Health Lifestyle

Self-Care Tips That Chronic Illness Patients Need

I hope everyone’s January and 2021 are off to a good start! This time of year is often thought of as being a time for starting over or starting new habits. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been much of a “resolutions” person, but one thing I am working on this year is trying to find some balance in my life. This is for a variety of reasons, but a main one is because I haven’t been practicing enough self-care. I can tell because when I think about it and I do it, I definitely feel better. Self-care is crucial for everyone, but especially for people with chronic illnesses. In this post, I’m going to explain what self-care is and why it’s especially necessary for chronic illness patients, and then I’ll share some self-care tips specifically for chronic illness patients.

I am not a medical professional of any kind! Please talk to your doctor and/or therapist before making changes. Additionally, this post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting Kate the (Almost) Great!

Practicing self-care is incredibly important, but people generally think of it as doing a face mask. In this post, a long-time chronic illness patient shares self-care tips that chronic illness patients specifically need to practice, and why to practice self-care in general.

What Is Self-Care?

In order to practice self-care, it helps to really get what self-care actually is.

PsychCentral says, “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others” (x). Since it can impact various forms of our health, it’s so important to do. The Internet’s view of self care tends to be painting your nails, doing a face mask, and lighting a candle. While that can be a form of it depending on the person, it’s a very one-dimensional look. After all, if you don’t like painting your nails, doing so isn’t going to improve your mental health. You need to find what methods will work best for you.

In my case, sometimes self care does look like painting my nails, doing a face mask, and lighting a candle. But that’s because I like all of those things and I’m an introvert, so I recharge by spending time by myself. For me, it can also include meditating, reading, going to bed early, not looking at my phone for an hour or two, and taking my medications on time. Basically, there are so many ways to practice self-care!

Free printable to prepare you for chronic pain medical appointments

Why Practice Self-Care?

Forbes has an article that puts the answer to this very nicely: “To keep up with this roadrunner form of living, we don’t think twice before putting self-care on the back burner. More often than not, it takes a wake-up call to notice the toll this kind of lifestyle takes on our lives. No matter how indulgent or fancy the term may sound, self-care is crucial for our physical, emotional and mental well-being. You shouldn’t neglect self-care” (x).

Self care is literally about taking care of yourself!

Things like eating 3 balanced meals a day (whatever that looks like for you) are self-care because you’re taking care of yourself.

Things like cutting out negative self-talk are self-care because you’re taking care of yourself.

Things like drinking enough water are self-care because you’re taking care of yourself.

verywell mind says, “We are all less able to handle the stresses that come our way when we’re depleted by physical and emotional exhaustion. Or, put in a more positive way, we are more resilient and more able to handle life’s stress when we are feeling our best both physically and emotionally” (Emphasis mine) (x).

Self-care is not going to look exactly the same for every person. For example, if your body is unable to process lettuce for whatever reason, eating a salad is not going to be self-care. Similarly, while drinking 8 glasses a water a day is great for most people, it’s nowhere near enough for me because I have POTS.

That brings us to the real point of this post: self-care tips for people with chronic illness.

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Self-Care Tips That Chronic Illness Patients Need

Get rest when you can – Rest is so important for chronic illness patients, but it’s also something that can be hard to get. So when you’re able to truly rest, you should definitely get some! If you’re relatively new to chronic illness/having a diagnosis, you might not really get why this is important or why resting is so much more important to you now. One way to explain this is through Spoon Theory, which was created by Christine Miserandino.

She says: “I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted. Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a ‘loss’ of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in [my] case Lupus, being in control” (x).

Every little thing I do as a person with too many chronic illnesses and chronic pain requires energy. (Especially because fatigue is a symptom of literally each of my illnesses.) So, for example, I’m starting off with less energy than my sister does as a healthy person, and even if we do the exact same things, some activities that don’t cause her fatigue do cause me fatigue. Obviously, she is still going to be tired at the end of the day, and she’s still going to be tired after a day at an amusement park. But the difference is that I would get tired at the amusement park a lot quicker than she would, if I went at all. That’s what the spoon theory analogy helps explain.

If you’re having trouble getting actual rest, ask yourself if you’re trying to really rest or to just take a break. Yes, there’s a difference! I take a lot of breaks, but working on this blog (for example) isn’t resting. I love it, but resting is watching TV or reading, not listening to music while writing 1,500-3,500 word blog posts and running 4-6 social media accounts. I’m trying to get better at resting before I need to, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not there yet.

How to actually rest when you take breaks

Self-care tips that chronic illness patients need Click To Tweet

Try using multiple pill boxes – Hear me out on this. Yes, it’s more work to fill 2 or more pill boxes at once, but this made my life so much easier. So how is this self-care? Because it makes sure that you take your meds!

If you’re on a lot of medications like me, you probably hate refilling your weekly pill box because it’s time consuming. When I was in college, I might have been good at taking my pills once they were in the pill box, but I wasn’t good at refilling the pill box every single week, so there would be times when I wouldn’t take my medications as directed for several days in a row after emptying my pill box. To prevent this, I have two pill boxes now so I only have to refill them every two weeks instead of every single week, and this means that I’m way less likely to miss a dose.

Pill boxes/containers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and there are options depending on how many times a day you need to take your medications. Here are some fun ones, all of which are under $10: 7-day, 3-times a day pill case where you can remove each day; 28-days, 1-time a day pill case7-day, 4-times a day stackable pill case where you can remove each day; 2 packs of 7-day, 4-times a day pill cases; 3 packs of 7-days, 1-time a day pill cases that are shaped like slices of citrus fruits (you can also order just 1); 7-days, 4 times a day pill case that comes in a wallet-looking container where you can remove each day.

Hacks for living with chronic conditions

Set alarms for taking your medications – Again, this is to help make sure you actually take the medications prescribed to you. I take medications at least 4 times a day, so it’s easy to miss one or more dose. I started having alarms go off on my phone to remind me to take my pills. I don’t have any sound that goes with it (it just pops up), but it’s a good reminder. I set it for later than I would normally take my medications so it’s used to ask myself, “Have you taken these yet? No? Go do it.”

I also included a pill emoji in the name of the alarms so that I can tell what the alarm is for at a quick glance. (I’m kind of Type A, so I have a minimum of 8 alarms set any given time.) I’m way better at taking all of my medications now than I was in college, so I often have already taken my medications before the alarm goes off, but if you’re struggling to take all of yours, you should definitely look into doing this.

Establish a night-time and/or a morning routine – Having a dedicated way to start or end the day can help you in a variety of ways. For me, having a nighttime routine gets my brain and body in the zone to go to sleep and to unwind, which is good for my quality of sleep as well as falling asleep quickly.

There are a couple of components to my evening routine. One is that I try to tidy up my room by the end of the day, as having a clean room improves my anxiety and working from home usually involves working in my bedroom, making it more important to tidy it and also more difficult to keep it tidy. I try to also update my planner, where I track how I’m doing on my habits and update my to-do list as necessary. I also complete my night-time skincare routine and brush my teeth, and I give my cat her medication.

I don’t have a super intense morning routine, but I do intentionally get up nearly 2 hours earlier than I need to for work, depending on what time I start work that day. I really need those hours for my mind and my body, as I my rheumatoid arthritis involves morning stiffness.

If I’m lucky, my morning stiffness only lasts around 30 minutes, but if I’m near to needing my RA infusion, it can take 2 hours. I try to give myself 30 minutes to just zone out, catch up on miscellaneous stuff on the Internet, etc. The other 30 minutes, I use to do morning blog stuff. I manually pin 5-7 pins on Pinterest, make new pins on Canva for existing posts, and promote a new blog post if I have one. Then, I get ready for work or the day.

A day in the life

Unfollow, block, or mute people on social media who stress you out – Honestly, my favorite social media tool right now is the mute button on Twitter. Even before Twitter removed Trump, I had him muted because I didn’t want to see him on my timeline any more than necessary. I mute conversations on Twitter all the time, usually because someone has mentioned me in a tweet (like a #FollowFriday post) and other people are responding to it. I also turned off Twitter notifications on my phone, which has made a huge difference.

You should also unfollow and/or block people who stress you out. The benefit here is that your timeline won’t include these people. Unfollowing works on Facebook, too – you can unfollow someone while not unfriending them. So if there’s someone in your life who you feel like you have to remain Facebook friends with, but you really don’t want to see their posts, you can unfollow them and they won’t know.

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Trouble with one of your doctors? Look into other ones – There are a lot of things that you can do before you get this point, but at the end of the day, you are the one in charge. You are the patient, the one the entire appointment is about. Sometimes these doctors forget that and they just think of us as their 9 o’clock. If you are in the position where you can see a different doctor (at that practice, at a different practice, at a different hospital, in a different city), try out someone else. It can be hard to make this decision, but you deserve better. You deserve to see a doctor who listens to you. So if they’re not listening, fire them.

Try finding a new hobby if you can’t do your old one(s) any more – Something I think everyone should have is a hobby that doesn’t bring in money or could be a “side hustle” and is just used for fun. In this world, side hustles are often needed in order to make ends meet. But having a side hustle in addition to a “regular” job means that down time isn’t really down time. It’s important to spend some time not working! (Wondering why? Scroll back up to the section on resting!)

Of course, given how chronic illness impacts patients, you might not be able to do what you used to do, and that includes your hobbies from earlier in your life. If that sounds like you, it’s time to explore other hobbies. Last year, for example, I got into herb gardening!

7 ways for chronic illness patients to practice self-care Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, self-care might look different from these suggestions for you depending on your chronic illness and life. What brings one person joy might not affect another person, and what aggravates one person’s illness can improve someone else’s. You alone what works for you and your body!

If you have a chronic illness, what are your key self-care tips?

Like this post? Share it! Then check out:

Living Life with Chronic Illness: Common Problems & Their Solutions, The Impact of Chronic Illness on an Individual, How Chronic Illness Impacts Relationships, Chronic Illness Advice: Resources for the Newly-Diagnosed Patient

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  • Reply Sarah

    Aww, I love all of these tips, Kate! Self-care is so important for everyone, and it’s often simpler and easier than people make it out to be. I like how you focused on health necessities in your post’s perspective since managing our health is one of the most important ways to care for ourselves. 🙂

    January 17, 2021 at 10:09 am
  • Reply Kait

    These tips are all so fantastic! I especially love the one about cutting out people from social media, and finding a new doctor. I think sometimes I forget that’s even an option when it comes to my physical and mental health.

    January 17, 2021 at 4:16 pm
  • Reply Emily Bendler

    I think these tips are good for anyone. As a busy working mom of 3 I so easily forget myself. I love having a morning routine and supplement reminders. Even reminders to just get up and move.

    January 17, 2021 at 5:30 pm
  • Reply Patricia P

    Self care is very important. It is especially important for chronic illness. These are some great tips. Thank you for sharing.

    January 18, 2021 at 8:32 am
  • Reply Suzzi

    These tips are great for anyone and very good reminder to look after yourself too

    January 18, 2021 at 8:34 am
  • Reply Lisa

    I don’t suffer from any chronic pain, but I could use these tips for me too. Great post.

    January 18, 2021 at 10:42 am
  • Reply Stephanie

    These are excellent tips. I was diagnosed with my chronic illness almost 7 years ago now. It’s been so challenging to learn how to cope. But over the past year or so, I’ve actually found my groove more than ever before (thanks pandemic). Now, I find so much joy in my morning and nighttime routines, my hobbies, and honestly YES… a hot bath or time for a face mask as often as I can as well. Indulging is definitely a form of self-care. And my biggest one? READING. As often as I possibly can. Something I can do even with a horrific flare-up!

    January 18, 2021 at 5:44 pm
  • Reply Sarah

    These are all great tips. I totally agree with changing doctors. This isn’t the same as chronic illness, but I had a rough pregnancy and didn’t like one of the doctors. It took me a while to realize I actually could switch doctors and didn’t have to stay with that one. It was so much better when I switched.

    January 19, 2021 at 9:26 am
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