Adjusting & Coping with Kidney Disease

Adjusting to Kidney Disease is a highly stressful time. Whether you’re new to attending a Chronic Kidney Disease clinic or have been coming for years – you can all relate to the fact that life seldom takes you on a straight path. You can expect some ups and downs.

"Talking about it makes it feel less scary" YouTube video

These may be related to your health; the strain of travelling to your clinic appointments; the challenge of keeping up with family and household responsibilities; changes in life circumstances; financial pressures; or conflict in your family/personal relationships – and this list is by no means exhaustive.

Through all of these many changes it is important that you talk with the people who are closest to you. Let them know how you are feeling and take time to also listen to their concerns as well. Your social worker is also available to assist you and your family in understanding and coping with your experiences. Please do not hesitate to contact your social worker by telephone or ask to see him/her while you are on dialysis. You have a caring team of people available to help.

Persistent and ongoing stress can have damaging affects on your health and well-being. Ongoing stress can affect our emotional and intellectual well-being and can cause:

  • Decreased concentration and memory
  • Confusion
  • Loss of sense of humour
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Fear and
  • Depression (a self-assessment tool at

More information and helpful links can be found at the end of this section.

Some fear, anxiety, anger and low mood can be a normal part of adjusting to life on dialysis. Learning to effectively cope with stress can ease our bodies and our minds.

If you are struggling with these feelings please speak with a member of your health care team. Renal Social Workers are available to help you identify worrying emotions and address ways of coping that may be helpful.

You may also benefit from talking to someone in similar circumstances. The Peer Support Program through the Kidney Foundation is available to patients or family members. It is a volunteer support service, where other patients or family members provide support, primarily by telephone. You can request service directly by calling 1-877-202-8222. Or speak with your social worker who can make that request on your behalf.

Some people find the following tips helpful to address stress.

Relax Your Body

  1. Take a Deep Breath. One of the simplest ways to help you relax when you are feeling anxious is to breathe deeply and slowly. Try the following exercise (you can do this on dialysis).

    Close your eyes and breathe in slowly. Focus your attention on slow, relaxed breathing. Inhale for a count of 4 seconds and then exhale for 4 seconds. Take ten deep breaths whenever you feel tense or anxious. It is helpful to engage in deep breathing exercise several times a day - especially before, during or after a procedure or treatment. 
  2. Relaxation Therapy. This involves focusing on specific relaxation techniques to help induce a relaxation response. You can purchase CD’s or download relaxation programs to your electronic device. You can listen to relaxation exercises during your dialysis treatment, or at home. These recordings will teach you the skills for relaxation.

    They may include teaching you deep breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation or passive muscle relaxation and guided meditation (to help you picture a “safe” and “relaxing” image in your mind). If you were feeling anxious at any stage of your dialysis treatment, this would be a good option for you to consider to help you cope.
  3. Stretching. Practice simple stretches such as the “neck stretch”: stretch your neck by gently rolling your head in a half circle, starting at one side, then dropping your chin to your chest, then to the other side. If you have a perm catheter, consult with your nurse first.
  4. Exercise. Physical activity always provides relief from stress. Go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Keep moving. We also have a physiotherapist available on dialysis who would be pleased to set you up with an exercise program, which you can do while on dialysis. 
  5. Take a bath. Give yourself 30 minutes of uninterrupted time.
  6. Get a massage. A massage is a wonderful way to get rid of physical tension. This can be expensive but you can always go to a school for massage training – or ask a friend/family member to give you a back rub. For those who have extended health benefits, a portion of the cost of a massage may be covered.
  7. Eat Well. Reduce your caffeine and be aware of your alcohol intake. Eating healthy can help to reduce stress. If you are struggling with your diet do not hesitate to ask to speak to our dietician.

Relax Your Emotions

  1. Talk or write it down. Take the time to talk with a friend, loved one, or someone from the dialysis team. It’s important to talk about your feelings and concerns with people you trust. Sometimes writing down your thoughts can also help.
  2. Laugh. Humour is a great relaxer for your emotions. Watch a funny movie or sitcom, read a funny good or spend time with people you enjoy being with. Let humour help you keep your perspective on life!
  3. Cry. Sometimes crying can be as good a release as laughing. It doesn’t mean you’re not coping, or you’re weak. It can be a healthy release from a buildup of emotions.

"Don’t be afraid of your tears" YouTube video

  1. Read. A good book is a great escape.
  2. Listen to Music. Listening to music while on dialysis can provide a positive distraction and help you pass the time. The staff encourage patients to bring in your personal music device to listen to your music during dialysis.
  3. Do something you love. When you’re enjoying yourself, whether it’s gardening, going to the beach, reading a book, spending time with friends, you relax your emotions.
  4. Opt for optimism. Positive attitudes have the power to diffuse stress. By learning to “look on the bright side” you can help counteract the negative effects of stress. Sometimes the negative statements that run through your mind can feed into a negative attitude.

Helpful websites




  • Canadian Mental Health Association: To learn more about anxiety. This website will give you information to help identify anxiety, some common experiences of anxiety as well as anxiety disorders.