Patients Helping Patients Blog
5 Ways to Have a Productive Day with a Chronic Illness
“Having a productive day is very subjective; what is productive for one person is not for another”.
Some days, I find waking up, washing and eating productive. Others assess, I am being productive when I do University work. What I have noticed though – is we all have tasks that need to be completed and this can send us into panic mode. The vicious cycle, of where to start and where to finish has a ripple effect – like a child who got denied candy at the fun fair.
If you are someone sat there reading this with a chronic illness, I am sure you have an inkling of the cycle I am talking about. If you don’t well… I sit here, in envy. What I am going to call the ‘ torrential storm cycle’ makes you question which direction to go in first. Anxiety and stress are no strangers, crawling around your body, taking its toll , physically and mentally. This post is designed to stop you in your tracks, so you aren’t continuously interrogating yourself about ability and self-worth.
“I spend 90% of my time in bed, but a chronic illness does not mean accomplishing your goals are not possible”.
Achieving those goals may just take comprise, planning and longer than you anticipated.
5 Ways to have a Productive Day with a Chronic Illness
1. Evaluate tasks ft. the spoon theory
If you haven’t heard of Christine Miserandino’s Spoon theory , it is a great place to start to help you have a productive day. The theory in a nutshell, is that anyone who is chronically ill has 12 spoons each day (each one resembling energy) and spoons are exchanged for tasks. The amount of spoons exchanged will depend on factors such as the length of the task and how strenuous. The point here, is spoon must be used wisely so you don’t burn out. By ordering tasks by importance you can identify what needs to be done on what day and start to put a plan in motion.
In reality, you may find executing a plan is not always possible. However, the spoon theory gives you a general consensus of how much you can get done in a day.
You may find – once you start having a productive day you are at the opposite end of the spectrum. At Uni, I get told a theory is just that a theory. I am taught to challenge theorists view. So it may not be a surprise to hear I wasn’t a firm believer of the Spoon theory at first. I was so productive one day I felt on top of the world. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had completed an exam, handed in an assignment, found a job, booked a flight, travelled home from Uni and packed for a holiday and cuddled my little bunny.
Shortly, after this semester came to a close – I realised I used the reserve of spoons for months. I had to fly home 3 weeks early from working abroad, quit the job I found and was behind in every subject at Uni. Barely, attending lectures and hospital appointments. What I am trying to emphasise, is pushing yourself one day really can have a detrimental effect on your health.
“You need to work out what is realistic to get done in a day for YOU”.
Which takes me to by next point…
2. Break down tasks
Breaking down tasks makes things more manageable. Something, I am training myself in like a disobedient dog. I am one of those people who seeks to think holistically to even do a task. However, breaking down tasks can relieve stress, because you know you are achieving something – which has got to be better than nothing, right?
I have found people have been more understanding about my illness when they can see that I am trying rather than wallowing in self-pity. The amount you need to break-down a task will depend on its complexity. It may be a case of trial and error, but you know your body better than anyone in time you will have this down to a tee.
If it’s something academic, you could try and break things down with titles and research areas and tie the ideas together later. You may not get the best grades you are used to due to time constraints. However, at least you will pass and can try and work harder when you are feeling a bit brighter on future work. If the task is practical, like cooking, you could do prep at a certain time and then cook later in the day. Or if you’re a little bit cheeky – ask someone to help you to make the task manageable.
3. Follow your Body Clock
Most people would say, sort out your body clock first and foremost. It may work, but it is something I have been trying to do for over 10 years. My body just likes to be up during the night. The fatigue and pain is more manageable after I have digested by one meal per day.
“To have a productive day you must follow your natural body clock”.
You don’t want to set yourself up for failure by taking a U-turn and trying to achieve tasks when your energy levels and pain threshold is low.
“Remember you can always move tasks to another day as long as you’re motivated to accomplish them”.
4. Relax… just not too much
Whether you have a chronic illness or not, everyone should take time to wind down. If you’re fortunate enough TAKE a bath, or go and visit someone who does! Watch a comedy, listen to music or sit in silence, do what works for YOU. I am not saying you are not going to wake up still feeling fatigued because you probably will BUT subconsciously your body and mind is still getting a valuable break and you get a hint of happiness. I find relaxing whilst doing a task slowly usually gives me the right balance. However, this may not work for everyone.
“Just remember, don’t relax too much or you won’t get anything done”.
5. Relieve stress with a pet
Patting pets are proven to having a calming effect on humans (Rodriguez, 2012), which may help you to think more clearly and be more productive! It is ideal if you own a pet and go and give them love when you are stressed and they are in a good mood. If your pet is moody, trust me try hugging your friends’ pet or the other four tips AND come back to this one later. When my pets are hungry they treats me like food and it makes me feel rejected and has the opposite effect. If you cannot keep an animal, I suggest you look out for the nearest dog on your walks or go visit an animal shelter. That way you can have your rare day out, killing two birds with one stone.
This blog was written by Morgan Shaw and originally posted on her blog, Brains & Bodies, here.