Upcoming Lake County workshops focus on how to manage a chronic illness in stressful times.

Regular exercising, like yoga, can be a good way to cope with the stress of managing a chronic illness. (Photo by Steve Schwartz).

TAVARES – In these tough economic times, everyone has their challenges coping with stress, including Julie England, who said she’s often guilty of failing to get the right amount of sleep she needs to make it through the day.
“I’m horribly guilty of this — sleep deprivation,” she said. “We lie there thinking about work or our problems, and we tend to be chronically sleep deprived, and that has an effect on our memories and other things.”
For other people, stress causes them to develop poor eating habits, or prompts them to give up exercising, or to drink too much.
But for those who also have a chronic illness, it can be even more challenging to get through every day as they struggle to deal with a condition – diabetes, heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease – that further limits their regular abilities. What they need, England says, is a plan for managing themselves and their lives – and not allowing their illness to overtake them.
“A lot of it is trying to get control of your life to work in your own parameters, so you can be more active in your family plan,” said England, a family and consumer sciences agent with the UF/IFAS Lake County Extension Office.
Next month, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Lake County Extension, in partnership with the Lake County Community Health Worker Program, will be hosting a six-part workshop series entitled, “Healthy Living: Chronic Disease Self-Management.” It will be held on Thursdays from 2-4:30 p.m. starting Oct. 6 and ending Nov. 10.
The workshops will be held at the Lake County Agricultural Center at 1951 Woodlea Road in Tavares, and are designed to teach people living with a chronic health condition, the skills they need to thrive and survive every day.
England said this is a fun, practical and interactive workshop that will emphasize coping strategies and practical skills to more effectively manage a chronic illness.
“We are trying to get people to realize there are things you can do, like taking care of yourself, eating right, getting enough sleep, and managing your symptoms, to give you a sense of control so you do not let your chronic disease control you as much,” England said. “This isn’t a class where you sit there and get lectured. It’s very interactive.”
The program, originally developed by Stanford University, is limited to 16 people and teaches them how to successfully engage in daily activities.
“We look at how everything in interrelated, and hopefully everything they take from this, they can use to improve their lives,” England said.
Participants are encouraged to attend all six sessions. The series is free, but participants are being asked to pre-register by Oct. 3. England will lead the workshop along with Maria Granado, Lake County’s community health worker manager.
It will not focus on a specific illness such as diabetes, but rather on how anyone coping with a chronic illness can improve their daily lives.
“It’s for all people with illnesses, and it’s non-specific,” she said. “People with a lot of chronic illnesses deal with a lot of the same things, like stress, and family, and depression. It’s about managing your life and not letting your illness overtake you. This is the first time I’ve done this program, but it’s been done nationally, all over the country. It’s researched based, and we look at things like stress and identifying common problems.”
The workshops can be taken by someone with a chronic illness – or by a family member caring for one.
“You could have a loved one who had a chronic illness and you want to help them deal with it,” England said. “This is about using your mind to deal with the symptoms, and dealing with the emotions of living with the chronic illness.”
Some of the practical advice given includes how to use exercise as a form of stress relief, the right kind of physical activity to engage in, the importance of physical activity in general, and healthy eating habits.
“We have a couple of stress relief activities,” she said. “We also talk about depression.”
They also emphasize how important it is to seek out the care of, and follow the advice provided by, a family physician.
“We do want to encourage people to talk to their health care provider and follow what their health care providers recommend,” England said.
Partial funding for the program was provided by Elder Options and the Amerigroup Foundation. To register for the workshops, call 352-343-4101, Extension 2719 or email rcbass@ufl.edu.

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