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Coming to Terms with Diagnosis of a New Chronic Illness





MCS America

Lourdes Salvador's Column

...Co-founder of MCS America discusses the latest Multiple Chemical Sensitivity issues.








Lourdes Salvador is the founder of MCS America, a science writer, and a social advocate for the greater awareness of environmental contamination, human toxicology, and propagation of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) as a disorder of organic biological origin induced by toxic environmental insults.

For more information visit MCS America




Monday, February 7th, 2011:


Coming to Terms with Diagnosis of a New Chronic Illness 

by Lourdes Salvador



Learning that one may have to take insulin every day or could soon die of cancer can challenge even the best coping skills. When diagnosed with a new chronic illness, many struggle with the news and lifestyle changes it brings.


The healthcare system provides some emotional support and coping strategies for various illnesses. However, support for less common illnesses and factual information to improve health often falls to the wayside.


The potential for a dangerous situation is great when there is a lack of supportive resources, connection, and understanding. One may feel alone, lost, misunderstood, and fearful of his/her ability to survive the onslaught of appointments, treatments, and financial losses.


Recent research examined the diagnosis of chemical intolerance (CI), sometimes called multiple chemical sensitivity. Because chemical intolerance requires avoiding chemicals in a world of pervasive chemical use, most people diagnosed with the illness become extremely isolated and segregated. Desperate for contact, acceptance, work opportunities, and socialization, coping strategies become extremely important.


People with CI make up a large percentage of the population, about 15%. They experience disabling symptoms from very small amounts of synthetic chemicals found in common perfume, deodorant, cleaning, and laundry products. Pesticides, solvents, and other industrial chemicals have the potential to create a much greater impact. In today´s society, chemical use is pervasive and avoiding contact with potentially toxic chemicals is nearly impossible.


"Limited knowledge of CI among health professionals and lay persons´ places demands on the chemically intolerant individual's coping strategies and perception of social support and ability to take responsibility for improvement," says researcher Maria Nordin of Umeå University in Sweden.


Nordin and other researchers from the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine at Umeå University in Sweden asked 182 people with CI respond to a survey. Of the 182, 59 people with mild, 92 with moderate, and 31 with severe CI participated


Of primary interest to the researchers was:


  • The rating of six problem- and six emotion-focused coping strategies.
  • The emotional, instrumental and informative support provided by various sources.
  • Whether responsibility for improvement was attributed to society or the individual.


The participants reported that the most commonly used and effective coping strategies were chemical avoidance, asking others to reduce chemical use, and reprioritizing to accept the illness.


Participants with less severe CI focused primarily on emotional coping strategies, while those with more severe CI also addressed the larger societal problem of reducing chemical use.


Most found that the support they received was primarily emotional, rather than instrumental or informative. This indicates an unfulfilled need and may reflect the larger societal problem of inadequate medical care and failure to understand the toxicity of chemicals, their health effects, and the treatment for CI.


In order for maximum coping benefit, there is both a need to seek emotional health and to accept the illness and reprioritize one´s life to accommodate it.


"For improved care, says Nordin, "certain coping strategies may be suggested by nurses, the healthcare system needs to provide better social support to these patients and the issue of responsibility for improvement may be discussed with the patient."

It is important to understand that coping is only a matter of dealing with the life impact of an illness, not treating it. Treatment should also be sought.


There are two main types of coping strategies, emotion-focused and problem-focused.


Research has shown that problem focused coping is typically used in situations that are perceived to be controllable, such as changing products used at home, foods eaten, and where one chooses to work.


Emotion-based coping is more commonly used in situations where there is less perceived control, such as going to the grocery store and being unable to control the synthetic fragrances other shoppers wear.


Research shows that the most effective strategy is problem-solving. A study of nursing students found that problem focused coping was positively correlated with overall good health. Conversely, emotional focused coping was negatively correlated with overall good health.


For problem-solving strategies to be of benefit there must be a realistic chance of changing a situation and a willingness to do so. Emotion-based strategies could come in handy in terms of willingness, hope, and seeing the chance of change. One study showed that when a person feels threatened by a stressor, they need to cope with that feeling first by using emotion focused strategies before problem focused techniques.


Individuals vary greatly. So, different coping strategies help different people. There is no one strategy that works for everyone. While one may find one method extremely helpful, another may find no benefit. Some ideas include:


  • Emotion Focused Strategies
  • Prayer
  • Finding the Humor In It
  • Mediation and/or Yoga
  • Hard Exercise to Relieve Stress
  • Viewing Problems as a Solvable Challenge
  • Having Hope
  • Connecting with Others (support groups, online forums, etc.)
  • Mobilize a Support System
  • Talk About It
  • Crying
  • Hot Baths and/or Massage
  • Committing to Something Meaningful
  • Writing and/or Speaking to Share Story
  • Deep Breathing
  • Identifying and Eliminating Negative Thoughts
  • Problem Focused Strategies
  • Advocating for Others with the Illness
  • Activism
  • Research
  • Educating the Public
  • Political Lobbying for Toxics Reform
  • Making and Selling Safer Housing and/or Products
  • Writing and/or Speaking to Educate and Inform
  • Identifying and Solving Immediate Problems as they Arise
  • Finding Other Activities and Ways to Do Meaningful Things
  • Whatever the choice, if it works, go with it!





Nordin M, Andersson L, Nordin S.  Coping strategies, social support and responsibility in chemical intolerance. J Clin Nurs. 2010 Aug;19(15-16):2162-73. 




For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.


Copyrighted 2011 Lourdes Salvador & MCS America



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