Chronic Pain: How to Cope with the Obstacles of an Invisible Illness

We’ve come a long way in helping people with disabilities. From ramps to special seating to
bathroom accommodations. this is all important progress.

But what if your disability is not obvious? What if you have an invisible illness?

What does it mean to have an “invisible illness”?

“Invisible illness” is an umbrella term that describes illnesses, diseases, and disabilities that are not visually obvious to others. It covers a full spectrum of mostly neurological disabilities or challenges. Here are just a few examples:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sight and hearing impairments
  • Mental illnesses
  • Chronic dizziness
  • Sleep disorders
  • Chronic pain

Notice how often the word “chronic” appears on this sample list. This is not a coincidence. Some 96 percent of those with chronic conditions have an invisible illness.

Living with an Invisible Illness

Perhaps the most common issue people who suffer from an invisible illness have to deal with is not being heard or understood. Many of them are even accused of making it up or faking it—sometimes by doctors and loved ones! No one can see that everyday activities are a challenge. Most of us take things like getting dressed, doing dishes, or walking to the subway for granted. For those with an invisible illness, it’s a different story.

How to Cope with the Obstacles of an Invisible Illness


Being in pain and not being believed about it can lead to depression and anxiety. Taking care of yourself brings out the best version of you. In turn, this can help you better manage the daily struggles and chronic pain.

Some suggestions:

  • Exercise
  • Practice healthy eating habits
  • Keep sleep patterns as regular as you can
  • Use stress management techniques


Much has already been said about the power of journaling. In terms of invisible illnesses, it has the added benefit of documentation. You may be interacting with a health insurance company or a stubborn relative. Whatever the case, your journal will be both an outlet and a form of evidence. Also, people with chronic pain can effectively track their activities and pain level. Of course, you can also monitor your related moods and emotions. Your journal will also be a valuable method to deal with negative reactions from others.

Practice Mindfulness

The constant struggle to be believed is downright exhausting. The steady presence of pain creates its own momentum. It becomes difficult to focus on anything else. Mindfulness guides us back to the present. Our focus becomes locked on the current task or experience. We may have a long journey ahead of us. Being present keeps us focused on the current step.

Join or Create a Support Group

Let’s think about that statistic above: 96 percent of those with chronic conditions have an invisible illness. This is frightening but, in a way, it has a silver lining. You are not alone. There are many others who need support. They need to talk. They want to feel validated. Joining a support group is a great way to feel less isolated. You can also learn about solutions and strategies.


Living with the invisible illness, chronic pain, or both can often be isolating, lonely, and challenging. Oftentimes, the first step is to find a therapist who can validate your situation. From there, you will work together to devise a strategy for coping and thriving.

Most of all, you want to take back control of your life. You may not be able to eliminate the pain or the stigma but you can find ways to do many of the things you enjoy. These will distract you from your condition. They will also enrich your life and inspire a more positive outlook.

To get support in dealing with the emotional challenges of chronic pain, please contact our intake team at the Center for Mindful Psychotherapy: call us at (415) 766-0276; or email us at