10 Chronic Illness Management Tips That Lead to The Most Number of “Good Days”
Living with a chronic illness can make you dread the days ahead. Instead of focusing only on the worst case scenarios, let’s talk about chronic illness management strategies that help you plan for more “good days.”
Here are 10 tips to help with chronic illness management.
1. Follow Medical Recommendations
The foundation of chronic illness management is following the recommendations from your doctor and treatment team. They are trained to help you understand the science behind your symptoms and provide effective treatment.
Talk with your doctor if anything in your medical plan is problematic, confusing or unhelpful, and request a different plan. Be mindful that if you discontinue the plan without your medical provider’s knowledge or guidance, you could risk becoming more ill.
Also, request a referral to another provider for a second opinion, if needed.
If you feel worried or nervous when speaking with your doctor, know that you’re not alone. Here are some ways to help you manage your medical appointment anxiety.
2. Know Your Symptoms and What They Mean
Your body is likely to respond in many different ways depending on the specific diagnosis. As a chronic illness warrior, it is now your job to know what those symptoms and situations are so that you can proactively take care of yourself.
A helpful chronic illness management strategy to minimize feeling overwhelmed is to keep a daily log with your symptoms in a journal for the first month. See if you notice any similarities based on time of day, activities or life stressors.
The list can help you understand the difference between typical everyday symptoms and signs of a chronic illness flare up/decline in your condition. This information is key for you to have more “good days” because it can help you feel more aware and in control of situations that may worsen your symptoms.
Ultimately, this awareness can guide your decision in how you respond, including contacting your treatment team or supporting yourself from home.
3. Develop a Self-Care Plan
The experience of managing my own chronic illness has taught me the importance of knowing how to take care of myself. What I thought I needed changed drastically after being diagnosed because my body didn’t respond to old self-care practices.
Come to think of it, I didn’t really know what self-care was until I was forced to do it for the sake of my health.
I needed to make some adjustments after diagnosed, and I learned so much about myself and what I truly needed. Perhaps this can be said about you, too.
But what is self-care? It is an intentional action or lifestyle adjustment that enhances your life physically, mentally and emotionally. Most importantly, self-care is a mindset. Your focus is doing things within your best interest… and with your chronic illness, that becomes a top priority because it helps you maintain a better quality of life and a “good day.’”
At it’s simplest level, you may notice that you have to say “no” more often so that you are working more within healthy boundaries for yourself. You could also observe yourself making lifestyle adjustments or tweaks to things you do during the day.
Don’t believe the hype… Self-care is about more than just spa treatments and vacations (although we like those). Self-care is in the little details of what you do everyday that helps make things better for yourself, and it’s not always what you want to do.
There may be times that you’d rather say “yes” to an opportunity, but it’s in your best interest to say “no” because your mind and body are not in the best position to handle what comes with that opportunity. Those are hard decisions to have to make, but they are important part of the journey as you develop your chronic illness management plan sometimes.
Here are some examples of self-care that are essential to chronic illness management.
4. Stick to a Routine
With the many aspects of your life that are changing as a result of your health condition, you need something in your life that will stick and be consistent. Sticking with a routine that works for you can help you feel more grounded.
Think of your schedule like a boat anchor… no matter what’s going on outside of the boat (i.e., wind, storms or high water) you can feel less stress knowing that the boat is not going anywhere and will stay afloat when the anchor is in place.
That’s honestly what you need right now – something that keeps you grounded.
Your routine may need some tweaks here and there depending on the nature of your health condition, and that’s okay. Embrace those tweaks, because you stand a chance of carrying out your day out with more periods of ease.
Over time I have accepted that my body does not respond as well when forcing myself up before 6 AM (even though I considered myself a “morning person” before diagnosis). So I adjusted my wakeup time to accommodate my needs. My body literally thanks me everyday, because I don’t force myself to stick with the old routine.
Don’t get me wrong… My mind often wants to think up a laundry list of all the things I used to be able to accomplish before 8am when I didn’t have a chronic condition, but that thought process remains short, because I know my limits and give myself permission to stay within it.
Self-care at it’s finest.
5. Know Your Limitations
I know the word “limitations” can hurt when talking about your chronic illness, but hear me out. How many times a day do you ask yourself what you are capable of doing at any given moment? Most people with a chronic illness ask it a lot! Some people may see that as a negative, but I see it differently.
Knowing and listening to your limitations helps preserve your “good days.” It’s a chronic illness management essential.
Why? Because listening to your body is an act of self-compassion. If you had a broken leg, would you try to force yourself to walk on it as if it wasn’t broken for the sake of things being “normal?” Hopefully your answer would be “no,” but here’s another spin on this.
What are the consequences that will follow if you don’t listen to your limitations?
If you’re like me and millions of other people, you will feel worse if you push past your limits and ultimately have a “bad day.” It also can take your mind to a dark place when reminded of what you can’t do at the moment, taking a toll on your mental health. So, support yourself by taking the time to know what your mind and body needs. Then listen to it!
Your mind and body will thank you later.
6. Have a Plan A & Plan B
Here’s a tough reality with chronic illness management: Your body may not respond or feel the same as it did the day before or after. That can be a frustrating moment when you notice it because you then have to figure out “how the heck am I going to do xyz?!” This is why I recommend having a Plan A & Plan B.
Plan A is the initial plan for yourself when feeling your best (whatever your “best” is in the moment). You go on with your day as planned. Plan B is for days when things are more difficult and you need to make those adjustments that we talked about a little earlier. You may even notice that a Plan C is best for you as well, and that’s fine.
It can relieve your stress when you know how to support yourself and get through the day, even on days when your body doesn’t feel as well as you had hoped. The adjustment becomes more simple and clear.
Feel free to communicate your need to change your plans or approach your day differently with people that you care about. Talking about these changes can allow others to support you in ways you need them to.
Read more on how to talk about your chronic illness.
7. Set Realistic Expectations for Yourself
Before you go any further in making your plans for the day, I want to encourage you to be realistic in what you expect of yourself. Society often pressures people to think that you must complete a huge list of tasks every day in order to be “productive” and “successful.”
The lie detector test determined that is a lie!
Productivity and success with a chronic illness is not the same – and shouldn’t be! You will feel much more productive, successful and healthy when you devote your time doing things with boundaries in place. Allow yourself to be clear on what you can realistically do that day and stick with that.
Truthfully, you may notice that your expectations must change over the course of day because you simply don’t feel as you did earlier, and that’s okay.
You’re allowed to pivot and do things differently to support yourself.
Society seems to thrive off of an ableist mindset. You may hear this in messages like “No pain, No gain,” or “While you’re sleeping, someone else is up being successful.” Messages like these encourage you to focus on success and being the best, but they also discourage you from doing what’s in your best interest.
It’s not worth it.
Don’t get me wrong, you can still do amazing things in your life with a chronic illness. You just have to approach your life with healthy expectations and care so that you’re better able to do whatever it is you’re doing at the time.
8. Learn to Cope with Your Emotions
Your body does not experience physical discomfort without emotions attached. Understanding your own emotions in response to your health can help you learn how to cope.
The emotional roller coaster you’re likely riding in chronic illness management can involve the following emotions (in no particular order): sadness, depression, grief, anger, resentment, helplessness, hopelessness, numbness, frustration, disappointment and worry.
Prolonged stress and negative emotions can increase body tension and blood pressure, compromise your immune system and contribute to inflammation. Those bodily responses are known to increase pain, which has a direct effect on your mood. Chances are, you’ve got enough going on and want to figure out how to feel better – not worse.
Here are 18 ways to cope with your emotions.
- Deep breathing
- Drinking water
- Mild exercise
- Watching a funny/favorite show or movie
- Mindfulness exercises
- Listening to calming music
- Playing with a pet
- Calling a close friend/family member
- Participating in a support group
- Speaking with a Chronic Illness Therapist
- Thinking positive thoughts (i.e., The GLAD Technique)
- Listen to sounds of nature
- Read a book
- Participate in a hobby
- Take a nap
9. Surround Yourself with Supportive People
The people around you make a huge impact on how you feel and experience your day. One bad encounter with someone can stick with you and leave you feeling all kinds of negative, uncomfortable emotions (i.e., lonely, unheard, unsupported and unimportant).
Here’s the thing – YOU ARE IMPORTANT! This is why it’s important to surround yourself with people who are supportive and understanding of your life with a chronic illness.
A supportive person is able to improve your day by building you up and even assisting in areas that you need help. They genuinely want to be there for you, even if just to listen when it feels like you are having a “bad day.”
Starting now, make a list of people in your life that you feel are supportive in your life with chronic illness. You may notice that you want more people on your journey after you make the list. That’s just fine.
Ultimately, you may also notice after making your list of supports that there are specific people that only make you feel unsupported with your chronic condition. For the sake of your physical and mental health, decrease your time with these people as much as possible. That counts as self-care and boundaries, too!
Do you remember what we said about self-care? It’s an essential chronic illness management strategy.
I offer counseling groups for chronically ill teens and adults to build supportive community and practice skills for boundary setting and self-care. Connect with other supportive people today.
10. Request Accommodations As Needed
As mentioned earlier, chronic illness management may require you to make some adjustments in your daily life, including how you work or learn. It is common to try doing things as you always did before your health condition progressed, because after all, who doesn’t want some consistency in their life? However at some point you may determine that some things just are not realistic or helpful if they stay the same.
I get it! And that’s perfectly okay.
This is why legally it is within your right to request accommodations for you or a loved one with a chronic illness. Here are some accommodation request resources to get you started.
Remember, your goal is to help make life more meaningful, enjoyable and functional. You can best support yourself in having the most number of “good days” when you are living within your current abilities and relieving yourself of the pressure to do more.
Next Steps for Chronic Illness Management
I provide mental health therapy to teens, adults and families who are living with anxiety, chronic illnesses and the emotional toll that it can bring. We can talk through your personal experiences, build more supports and help you bring more function in your life by learning how to create your own chronic illness management plan. Although you may not be able to control certain aspects of your chronic illness, your mindset and intentional response to your circumstances are big steps to feeling in control and having more “good days.”
You can schedule your first appointment with me by booking a free 15-minute consultation call.