How to Navigate Work-Life Balance With a Chronic Illness

Tips for creating space to heal and minimizing stress while managing health challenges.

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How to Navigate Work-Life Balance With a Chronic Illness
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It can be overwhelming trying to balance work and life with a chronic illness. I’ve experienced it first hand when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, autoimmune issues, and other ailments in my mid-twenties. From work to doctor’s appointments, to social events, and alternative treatments–it was hard to find a second to breathe. While challenging at times, it taught me a thing or two about juggling and finding some harmony in-between the chaos.

10 Tips to Support Work-Life Balance With a Chronic Illness

1. Avoid overbooking your schedule

In an attempt to heal my body as fast as possible, I scheduled all sorts of holistic treatments in-between my western medicine ones. Before and after work I was often running to something whether it was an antibiotic drip, acupuncture, or an infrared sauna. While some of these things were super relaxing and healing, it was also very taxing on my body to constantly be on-the-go. I was burning myself out in an attempt to heal faster. Be mindful of how you schedule your appointments, and even social events. It’s important to listen to your body and allow rest in-between.

2. Talk to work about any flexibility needs

If you feel stressed about managing work with appointments, talk to your manager or HR partner about any flexible arrangements that can be made. Today’s WFH schedule makes this flexibility easier than ever. If necessary, find a less demanding job to support your needs.

3. Find calming hobbies and activities

Engaging in calming hobbies can help to turn unpleasant times into healing ones. Activities such as knitting, coloring, journaling, or meditating are helpful during those times when you aren’t feeling well, or even getting treatment. I used to knit with music in my ears while getting hours of IV drips, or listen to meditations on my subway commute into work. Find ways to infuse calm into the chaos.

4. Limit unnecessary social obligations

Social obligations can be stress-inducing when you are not feeling well. Especially those that revolve around eating unhealthy food and drinking alcohol. It’s okay to turn them down to take care of yourself. If it’s something you need to attend, don’t be afraid to order a mocktail, ask for a special food accommodation, or leave early.

5. Find gentler social activities to support your needs

While it’s totally acceptable to turn down certain social events, it’s not ideal to isolate yourself altogether. Find support groups or social activities that are restorative. Have tea with friends, go for walks in nature, join a book club, etc. It’s important to not become your illness.

6. Have doctors you feel good about

This may take some time but find a doctor or various doctors that make you feel heard and safe in their care. Do your research, ask around, and get recommendations for specialists that can address your needs. Not all doctors are right for you. Be sure to have questions prepared in advance, ask about their after-hours policies, and understand their general approach to your healing to ensure you are on the same page. I learned that the most expensive doctor doesn’t automatically mean they are the best.

7. Keep a medical binder

Staying organized with a medical binder will make your life easier. Your consultations will be more productive, prevent you from getting unnecessary tests and help you to track your progress. Be sure to get copies of every single test you have including routine bloodwork. Put a sticky note on any key tests so you can easily turn to them. Bring this binder with you to any new doctors you see for easy reference.

8. Educate yourself

Don’t rely solely on doctors to have all the answers. It’s helpful to do your own research and be as informed as possible so you can make educated decisions with your doctors. 

9. Adopt a healthier lifestyle

There are various reasons why people develop chronic illnesses, but almost all scenarios can benefit from adopting a healthier lifestyle. At a minimum, it’s crucial to eat whole foods, drink filtered water, and rest often.

10. Freeze meals

You are not always going to feel up to cooking. When you cook, make extra and freeze your meals so you have them to use when you are feeling unwell or in a pinch.

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