Lana Barhum is a legal assistant, patient advocate, freelance writer, blogger, and single parent. She has lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008 and uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness.
I know first-hand how overwhelming life with chronic illness can be. It is a struggle just to get out of bed every morning. You live with the understanding that there are just some things you can no longer do. Too many of us look at the future with uncertainty and do not have enough people in our lives who understand our daily struggles.
For a long time, I felt that living with chronic illness made surviving daily life a struggle. It was overwhelming to keep up with my housework, errands, and job and to be there for my kids. But, with time, I have developed my own set of solutions to keep myself from getting overwhelmed. These have become a way of life for me.
Here are five solutions that have benefited me as I live with chronic illness and manage its effects on my busy and often hectic life.
1. Choose not to be critical.
Be kind and good to yourself, and learn to not be critical. Many of us experience an internal dialogue, and we don’t always realize that it’s in our power to make that dialogue positive.
Think about it this way: we would never be critical to strangers. Learning to not judge yourself harshly, encourage yourself, and acknowledge your achievements are amazing gifts. Offer yourself compassion and kindness to cope with the emotional effects of chronic illness. I understand that we are all busy people with jobs and families, but loving you and offering compassion to oneself doesn't require you to do anything physical or difficult.
2. Pace yourself and prioritize your responsibilities.
Chronic illness causes physical limitations, and it is hard to predict what the day will bring or how you will feel. When you are feeling well, you feel the need to do more, so pacing oneself becomes a priority. Learn your limits, and don’t go beyond them. Recognize that pain is a sign that you are overwhelmed.
If you want to be productive without sacrificing your heath, determine which tasks are most important and rank items in order of priority. This way you can conserve your energy for what is most important.
3. Simplify life to minimize stress.
When you feel overwhelmed because you have too much going on, it is a signal you need to simplify your life. Take a look at your life and make a determination as to what things are making you feel overwhelmed. What things need to be taken care of and what things can you let go of?
If you find ways to simplify life, you can manage stress effectively, and you won’t overwhelm yourself emotionally or physically. Assign responsibilities and chores to family members and friends if you can. Shorten trips and activities when you are able to. You can also find ways to relax through exercise, prayer, and deep breathing. Last and most importantly, let go of trying to live up to the expectations of others, and don’t take life so seriously. Keep life simple and try to enjoy every day.
4. Adjust and adapt.
Chronic illness makes us powerless, and we struggle with the idea that we can somehow will our lives to be what they were before chronic illness. Often we think that if we deny we are sick, we are changing ourselves and losing the future.
But just because we don’t want chronic illness to control our lives does not mean we can ignore that it is a part of our lives. Flare-ups will break routines and force us to either give up or adjust and adapt.
Have a back-up plan for when chronic illness forces you to deviate from the norm. Learn that it is okay to change plans and that this is just a part of life. If you are willing to understand that plans have to change but not be ruled out altogether, change won’t feel as bad.
5. Look for balance.
It is important to find a balance between being sick and living your best life despite chronic illness. When you are feeling overwhelmed, it means something in your life requires balance. Are working too hard or do you have too much to do? Is your home life suffering and are you not able to spend time with your spouse or kids? Do you have time for yourself?
Recognize what is overwhelming you and take your life back.