Mental and emotional attitude

Keeping a positive mental attitude can be the single most important thing a person with hepatitis C does. This is more than just feeling happy. It is about actively constructing a positive outlook to combat negative thoughts.

Evidence suggests that people with chronic illnesses who maintain a positive outlook experience slower progression of their condition and respond better to treatment.

Of course, it can be difficult to stay positive. Everyone is different and some find it harder than others. This page has a few pointers to help you maintain a positive attitude. Remember you are not your disease.

Initially, a diagnosis of hepatitis C can be overwhelming and affect your whole life as you spend time researching it and exploring your options. But defining yourself in terms of your disease is potentially very destructive.

It is key to remember that the qualities that have defined who you are throughout your life remain the same. You do not stop being a good parent or a good friend just because you have hepatitis C.

People who live most successfully with hepatitis C reach an acknowledgement of the disease in terms of treatment, diet and lifestyle but they do not let it restrict them from the life they would otherwise like to live.

Things to do to stay positive:

  • Live in the present: Questions such as “how did I get it?” may prey on your mind, but ultimately  they don’t change your situation. Worrying about what you may have done will only lead to increasingly negative thoughts. Try to accept your present circumstances and embrace every new day.
  • Be grateful: Each day, think of things that you are grateful for. It can be easy to lose sight of those things. Thinking about the positives in your life is a great way to remind yourself to celebrate them. Writing a list of five things for which you are grateful each day can be helpful to encourage you to think about these things. They don’t need to be big things such as family support. They could be small things such as the rain stopping just as you want to leave the house.
  • Set yourself realistic goals: Setting and achieving goals is a great boost for your wellbeing. These goals may revolve around treatment, getting back to work or continuing activities that you love. It is important to keep goals achievable as failing at unrealistic goals will fuel negativity. So be generous to yourself in the goals you set.
  • Laugh more: Laughter boosts endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers – and suppresses the stress hormone epinephrine. It provides a great workout for the body’s immune system. It increases the number of virus-attacking T cells, boosts blood chemical transmissions in the nervous system and stimulates production of the antibodies that fight infection. It’s also rather good fun.

The bad stuff

  • There are so many benefits to having a positive attitude, but it can still be difficult to embrace it.
  • A negative attitude means people can absolve themselves from responsibility because it means you are imagining that you cannot influence your own future.
  • However, a negative attitude – expecting that your health will not improve – can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Positive mental attitude requires some effort, but it has many benefits.

Taking responsibility

  • Hepatitis C is not a hopeless condition – there is a lot you can do to help yourself.
  • Taking responsibility for your health is an empowering step. It is key that you recognise you have choices and they will lead to positive action.
  • Before making major decisions, try to gather as much information as possible. You may wish to consider the advantages and disadvantages of possible choices.
  • Think about who can help you when considering your options and where possible involve them in your action plan.
  • Feeling in control of decisions and actions will make you feel less helpless and negative. This is your life and your health.

Understanding emotions

  • Discovering that you have a long-term condition is likely to challenge how you feel about a lot of things in life and, as a result, trigger all sorts of emotions.
  • You may feel that your emotional response is not the right one so try to think logically instead, especially when facing a challenging issue like hepatitis C.
  • It is important to realise that both your logical and emotional response are equally important and each has a place.
  • It makes sense to make decisions about treatment from a logical perspective, but accepting that you have a serious illness must be done on an emotional level as well.
  • In order to understand and deal with emotions, it is necessary to recognise them. This can be difficult as you may be hit with several emotions at once. Sometimes one emotion may be hiding another. For example, anger often disguises underlying fear.
  • It is also key to remember that hepatitis C itself can cause mood swings.

Some of the most frequently experienced emotions are the following:

  • Numbness is a common response to a hepatitis C diagnosis. It can take time for you to adjust and consider your response. Feeling numb may return, often in response to news that is difficult to deal with.
  • Sadness is a recurrent emotion that is more than simply feeling unhappy. It is often associated with feelings of loss: loss of good health; loss of your idea of a future; loss of ability to participate in activities that are important to you.
  • Anger is a natural response. You may be angry at a specific person or about a specific period in your life. You may also feel angry that you feel ill or that your life feels restricted.
  • Blame: You may blame someone else for your infection, possibly if someone knowingly exposed you to the virus. You may blame yourself, feeling that you could have prevented the infection.
  • Guilt: You may feel guilty about not being able to fulfil your usual role and the demands this places on others. You may also feel guilty that others spend time caring for you.
  • Self-pity is a term often used in a derogatory way, but it is wise to acknowledge that there will naturally be times when you feel sorry for yourself. However, it is important not to get locked up a negative attitude that stops you taking positive action.
  • Anxiety is often associated feelings of loss of control and uncertainty about the physical and psychological changes you might be going through.
  • Fear: You may fear about your future and about how your condition will progress, whether treatment succeeds and whether you will be able to cope. 

Dealing with your emotions

Dealing with emotions can be difficult. However, there are things you can do to help:

  • Try to acknowledge your emotions.
  • Try to gain some understanding about where they come from.
  • Try not to get overwhelmed by your emotions

By acknowledging your emotions, you are accepting that they are part of dealing with difficult situations. Try not to judge yourself because of emotions you feel. Once you acknowledge the way you feel, you may want to think about why you feel this way. It may help to ask yourself:

  • Have I felt this way in the past?
  • Did the feeling pass or change over time?
  • Do I want to do something to address this feeling?

You don’t always need to deal with your feeling. Sometimes it is better to simply feel angry or sad as this can be part of the process of coming to terms with things. There is never a right or wrong to feel.

Some emotions can be overwhelming, especially if you haven’t felt that way before. If you are concerned about your feelings or how they are affecting your behaviour, it might be useful to find someone to talk to
Others may not understand the way you feel unless you explain it to them. Try to communicate how you feel to others and consider how they feel in return.

If an emotion is persistent or distressing, you might try to work out how to deal with it. For example, on days you feel low but know from experience that you usually feel better the next day, you could try and make a pact with yourself. This could be as simple as telling yourself ‘I will allow myself to be sad today, but I know that tomorrow will be a better day’.

Some emotions, especially those that relate to deep-rooted issues, may be very difficult to deal with. In these instances it may be best to allow yourself to feel this way. Try to reduce the impact it has on you by thinking of an action plan. This could involve getting professional help.

Dealing with Bad Days

Good days and bad days are part of normal life and often people’s mood will fall somewhere in between. The relentless nature of hepatitis C can challenge you with some awful days, both physically and mentally.

Keeping a diary related to your symptoms and side effects can help you to track how often you experience bad days. You can then monitor whether bad days and the feelings or symptoms associated with them are becoming worse or more frequent. If they become more frequent or intense, it would be a good idea to let the person responsible for your care know.

Depression is a recognised symptom both of hepatitis C and some treatments. If depressed days are frequent, speak to your doctor as they may be able to prescribe something to help you.

For days when you lack the physical energy to do what you want, try to have an idea of something you enjoy that you are able to do like reading a book or watching a film.

Be aware that fluctuations in your emotional and physical state are perfectly normal and may not be anything to worry about.

Simple things can make a difference to your state of mind. If you feel up to exercise, it can have a positive impact on your mood. A short walk or a gentle swim may help, but be careful not to tire yourself out.

  • Consider whether you have developed a pattern of negative thinking.
  • Think about what your typical response is when things become difficult.
  • Changing patterns of thought and behaviour can be extremely difficult. Most of our habits have developed over long periods of time, so we may unaware of them.
  • It requires commitment and persistence to actively change your way or thinking.
  • It may worth considering talking to your GP about a referral for some form of therapy.

Dealing with Other People

Hepatitis C symptoms and treatment side effects can make dealing with other people particularly challenging. You may feel:

  • Irritated
  • Short-tempered
  • Self-absorbed
  • Intolerant
  • Tired
  • Depressed
  • Worn down

It is important to be aware of this and the fact that these feelings may be provoked by the disease itself. Once you know this, it will become easier to react less to people.

If you do not temper your reactions, it could push people away – particularly those closest to you whose support is valuable. Understanding that mood swings and depression can be caused by hepatitis C helps to make it possible not to take your emotional state so personally.

Emotional inconsistency can make others nervous of you. Ensuring that others understand your behaviour can be provoked by your condition means they are less likely to take things personally. Being aware of your vulnerability to mood swings and the impact they can have on you and others is key to enabling you to take some control over them.

The dangers of being isolated

  • Feeling alone is a common reaction to any illness. It can stem for feeling that nobody understands what you are going through.
  • Sometimes this sort of feeling allows you reflect on your situation and develop your own feelings towards you illness.
  • However, it is important to recognise the difference between choosing to spend time on your own for reflection and feeling isolated. Isolating yourself is dangerous because you can build up negativity without having anyone else to counteract it.
  • Try to maintain your usual friendships and conversations as far as possible. You may need to make some adjustments but try your best to keep in contact with those who are important to you.
  • Consider attending a support group or ringing our helpline. Sometimes it helps to speak to people who are not necessarily close to you but who understand what you are going through.