A chronic illness is an illness that lasts for an extended period of time and is often unable to be cured. If you’ve landed on this post, then you are probably someone living with chronic illness. If so, you’re in the right place!!! I’m going to share with you my top 8 tips for living well with chronic illness.
(Disclaimer- this post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to purchase from one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you. All advice given is my own opinion and cannot be used as a substitute for consulting a medical or mental health professional. For more information, please view my disclaimer link page here.)
Table of Contents
What Is a Chronic Illness?
A chronic illness is defined as an illness that lasts for several months to more than a year. A person suffering from a chronic illness may need ongoing care by a healthcare professional throughout the rest of their life. Lifestyle changes might also be necessary for people affected by chronic illnesses.
Types of Chronic Illnesses
There are many different types of chronic illnesses and diseases., and studies show that between 4-6 out of every 10 people will be diagnosed with at least 1 chronic disease during their lifetime. So, what are some types of chronic illnesses?
Asthma, diabetes, and heart disease are conditions that come to mind when thinking about chronic illness. Alzheimer’s and COPD are other chronic diseases affecting millions of people. With the vast improvement of newly developed treatments, cancer can now be considered a chronic illness.
Autoimmune disorders are another type of chronic illness that is becoming more common. Some prevalent autoimmune disorders are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease. It gets a little tricky with autoimmune diseases because some of the blood test results can look similar, but the symptoms for each one are so very different.
What Are the Psychological Effects of Chronic Illness?
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness does a number on your physical health. That’s for sure. But it can also wreck your mental health, too.
Finding out you have a chronic illness can be a shock. It’s overwhelming to learn all about a crazy medical diagnosis. Next, you’ll learn all about what this newfound physical ailment will be doing to your body for the rest. Of. Your. Life. That’s some serious mental pressure! It’s no wonder many chronic illness sufferers also deal with depression and anxiety.
Can You Live a Full Life With Chronic Illness?
After learning about all of the physical (and mental) symptoms you might have from your new chronic illness, you might think that your life is over! You’re limited. You can’t do what you could before this diagnosis, and life won’t ever be the same again.
Yes, life will change after your chronic illness. And yes, you may have some limitations that you didn’t have beforehand. But., with the help of these 8 following tips, you can live a full and satisfying life with chronic illness!
8 Hacks for Living Well With Chronic Illness
We’ve gone over many of the different types of chronic illnesses, and we’ve also talked about the ways chronic diseases can affect your mental and physical health. Even with the limitations chronic illness can cause, you can still live a full and happy life! It’s taken me 7 years to get an official rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. Over these past 7 years, these 8 hacks have been my go-to for living with chronic illness.
Find a Healthcare Professional You Trust
This first tip took me about 7 years and 4 tries to get right, but finding a healthcare professional you trust is extremely important when dealing with chronic illness.
When I started having autoimmune symptoms, my primary care doctor did bloodwork and sent me to a rheumatologist. This first doctor told me it was all in my head, which was totally frustrating! So, I tried another one. This doctor told me I had fibromyalgia, which he called a “pain”. He told me all I needed to do was get some sleep and go swimming (grrrrr).
The 3rd doctor listened to me and (finally) took me seriously! He was kind and quickly worked to treat my symptoms, and then he moved across the country. I went from, “Yes! Someone actually gets it!” to, “Nooooo!” in about 5 seconds!
But this little upset ended up being a blessing in disguise because his office referred me to my current rheumatologist. And she is awesome!!! I’ve finally found a wonderful doctor that I trust. We’ve worked together to find a treatment plan that has me feeling better than I have in years. I know that my symptoms won’t be pushed aside or ignored at her office. Finding a doctor I trust has been key in living well with chronic illness!
Eat a (Mostly) Healthy Diet
Taking care of our bodies is always important, and this is especially true when living with chronic conditions! So, another hack I use for thriving while living with chronic illness is eating a healthy diet.
Food is the fuel for your body. We all know that what you eat is important. But, what you put into your body is even more crucial when you have a chronic illness. Choosing healthy foods will help your body fight off flares and reduce the symptoms of chronic conditions. Healthy food choices can also help you lose weight and can help fight cancer and heart disease, and even regulate blood sugar, too.
Certain chronic conditions, like Celiac disease, require eating only certain foods to stay healthy. It’s important to get a proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional you trust and follow the best health advice for your specific condition.
My rheumatologist also reminded me that while it was important to eat healthy most of the time, you need to remember to live a little too. Unless you have a very specific diagnosis (again, talk to your doctor) it’s okay to splurge on your diet some of the time. Just make sure you eat healthy foods and have a moderate calorie intake, most of the time!
Get Exercise Whenever You Can
When you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness, the absolute LAST thing you want to do is exercise! You’re so exhausted, and every single part of your body hurts. I totally get it. There have been plenty of times, months actually, where I’ve been barely functioning, going through the motions with family and work, and exercise has been the absolute last thing on my mind.
At times like those, some gentle stretching, or a slow walk is about all that I can do. Most days I might not be able to even do that. And that’s okay.
I love getting exercise. I know that movement is good for me. So I try to exercise every single day. Some days, when my RA isn’t too bad, I can run through a full martial arts class. But some days, I’m lucky to get through a session of tai chi.
The point I’m trying to make is movement will help you feel better. You need to find some type of exercise that will work for you, and do it as often as you can. Whether it’s walking, yoga, running, tai chi, pilates, weightlifting, or whatever you find that works for you, you need to make sure you’re doing some type of exercise.
Find Activities You Enjoy
When you’re in the middle of a chronic illness flare, it’s difficult to think of fun activities. But that’s actually the perfect time to do it. Finding activities you enjoy keeps you moving forward in life! Even if you’re not having a flare, just knowing you have a chronic illness can get you feeling down. So, in order to be sure you’re really living with chronic illness, and not just surviving, you need to find activities you love!
The activities you try need to be specific to your likes and needs. You might have to try several different things before you find an activity you like doing. And if you try an activity, and hate it, don’t think you have to keep doing it!
I have some friends that go on scrapbooking retreats several times a year. They spend all weekend at a hotel, rent out a conference room, and make pages and pages of family albums into beautiful scrapbook masterpieces!
I’ve made a couple of these scrapbooks, and they are fun to do. But I have found that I don’t have the patience or energy to continually scrapbooking every event of my family’s life. I also don’t have any desire to spend an entire weekend dedicated to scrapbooking. So a major scrapbooking hobby is probably not an activity for me.
Other people like jogging. I’ve tried becoming a runner on several occasions. But every time I try, I end up hating it. I honestly cannot understand why anyone would put themselves through miles and miles of that torture for “fun”. So running isn’t an exercise for me.
Even though I don’t like scrapbooking or running very well, there are some activities out there that I do enjoy. I love spending time with my family, and I love reading fantasy novels. I also enjoy my martial arts classes. These are 2 examples of activities that have helped me when living with chronic illness.
Let Go of Extra Stress
Another thing you need to do when living with chronic illness is let go of extra stress whenever you can. I know it’s not easy to do. But it is so necessary and so worth it! Your mental and physical health in the future will thank you.
Most of us adults have control issues. If you say you don’t, then you’re probably lying, lol! We want to be in control and in charge. If we can be in charge, things in the world will go well and make sense.
Well, in reality, we all need to realize we are not really in charge! God’s got this, and we don’t. But, that lack of control can be felt really hard when you have a chronic illness. Your body is doing all sorts of weird things, which wreaks havoc on your mind! All the physical and mental changes add up to more and more stress! Uggh!
All of this added stress tends to make chronic illness even worse than it already is, so it’s important to learn to let the stress go whenever you can. I know that’s easier said than done. But a few small habits will help along the way.
For starters, you need to be willing to give up stressing over things you can’t change. Things like your diagnosis, the way other people behave, and world events are items that are out of your control. So there’s no use stressing over any of them.
Another habit you should adopt to lower your stress is giving yourself some grace. You may have some physical challenges that you didn’t have beforehand. Some days may be an “off” day for you, and that’s okay. Go ahead and give yourself some grace for those not-so-good days.
The third daily habit I would recommend for less stress when living with chronic illness is planning ahead. Planning ahead, and having a plan, will help you navigate those difficult days more effectively. It will also help you with the feeling of losing control. Anything you can do to help lessen the stress on you, and your family, will be a blessing for all of you.
Ask for Help When You Need It
Living with a chronic illness will mean something different to each person. It will depend on what type of chronic disease you have, but this can also look different from person to person. The stage of life you’re in is also an important factor, too.
I was 32, with 3 children under the age of 7, and a husband working a night-shift job when I was diagnosed with cancer. This is an insane time to be diagnosed with a chronic illness! Surgery, doctors’ visits, treatments… All while trying to parent 3 small children. And guess what? My husband and I were terrible at asking for help!
But at that time, we absolutely had no choice. And our friends and family rallied around us in a big way! We had people bringing treats and groceries to the house every week because “kids just don’t like casseroles.” Friends took the kids to and from school so I could go to treatments. We had someone volunteer to come to clean the house. Our parents and siblings took the kids on outings all summer long.
Now that I have rheumatoid arthritis, I’m learning all over again that I need to ask for help when needed. That might mean asking for more help around the house, taking a mental health day off work, or calling my doctor if my symptoms get worse. The takeaway is that I need to realize when I need help, and instead of waiting until I’m miserable, I need to ask for help quickly.
Set Goals and Dare to Dream
When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I was sure that my martial arts career was over. In my mind, my goal of reaching master level, the 6th-degree black belt was gone!
But as my treatments have begun working, and I feel better now, I realize that my dreams don’t have to be over. I simply have to adjust the way I work toward my goal in order to achieve it. Instead of going 110% through every martial arts class, I have learned to give myself some grace and listen to my body. If my joints are acting up, I sit out until I feel better. And I don’t overdo the jumps, punches, and kicks anymore, EVER! Getting on a treatment plan and listening to my body has helped me realize that my goals are still possible, just in a different way.
Sometimes, your goals may need to change after a chronic illness diagnosis. And that’s okay. Maybe the career you once saw yourself doing for 20-30 years just isn’t practical anymore. The physical and/or mental challenges from that job might just be more than you want to deal with now.
When I was going through cancer treatments, I was only up for a walk 4-7 days after chemo treatments. On the day of treatments, or the next 2-3 days following, I barely had it in me to get out of bed in the morning, much less exercise. So, when going through chemo, my goals had to change.
Practice Gratitude Every Day
The last hack for living with chronic illness is practicing gratitude. In order to live well every day, with or without chronic illness, living with a sense of gratitude is essential.
What are some ways you can practice gratitude daily? One way is thanking your family and friends who are helping you through your chronic illness. Most of us have someone we can count on for help. It’s important to let them know how much we appreciate all that they do.
Even in our darkest times, if we look, we can always find a blessing somewhere. Whenever I think of a hidden blessing, I like to write it down. Keeping a list of your blessings handy is a great reminder to be thankful every day!
Spending time in prayer is my favorite way to practice gratitude and start living well with chronic illness! Psalm 136:1 reminds us to, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” I try to begin each day by thanking God for the blessings He has given me. Even when my life is full of sorrows, I always have a reason for gratitude!
There you have 8 hacks for living with chronic illness. Which one do you think will help you the most? Do you have any tips for living with a chronic illness that you would add to the list? Be sure to subscribe below if you’d like access to exclusive members-only content!!!