New workshop aims to guide those with chronic illnesses

By Katie Demeria

FRONT ROYAL — One of the participants in the Chronic Disease Self-Management Workshop was recently diagnosed with a disease that has so many possible treatments she is feeling overwhelmed.

A married couple attended as well, one of whom is both a caregiver and battling a chronic illness herself.

Jessica Bowling, wellness coach, and Tina Carter, a nurse with Warren Memorial Hospital, said they believe that by attending the six-week program that all of the participants will learn how to better handle their chronic illness — and prevent it from taking over their lives.

Monday was what Bowling referred to as “Day Zero.” She and Carter met with four individuals planning to take the workshop, which begins this Monday at Warren Memorial’s Outpatient Center. and discussed their goals.

“It gets people back to the basics,” Bowling said. “It’s just a very basic program teaching skills and lifestyle management in a way that’s doable. It doesn’t overwhelm people. We break things down.”

The workshop teaches participants skills like using the mind to manage symptoms, making action plans, problem solving and dealing with difficult emotions.

It also includes practical suggestions for improving everyday life, such as preventing falls, better breathing, healthy eating and communication skills.

Bowling said participants will set goals for themselves, and every week the class will address how each individual is doing in keeping up with the “action plans” and meeting their goals.

“This is also a program for caretakers and family members who are struggling with taking care of people with chronic diseases to help them manage themselves,” Bowling said.

She added that caretakers can oftentimes feel as overwhelmed by a loved one’s illness as the patient. Learning to cope with those feelings, communicate and live a healthy lifestyle will help everyone involved overcome the disease.

Carter and Bowling said the most common illnesses they expect to see will likely be diabetes and arthritis. But Carter pointed out that the program also helps people deal with depression, which some may not realize they’re battling.

Carter stressed that the illness itself does not have to be categorized in any specific way.

“If you feel it’s a chronic condition, it doesn’t have to have a label, it doesn’t have to be diabetes or arthritis,” she said. “If this is something that impacts your life, that you have to deal with every day, then it’s a chronic condition.”

The workshop was developed through Stanford University. Bowling and Carter were able to participate in training through a grant. The next step is to bring it Valley Health-wide, and this fall the class may be offered in Winchester. For now, though, it is only available in Front Royal.

“It’s a ready-made program that will help people become their best selves on their own,” Bowling said. “Despite what their doctors or their wives or their husbands are telling them to do, this is something that gets them back to what they want to accomplish.

The class costs $60 for all six weeks, but scholarships are available for those in need. It is held every Monday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Warren Memorial Hospital Outpatient Center. Contact Bowling at 540-635-0720 or at jbowling@valleyhealthlink.com for more information.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com