When running a business or working in a busy job, it is easy to get swept away by all the pre-occupations of life and put self-care at the bottom of your priorities. Yet, self-care should be at the top of the priority list for everyone and even more so when you have a chronic illness.
Self-care is the act of taking little steps or sometimes larger steps to take care of your mental and physical wellbeing, so that you are able to perform well in other areas of your life. You might think that your life is too busy and that you don’t have time to do those self-care activities. However, if you were to prioritise self-care you would find it much easier to focus at work and to complete all those life activities in a timely manner. Self-care also effects all of those around you. If you’re feeling more relaxed and replenished, you will find it much easier to take care of others, be more patient and be present for those around you. Self-care isn’t selfish, in fact it’s the opposite. By showing yourself self-compassion, self-respect and kindness you’re improving your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around you.
If you have a chronic illness, then self-care is an important part of your treatment and care. Self care can help you maintain and even improve your health and wellbeing. It is also important in helping you to maintain good mental health. Self care, when you have a chronic illness is more than taking time for yourself and doing relaxing activities, it also means taking responsibility for the management of your health and being proactive in taking action to maintain and even improve your health.
In order to prioritise self-care, I recommend a couple of techniques that you can incorporate into your daily life.
The first is to keep a list of activities that make you feel better when your health conditions is flaring. I don’t know about you, but when I’m struggling with my health and have exhaustion and brain fog, I’m unable to think clearly about what would make me feel better. So having a list on my phone and one printed out of all the activities that can help, reminds to take actions that will really help. Have a brainstorm of everything that helps. Whether it is a reminder to drink water, eat some protein, listen to relaxing music, take your medication or grab a hot water bottle. Whatever can help you, add it to your list. You might find that you want to keep several lists depending on your symptoms, so you might have a list for migraines and then a separated list for severe exhaustion. Keep a list on your phone and print one out and put it somewhere you’ll remember. Tell you family about your list too so that they can remind you if needed. Then, when you’re struggling with a particular symptom, look at that list and choose one or two activities to try. I find this really helps me because I often can’t think clearly and forget to do things that would make a difference, so by writing it all down, it is quick and easy to remind myself to take some self-care steps.
If you would like ideas on self-care activities, I have a free download, which breaks down self-care activities in to different topics and can act as a reminder for you. You can find the link at the bottom of the page.
Another way to ensure you focus on looking after yourself is by adding self-care activities to your to-do lists. Most of us have to-do lists, to manage tasks on a daily or weekly basis. But for most of us they contain tasks that we have to do, rather than tasks that are good for us. Our to do list often takes precedence over everything else and we feel guilty for doing activities outside of that list. In my Entrepreneurs against the Odds group, I suggest to all of the members to add self-care activities to their to do list every Monday. That increases the importance of those activities and makes them much more likely to achieve them. I also ask them to share their self-care activities as this makes them accountable for actually carrying them out. It really does make a difference if you prioritise your self-care and see it as important as the other items on your to do list. So, on a Monday morning, think about what would have a positive impact on your life and add those things to your list. It might be exercise, a walk in nature, a nap or even a dance round the living room with your kids. Then schedule those activities into your schedule and make them non-negotiable. If you’re having a busy day and don’t think that you can fit them it, then that is even more reason to make sure you do, as the stress of a busy day can put a lot of pressure on your health. It is also worth tracking the impact that these activities have on your day and on your health and tweaking them if they are not quite working for you or increasing them if that would help,
Other things that you should be paying attention to are sleep, nutrition and exercise. Sleep is incredibly important when you have a chronic illness as it while you are sleeping that your body heals itself. Yet, for a lot of us with chronic illnesses, insomnia can be a big problem. If your sleep is a real issue then you can try and get referred to a sleep clinic, which can really help. Otherwise, there are some steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene. Such as setting the same bedtime every night and allowing yourself a period of time beforehand to wind down. It is really important to have a good sleep routine to highlight to your body and mind that it is time to unwind and get prepared to sleep. I will cover sleep in another blog in the future to go into it in more detail.
If you have a chronic illness, it is also worth assessing your diet to see what affects you. Keeping a food diary for a month is particularly worthwhile. In it you can record what you eat and how you feel. Then you can look back at it and see whether there are any patterns. It’s not a simple process, but over time and by doing some analysis, you will be able to work out whether certain foods make your symptoms worse, and whether other foods give you greater energy.
Exercise is an area where it will depend on your health condition. For some conditions, doing any form of exercise can make symptoms worse. However, for other conditions, doing gentle exercise can make all the difference. Walking is a particularly good form of exercise for people with chronic illness who can tolerate it. As well as being great for your body, it can also be wonderful for your mind, especially if you are mindful of your surroundings while walking. It also provides a great opportunity to take in some fresh air. If you can walk in the countryside or in a park, it is even better as I’m a strong believer that spending time in nature is good for the body and soul. If you are unable to tolerate exercise, spending time sitting in the garden or the park can really help as well.
Finally, being aware of your limitations and honouring them is a great form of self-care. Knowing when you need to take a break from work, or when you need to tell someone that you can’t help them, in order to look after yourself is incredibly important. When you run a business or have a job and also have a chronic health issue, it is easy to do too much. However, having the strength to step back, analyse how you’re feeling and then decide whether you’re able to do that piece of work at that moment or fulfil that social commitment will really help. It is also very important to forgive yourself if you are unable to do something that you had planned. You must show yourself kindness and self-compassion whenever possible.
Self-care is one of the most important strategies that you have in your working toolkit. Knowing how to look after your mental and physical health and put that first will make a huge difference to your working life. So, have a think about what self-care strategies you’d like to add to your daily life and make sure you add them to your to do list. Self-care really should be a priority