re trying to embrace the aging process, it’s all about deciding to make the most of that time.

Embracing the aging process means:

Choosing Your Mindset – Embracing the aging process includes moving about the world with a positive attitude.Staying Active – Stay active mentally, physically, and socially in whatever ways work for you.Making a Plan – Ensure that your finances support the lifestyle you’re comfortable with. This planning includes making practical arrangements about housing and other aspects of your life.Don’t Do It Alone – Include your support people in your life. Continue cultivating relationships that will provide positivity and love for you.

How All Counseling Can Help

The only thing you can be sure of in life is that change will happen. Choosing to embrace the aging process is to embrace the true nature of what it means to be human.

If you or someone you know is struggling with aging, contact All Counseling. We can help connect you to a therapist who specializes in embracing the aging process.
Transitions and Change

How to Cope With Aging Parents and Anger

Watching your parents experience the challenges that come with aging can be difficult. Watching your aging parents become angry because they are experiencing these challenges can be heartbreaking.

How can you be a supportive member of your parents’ lives even when they are frustrated by the aging process? What’s the best way to deal with aging parents and anger?

Why Do Aging Parents Easily Lose Their Tempers?

It’s helpful to understand where your parents may be coming from. Here are some of the possible experiences your aging parents may be going through that could contribute to their anger.

Frustration and Expectations – Realistically, we know that our bodies don’t work the same throughout our lives and as we age. But experiencing these changes is different than just thinking about them. Your parents may have certain expectations for themselves that they either physically or mentally can’t do anymore. Not being able to do things you want to do or that you have done can lead to disappointment and frustration.Discomfort and Body Pain – Think about the last time you were in a fair amount of pain. You probably weren’t the cheeriest version of yourself, right? Your parents may be experiencing discomfort or bodily pain that they aren’t used to. It’s easier to become frustrated when you’re in pain.Stress – Physical changes combined with the reality that the aging process is actually happening can cause stress. When we’re stressed, we don’t always have the same amount of patience. Your parents may be set off by things that seem inconsequential to you, but when combined with the stressors of aging, they make them more easily frustrated.Health-Related Issues – New physical conditions, mental health problems, or neurological conditions could be contributing to your parent’s anger. In life, the only thing we can count on is change. That can be confusing and stressful for your aging parents as they deal with any health-related issues.Communication – People often feel frustrated and angry when a person doesn’t understand what they’re trying to say. Look at your patterns of communication with your parents. Are each of you talking frequently and sharing your thoughts and feelings? Is communication via text or phone being muddled? Would things be better said in person?

What to Avoid Saying to Your Aging Parents

In moments of frustration, you may find yourself wanting to snap at your parents. Why aren’t they the same as they were a few years ago? Why are they acting angrier at an important time in your life?

Your thoughts and feelings are valid. Your parents are changing. You probably are too. Try to avoid some of these phrases that might come off as insensitive.

You’ve Already Told Me That Story – Your aging parents may repeat themselves. They truly don’t remember if they’ve told you that story before. Just listen to it again. Don’t make them feel lesser for retelling it. If you’re concerned about potential memory issues, come from a place of compassion in your inquiry instead of an exaggerated statement like the one above.You Always Complain – Generalizing statements such as this one might come off as offensive to your parents. If it seems like your parents always complain, maybe they’re trying to tell you something. What are they experiencing that’s making them complain? Are the complaints about one specific thing or multiple things? Try asking about specifics.This Isn’t That Difficult – It may be frustrating to teach your aging parents new things. It’s probably also frustrating for them to adapt to a changing world. But think of all the things they taught you. Instead of shaming, express concern. Try something like, “How can I help you complete this task?”Why Can’t You Remember Anything – Some forgetfulness is a natural part of aging. If you’re concerned about memory issues, try to be compassionate. Forgetting could be a scary experience for your parent too. Discuss it with them if you notice frequent memory lapses. Encourage them to discuss these changes with their doctor.Why Are You So Loud – Some degree of hearing loss is common during the aging process. Try gently asking if they’re experiencing difficulties hearing. Maybe offer to accompany them to an appointment. But don’t criticize them. No one likes that.You’re Too Old to Drive – Driving is something intrinsically connected to independence. Having some measure of independence is vital to the aging process. If you’re concerned about their driving ability, try to have a calm conversation.You Shouldn’t Live Alone – Like driving, living independently may be something your parents don’t want to compromise on. Use patience and gentleness with this conversation. If you’re concerned about their well-being, perhaps there’s another option like part-time, in-home care.

Managing the Changing Situation

So what’s the best way to handle your parents when they’re angry? These tips can help you remain level-headed in situations with you and your aging parents who may be acting angry.

Stay Calm and Be Sensitive – Conversations that start with anger have the potential to end with anger. If you’re picking up anger from your parent, take a few minutes to calm down before continuing to talk to them. Try to approach the situation with kindness. Refer back to the reasons your parent might be angry. Be sensitive given your parent’s situation.Ask Questions – If you’re evaluating your parent’s cognitive condition, ask them questions from a compassionate mindset. If you feel the need to consult with your parents’ physicians, counselors, or other health specialists, include your parents in the conversation. Going behind your parents’ backs can lead to hurt feelings and distrust.Bring in Other Family Members – If you have siblings or other family members who share your concern for your parents, bring them into the conversation. It’s not the same as ambushing your parents because that could lead to hurt feelings. Make sure you and other family members come to your parents with care and love, not with accusations.Accept the Situation – Aging is an inevitable process. If it helps you conceptualize your parents’ aging process, remind yourself that this is a part of life. That doesn’t mean it’s not complicated. But it’s a different stage of their lives and your relationship with them.

Talk to a Professional

If you’re having difficulty relating to your aging parents or processing your emotions related to their anger, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. All Counseling can help connect you to a therapist that can help and we can even direct you to therapists who specialize in helping people manage through common aging concerns.
Transitions and Change

Adjusting and Coping in a World of Constant Change

You’ve probably heard the adage: the only thing that’s certain in life is that change will happen. But how do you go about adjusting to change in a constantly changing world, with rapid technological shifts, people coming and going from your life, and even weather sometimes changing from minute to minute? This post provides some advice for adjusting to and coping with change.

What are Major Life Changes?

Life changes a lot. It’s seemingly constant. Just when you find a flow, it throws you a plot twist. At some point, you may have experienced one or more of life changes that can cause emotional upset.

Life changes can include:

Growing up and moving away from homeMovingHaving a babyGoing back to school, adjustment to college or the workplaceGraduating from high school or collegeBuying a houseMarriage or a new relationshipDivorceRetirement, job loss, or career changesQuestioning faith, spiritually, sexual, or gender identityDeath of a loved one

Some of these events are predictable. You may know that you’re planning a move across the country or that you’ll graduate from college and enter the workforce. But some of these events, like divorce, job loss, or the death of a loved one, are unpredictable and can happen at any time.

Unfortunately, there’s no “right” time to go through some of these events. We don’t usually plan for hardship. For this reason, unpredictable events can cause emotional distress and difficulty coping with the change. But that doesn’t negate the importance of other significant life changes that are more planned or even more positive. They also can be as upsetting and momentous.

How Does Change Affect a Person?

Sometimes, change can be refreshing and exciting. Other times, change presents great challenges and affects our mental health.

You may be in a place where you can handle the stresses that come with life’s changes by making adjustments to your schedule, seeking help from your support system, and engaging in stress-relief practices that work for you.

If you find yourself experiencing stress that interferes with your daily life and your work, relationships, school, or personal life are suffering as a result, you may be experiencing what mental health professionals call an “adjustment disorder.”

Is It an Adjustment Disorder?

Before diagnosing an adjustment disorder, mental health professionals look for specific signs and symptoms. These criteria include experiencing symptoms within three months of a particular stressor, with the symptoms harming your daily life. These experiences can’t be due to another mental health disorder if you’re experiencing an adjustment disorder.

Types of adjustment disorders:

Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood – Includes feeling sad, down, tearful, and low.Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety – Includes feelings of worry, nervousness, unease, or trouble concentrating.Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Symptoms – Could include symptoms of both depression and anxiety.Adjustment Disorder with Disturbed Conduct – Could appear as behavioral problems such as fighting.Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct – Could include a combination of all of the above.Adjustment Disorder Unspecified – Includes some form of interference in daily life that is not described by the categories above.

Of course, you don’t need to experience a full-on adjustment disorder or any other mental health disorder to seek mental health treatment. You can initiate treatment anytime in your life when you feel you would benefit from counseling to cope with change.

Why is Adjusting to Change So Important?

We’ve discussed how change is a constant in life. Besides the simple fact of knowing that changes will occur, why would it be necessary to learn how to cope with change?

Adjusting to change is important to a fulfilling life because:

Change Can Be Exciting – A new job opportunity, a child, a partnership, or a new career path can be exciting! Change can indicate that you’re growing as a person.Life Satisfaction – Adapting to change can bring you more happiness and overall life satisfaction.Shows Your Strength – Being able to cope gives you hope for the future and the challenges that may arise. With this, you realize your strength.New Opportunities – New opportunities can increase your chances of succeeding and reaching your goals!You’ll Learn Something – In determining your needs, you’ll grow as a person. Not to mention, bouncing back from setbacks becomes easier.

How to Adjust To and Cope With Change

The following list includes some examples of what you can work on to help you cope with change. You can work on these methods of coping with change on your own or with a mental health professional’s help.

Ways to cope with change include:

Understand Your Perspective in the World – Our worldviews shape how we view the world. If you’re in a situation where you’re adjusting to a change, you may need to shift your perspective to cope.Reframe Your Situation – A mental health professional can help you reframe a situation, meaning change how you see the situation and your role in it to a more positive light. For example, a difficult challenge can be reframed as a positive opportunity to grow.Don’t Underestimate Your Ability to Adapt – You are capable of growth and change. Engage in some self-appreciation and realize you’ve made it this far in life.Find People Who Understand – Having a support system in life is vital, specifically during times of change.Seek Professional Support – If this list is overwhelming, or you’re having trouble adjusting to a change in your life, seeking help from a mental health professional is a great way to gain perspective and tools to help you cope.

How Long Does It Take to Adjust to Change?

While there’s not a specific time it takes to adjust to change, some patterns appear to be fairly common for many people. Most people find it takes a little more than a year to 18 months to adjust to life’s biggest changes fully. Of course, many factors can influence your ability to adjust and cope. You don’t have to wait 18 months (or any amount of time) before reaching out to a mental health professional.

It’s possible that seeking assistance from a mental health professional will help you adjust to change more quickly. Your therapist will use counseling approaches and techniques that work for you and your specific life challenges.

To help you adjust to change, your counselor might:

Help you identify and understand this major life changeHelp you know how to deal with and accept changeRemind you that sometimes change is good or most likely temporaryHelp you build self-confidence and communicate effectivelyDevelop realistic goals and prioritize themGet continuing support

How All Counseling Can Help

Life brings unexpected challenges and changes. Knowing this, you may consider seeking outside help to assist you in adjusting when you experience a significant change. If you or someone you know is dealing with major life changes, All Counseling’s therapist directory can help you find a therapist who specializes in managing life transitions.
Transitions and Change

The Psychological Effect of Aging

People live longer than ever with the aid of medical treatment and the knowledge of preventative steps to lessen the effects of physical aging. As of 2016, people over 65 years of age accounted for about 8.5% of the world’s population. That number should double by 2050, with 17% of the population older than 65.

To live a rich and fulfilling later life, it’s also essential to understand the psychological effects of aging. It’s common to go to the doctor for physical health. But assessing mental health can often fall by the wayside, leading seniors to go without a diagnosis for mental health symptoms due to dismissal or shame. About 20% of seniors are affected by mental health disorders, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Geropsychologists research the aging process so they can develop interventions to lessen the psychological effect of aging on senior adults and their families. In today’s article, we’ll explore what we’ve learned about the aging process.

The Effects of Activity and Mental Health Disorders

Though genetics play a strong role in how people age, so does staying active. The activity theory defines aging well as having a day full of activities and being productive. People engaged in activities tend to lead healthier, happier lives and are more connected. But it’s not necessarily fulfilling if people stay active by doing the same activities every day.

People who experience mental health disorders show signs of aging earlier than those who don’t. In addition, they are more likely to develop other diseases and die at a younger age. Improving mental health can lead to better overall health and longer life expectancy.

The Impact of Aging

As people reach their senior years, they may experience psychological effects that hinder their well-being. They may begin to feel like they no longer have control of their lives as their bodies change, not allowing them to do the things they’ve always done. They may experience more challenges with muscle control, vision, hearing, and with their lungs, liver, and heart. Having these physical challenges may affect their psychological well-being.

Psychological changes caregivers may observe include:

Slower reaction timeDecrease in attention spanDifficulty recognizing facesProblems with decision makingAnxietyMental impairmentLoss of appetite

In addition to the symptoms listed above, seniors may experience mental health disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease, leading to dementia or schizophrenia. Depression affects about 12% of hospitalized seniors and about 14% of seniors cared for at home. Depression can become chronic and lead to other long-lasting concerns, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Working Through the Aging Process

Two important steps for successfully working through the process of aging are early detection and consulting with medical professionals who can help develop an individualized treatment plan.

Tips for helping seniors adapt:

Physical Changes and Illness – Understand the limitations the senior experiences while encouraging them to have a full life. It’s also essential for aging adults to get adequate rest and sleep between their activities.Hobbies – With more free time, seniors can re-engage in long-lost hobbies or learn new ones.Find Meaning and Make New Connections – Most communities offer volunteer activities or have community centers for seniors to connect and be valued for their knowledge and skills. New connections and meaning may also support others within the community.Travel – Seniors often take vacations to the places they’ve always wanted to go, reconnect with friends, or visit family.Write a Memoir or Journal – Encourage seniors to write a memoir. Their descendants are often surprised by what they didn’t know about their elders. If a memoir is too daunting of a task, journaling is a great compromise. This allows seniors to capture their daily lives and reminisce about the past.

Caring for the Elderly

Caring for seniors experiencing the psychological effects of aging may be new and challenging. It’s vital to respect the senior and the caregiver.

Senior adults are humans who have lived full lives on their own. They’re working to adapt to the changes they’re experiencing.

Caregivers are also experiencing changes to their routines and new demands. Caregivers must be mindful of their capacities. Failing to engage in self-care may put them at risk of physically and mentally tiring, leading to compassion fatigue.

Contacting a Counselor for Help

Contact a counselor if you know a senior who is experiencing a loss of interest in things that once brought them joy.

Symptoms to look for include:

Making comments of hopelessnessChanges in sleep or eating patternsMood changesIsolation or withdrawalChanges in weightDifficulty caring for a petChanges in appearance

If your loved one experiences any of the changes above, it may be time to seek help to ensure their emotional health isn’t suffering.

We can help you find a therapist who specializes in aging concerns. Search through our large collection of vetted counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists to find a therapist near you.

Sources and References:

Aging and depression (2021)American Psychological Association

Neural Plasticity during AgingNeural PlasticityArcos-Burgos, M., Lopera, F., Sepulveda-Falla, D., & Mastronardi, C. (2019, March 26)

Depression in Elderly Adults: Signs & TreatmentA Place for MomGaunt, A. (2020, July 8)

Psychosocial Theories of Aging: Activity Theory, Continuity Theory & Disengagement TheoryKowalczyk, D. (2021, September 23)

Mental illnesses in early life linked to faster aging and worse health in later years (2021, May 6)National Institute on Aging

Psychosocial Theories of Aging: Activity Theory, Continuity Theory & Disengagement Theory (2014, January 26)

Psychology and aging: Psychologists make a significant contribution (n.d.)Retrieved May 2, 2022, from

Everything You Need to Know About Dementia: 10 Common Questions AnsweredA Place for MomSamuels, C. (2021, March 23)
Transitions and Change

Coming to Terms with a Terminal Illness Diagnosis

If you or someone you know was diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may be looking for wisdom about how to feel or react. The truth is, there is no one way to respond to receiving such news. This post outlines some common experiences among people who are coping with a terminal illness diagnosis and some strategies to help you cope.

How Does a Terminal Illness Diagnosis Affect a Person?

When someone receives a terminal illness diagnosis, their healthcare provider has given them a set amount of time they will live based on the specific health condition. For example, a person may receive a terminal cancer diagnosis and be told they most likely have three to six months to live.

Doctors can’t predict precisely how long a person will survive with a terminal illness, and many factors are at play, including treatment decisions and the course the illness takes. But hearing from a medical professional that death is imminent is likely to cause many emotions.

News of a terminal diagnosis can be devastating. It’s common for people who receive this diagnosis to be confused, angry, scared, overwhelmed, and upset. Along with the physical reactions a person has to their illness, they may experience psychological reactions. It’s important to respect your capacity for working through your emotions during this challenging time, and seek support when you need it.

Common psychological responses to receiving news of a terminal illness include:

Anger – A terminal illness diagnosis negates your life plans. It’s common to feel anger that you won’t get the previously envisioned time.Fear – You may be frightened because what happens after death isn’t something we can study scientifically and, therefore, reminds us of the unknown. It’s common to be scared of things we don’t know much about.Insomnia – You may experience trouble sleeping after a terminal illness diagnosis due to anxiety, fear, or depression.Panic Attacks – Panic attacks have physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, trouble breathing, dizziness, shaking, and nausea. These symptoms come with an emotional sense of being detached from reality, losing control, or dying.Anxiety – You may feel anxious, worried, or frightened about the end of your life and what it means for the people you’ll leave behind.Depression – Experiencing depression after receiving a terminal diagnosis is fairly common. Feeling sad, down, “blue,” and losing interest in activities you used to derive pleasure from could be signs of depression.Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD may occur after receiving a terminal illness diagnosis. PTSD involves flashbacks of the event (in this case, thoughts of the terminal illness), avoidance behaviors, exaggerated startle responses (jumping at small noises), or hypervigilance

No matter which emotions you process through, it is important to remember your support system during this time and utilize resources to deal with some of these challenges. It may be a good idea to look into a support group for people familiar with what you’re going through or seek individual counseling to support you and help you navigate your emotional responses.

Coping With Terminal Illness

Receiving a terminal illness diagnosis can trigger grief because you’re mourning the loss of the life you thought you’d have. Some people experience grief in stages, such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acknowledgment. Others may experience grief in waves with a combination of these feelings.

Some mental health professionals find it helpful to look at the grieving process as a set of tasks, including accepting reality, processing pain, adjusting to the world with the diagnosis, and finding ways to make meaning as you carry on. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve, but understanding you’re not alone can be comforting.

And while there’s no one way to cope with the news of a terminal diagnosis, we can offer some ideas to help you manage through the grieving process:

Research Responsibly – While you may be tempted to spend hours searching the web for information about your diagnosis, remember that not all sources on the internet are accurate or credible. It’s common to want more information. The internet is a great way to find support groups and other resources, but ensure that you’re being careful about the information you consume. When in doubt, call your doctor and ask.Practice Letting Go – It’s normal to be stressed or overwhelmed after a terminal illness diagnosis because you wonder how you’ll accomplish your goals in a shortened amount of time. Maybe you had plans to work on your relationship with a relative, build wealth, or climb Mount Everest. Think about what’s truly important to you and see if you can let some of the other things go. Maybe it’s not worth the stress of contacting the estranged relative. Perhaps you’d rather read a book or watch a documentary of someone else who climbed Mount Everest because you were never particularly a fan of heights anyway. Let go of things you feel like you have to do just to say you did.Focus on What Matters – What matters is unique to you. You don’t have to adhere to anyone else’s notions of what matters for your final moments of life. Follow your gut if someone tells you that something you want to do or accomplish isn’t worth it. There’s no correct way to handle the end of your life besides focusing on what matters to you.Make Death Plans – Death plans include figuring out how you’d like your end-of-life care and funeral to go. Do you want to be in a hospice facility? Would you prefer to be at home? What kind of care would you like for your body after you die? Making plans for these things is essential but can be overwhelming. Consider consulting with a death doula, hospice worker, or grief specialist to discuss your options and ensure all the necessary legal documents and plans for your death are complete.Express Your Feelings – If you feel comfortable talking to a loved one about the feelings you’re experiencing, do it. If you’d prefer to write down your thoughts and emotions, write poetry, make art, sing, or talk in a support group, do it. Expressing how you feel is critical to your mental health during this time.Use Your Support System – Lean on your loved ones during this time. Cry, laugh, reminisce, do activities, or be together. Whatever makes you feel supported will help you cope with everything you’re going through.Love Boldly – There’s no use hiding your feelings from people after a terminal illness diagnosis. Tell your loved ones that you love them frequently, and accept their words of love.Enjoy Small Moments – As part of getting a terminal illness diagnosis, you’ll probably start to notice more of the little things. You may find yourself stopping to smell the roses more often. Notice and reflect on the small moments. It’s not necessary or helpful to try to force yourself to be happy. Instead, simply take one day at a time. If a day is too long to think about, take it moment by moment.Seek Professional Help – If you find any of your emotions unmanageable or want to express concerns to someone other than your support system, consider seeking counseling. Some mental health professionals specialize in grief and bereavement and can assist you in coping with your terminal illness diagnosis.

Signs You Should See a Therapist

You don’t have to wait until you’re struggling to seek counseling. If you’re having trouble doing the things you want to do as a result of dealing with your terminal illness diagnosis, you may benefit from counseling.

Specifically, it’s a good time to seek professional assistance if you’re:

Having difficulty regulating your emotionsAvoiding necessary medical treatmentsDisturbed by a nightmare or vivid intrusive thoughtsNot eating or sleeping well due to distress about your conditionAvoiding social interactionFeeling hopeless and having suicidal thoughts.

Therapy can help you deal with your emotions in more healthy ways and assist you in making plans for the end of your life.

How Counseling Can Help You Cope

Counselors tailor their treatment to your needs. Each person’s journey for coping with this situation is unique, so their course of therapy will be too.

Therapy for coping with terminal illnesses can:

Help You Understand – Your therapist will help you understand what your diagnosis means and what looking at the end of your life means for you.Respect Your Decisions – Counseling doesn’t attempt to change your mind regarding your end-of-life care decisions and goals. Even if your therapist is of a different religion or culture than you, they will never impose their beliefs about what is wrong for you. They will help you in clarifying your wants and goals.Practice Coping Skills – Your counselor can help you identify coping strategies that work for you and your specific situation. Perhaps due to your illness, you’re not physically able to engage in a particular activity that once brought you stress relief. You and your therapist can brainstorm ideas and formulate a plan for helping you do the things you want to do.Provide Additional Resources – Your therapist can help you identify resources within your community that you may need to support you throughout your illness. These resources could include support groups, religious leaders/spiritual needs, cultural support, and family therapy.Find Meaning – Your counselor can work with you to process the feelings when you think about your life and your terminal diagnosis. Making meaning doesn’t mean identifying why or how you received this diagnosis. Instead, it refers to looking at your life and cherishing your successes and relationships, and embracing your struggles as ways you grew.

All Counseling provides a therapist directory for people looking for mental health professionals, including grief and bereavement specialists. Filter your search by insurance accepted, treatment type, and more. If you or someone you know is diagnosed with a terminal illness, the directory can help you find a therapist who fits your needs.
Transitions and Change