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Living With A Chronic Illness? How to Manage Healthy Work Life Balance (10 tips)

written by Vidya Sury August 16, 2022
Living With a Chronic Health Condition – How to Make Working Easier

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You’ve been diagnosed with a chronic health condition – maybe it is diabetes, endometriosis, or something else; whatever it is, it will have an impact on certain aspects of your life, one of which could be work. Living with a chronic illness and balancing work is not easy.

While it’s entirely possible to carry on with life as normal after a diagnosis like this, it doesn’t mean that you have to—and carrying on like before may not work for everyone, because everyone’s situation is different.

While some of us might be able to carry on like before despite a new health condition, others might need to make some changes to how we live and how we work, and that’s perfectly fine.

If you’ve realized that you’re unable to work in the same way that you did before your diagnosis, then you might be starting to wonder what your options are. Obviously, you still want (and probably need) to work, but knowing how to go about that with your new health status can be tricky.

How to make living with a chronic illness and balancing work demands easier and less stressful?

Could you make adjustments to your current role?

Can you make changes to your current role in consultation with your employer that allow you to continue in your job in relation to your new health status? Will you have the flexibility to work in a way that lets you do so with a slight change in hours? If you were previously working from your office, can you now work remotely?

Talk to your employer. Let them know about your health status. Work out a solution together.

Would working remotely be beneficial?

Could choosing to work remotely be more beneficial? Working remotely gives you the flexibility to work from home or from the location of your choice. You may need to make sure all your tech needs are in place, with your laptop equipped with security programs and updates enabled. Read about the benefits of looking after your tech here.

Is your current job still comfortable?

Are you able to find a remote working option to suit your needs? You may want to explore the option of working as a freelancer where you can set your own hours and rates, and work from home. Perhaps you would like to consider starting a small business that you can run on your own schedule, based on your health needs and commitments. There are so many options, for example, online coaching, working as a virtual assistant, turning your hobby into a business and so on.

Living with chronic illness and productivity

A chronic illness determines how much you can get done, in terms of productivity. You are already in a position where you start with reduced energy levels and when chronic health conditions with their own set of symptoms add to it, just attending to your everyday routine tasks can feel draining even before you begin your work day. In addition, you will have to schedule your doctors’ appointments, get your prescriptions filled and make all those related phone calls—all of which can eat up hours from your day.

How do you manage your energy levels?

One of the main challenges of living with a chronic illness is figuring out how to manage your energy levels. Call it creating an energy budget based on the tasks you need to accomplish during your day by assessing how much energy you will need to spend on each task, all within the energy budget.

If your job involves rigid deadlines and meeting specific productivity levels, you will get into an energy debt when living with a chronic illness as it can take a toll on your personal life and health. You may feel fine one moment, and feel exhausted and struggle to deal with a simple task the next.

How, then, can you manage your work even as you balance living with a chronic illness? You will need to make some changes to find that elusive health-work-life balance.

Here are 10 tips that will help you when living with a chronic illness

1. Let your boss know what is going on

When living with a chronic illness, the first thing to do is to decide whether you want your boss and your colleagues to know. If disclosing your condition will result in your losing your job, you may not want to.

However, you may want to talk to your boss if your illness is likely to affect your work or interfere with your work schedule. Chances are, they might be considerate and help you by making adjustments such as allowing you to take breaks as needed.

When talking to your employer, think about how much of your chronic illness issues you want to disclose as it may result in discrimination or prejudice, especially if you have mental health issues. Also, likely that your colleagues may be empathetic and go out of their way to be kind.

2. Know Your Rights

When living with a chronic illness, be aware of your rights to help you manage at work. This includes support from your organization and other flexibilities in terms of time, accommodation, and the ability to keep your doctors’ appointments. Perhaps you will be allowed to work remotely when possible. Find out about rules related to sick leave without losing your paycheck.

Living With a Chronic Illness - healthy workspace

3. Create a comfortable, healthy workspace

Make sure your workspace meets your specific needs. This may be as simple as keeping healthy snacks within your reach, water to drink, hand sanitizer, an air purifier if you need it. Or a special workstation/desk if you have mobility or joint issues. You must remember to take regular breaks. An airy, well-ventilated space with natural light and plants to uplift your mood help, too. Make sure you decide on a specific work schedule. Decide which hours you are most likely to be productive and use them well.

4. Build a good doctor-patient relationship

A good doctor with whom you can communicate comfortably is crucial; someone who you are confident will keep your well-being in mind, understand your chronic illness as well as the demands of your job, and offers treatments that help. If at any point you feel your doctor is not listening to you, do not hesitate to find another.

Living With a Chronic Illness--relax and rest

5. Find your balance

You need to find a way to balance your health and work without pushing yourself too hard at the cost of your health. At the same time, you need to maintain good relations with your employer. Have sound boundaries in place to allow you to accomplish your work goals. Find ways to relax your mind and body. Discussing this with your doctor and your employer will help you find ways to get the job done while being mindful of your health.

6. Journal your journey, write down things

When you are living with a chronic illness, remembering everything can be tough especially if you are on a list of medications, or experience fatigue, or have brain fog. Staying organized can seem intimidating. The best way to do this is to keep a journal. Make your priority list for the day. Cross off each item as you complete it so that you feel good at the end of the day.

Living With a Chronic Illness - stay in touch with family

7. Stay in touch with your friends and family

Living with a chronic illness is not easy. You need the support of your loved ones, especially when you experience fluctuations in your health and energy levels. Educate your loved ones about your illness and how you feel so that they understand and know you need support. This will help you work and live better.

8. Aim for at least 8 hours of quality sleep

When you don’t sleep well, you end up feeling exhausted and listless. When living with a chronic illness, this is even more relevant as your mind and body need to rest and recuperate. Good sleep will also make you less fatigued, put you in a better mood and relieve your illness’s symptoms while replenishing your energy levels.

Living With a Chronic Illness exercise

9. Get enough exercise

Exercising regularly keeps you healthier by lowering your risk for disease, and improving your mood. Talk to your doctor to find out which exercises are safe for you to do without making you feel overwhelmed. Some examples are yoga, dance, walking, and Tai Chi.

Besides the above, do things you enjoy such as reading, meditation, and writing.

10. Be aware of and acknowledge your limits

You need to take good care of yourself to achieve your desired level of work-life balance when you live with a chronic health condition. Be mindful of not pushing yourself beyond what you can comfortably do. After work, do things you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music, taking a nap, etc. This will allow you to rest and relax, making you ready for the next day.

Remember that there will be good days and bad days. If you suffer from chronic pain, there will be days when your symptoms may flare up. Make sure you have a plan for those days.

Just because you are living with a chronic illness need not mean that your productivity at work should be limited. You can dream about that promotion, that big assignment/project/job you’ve always coveted. You can have a successful career while maintaining your health. Listen to your body. Remember to take good care of yourself with the support of your healthcare professionals and your loved ones.

Further related reading:

  1. Chronic Diseases & Employment: An Overview of Existing Training Tools for Employers
  2. The Problems Experienced by Employees with Chronic Disease during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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