Coping With an Ostomy

By Robert Phillips, Ph.D.

You’re living with an ostomy. But that’s not good enough. You want to learn how to live well with an ostomy. You want to start getting back into the swing of things. Smart move!!!

Thousands of people have had ostomy surgery. But regardless of how this surgery has afflicted others you want to do everything you can to take responsibility for your own life. You can help yourself to feel better both physically and psychologically!

How can your surgery affect you?

Each person is unique and deals with the circumstances surrounding, ostomy surgery in a different way. You need to analyze your situation to determine how to best live with your illness.

Because having ostomy surgery affects different people in a number of ways, you may experience some or many of the following concerns:

  • » Interference with daily activities.
  • » Interference with physical functioning.
  • »Changes in lifestyle and/or personality.
  • » Emotional reactions such as depression, anger anxiety, helplessness, or guilt.
  • » Changes in relationships with family members.
  • » Alterations in your social life.
  • » Interference with your sleep.
  • » Feeling that you have less control.


What can you do?

Your ultimate goal is to take charge and live a happier life – despite having an ostomy. Here are a few strategies that can help you to better handle your ostomy and improve your overall health, happiness, and productivity.

1. Be a person – not a patient »

Make this the foundation of your thinking. You are a person who has had ostomy surgery, not an ill person. The only time you are a patient is when you are in the doctor’s office or in a hospital. The way you see yourself living with an ostomy is an essential part of coping successfully.

2. Understanding the unique way that your ostomy affects you and your life »

Identify the ways that your ostomy causes problems for you. Are you experiencing any problems with the pouch system, leakage, odor, skin breakdown? How does having an ostomy affect others around you? Does it limit your activities? There are many other factors that may affect you. You’ll want to identify them and determine how you’re going to deal with them.

3. Set overall goals for improving your life »

You’ll find that your efforts can include many of the following:

  • » Improving your ability to adapt to your situation.
  • » Setting reasonable, realistic, and achievable goals.
  • » Aiming to control your life.
  • » Improving day-to-day functioning.
  • » Improving your perspective on any problems you may be facing.
  • » Being more assertive and taking an active part in your health care (including dealing with medical personnel).
  • » Accepting and improving your ability to deal with the emotional consequences of your ostomy.
  • » Increasing your ability to handle negative emotions.
  • » Focusing more on your strengths and diminishing the impact of any weaknesses or limitations imposed by having an ostomy.
  • » Doing things that you like and spending less time with things you dislike.
  • »Enhancing positive relationships.
  • » Improving participation in your social network.
  • » Improving your life satisfaction and quality of life.

4. Pinpoint what you need to help improve your life »

Think about all the difficulties you are having living with an ostomy. Write these down on the left side of a folded piece of paper. On the right side, next to each item, write down things you can do to improve each one. Note as many alternatives as you can. Ask others for additional ideas, especially if you are not sure what to do about certain things. Keep adding to your list and plan how you will use these ideas to improve your life.

5. Anticipate the negative »

There are negative things that can happen during your life with an ostomy (leakage, skin irritation, depression, fear, sexual concerns). But some of these could also happen if you didn’t have an ostomy! The more you anticipate and prepare, the better you will cope. Isn’t this true of us all – ostomates or not?

Source: Boston, MA OAB Bulletin, via Vancouver Ostomy Highlife May/02, via Inside Out On-line Nov/Dec 2002

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  • Living with an Ostomy »

    We hope to provide new ostomates with a wealth of information to assist you in living well. From common terminology and after surgery FAQ's to help on living and coping with an ostomy, we have many pages to help you.

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