3 Must-Know Tips for Living With a Chronic Illness

As someone who’s had lupus since 2013, I know life with chronic illness can be challenging. I now have to watch how long I’m in the sun, have an annual eye exam to ensure my vision doesn’t dwindle, and maintain my white blood cell count. 

I sometimes look back in envy at my pre-lupus years when I didn’t have worries about my health. Fortunately, over the last few years, I’ve become more comfortable with my lifestyle and have found ways to stay healthy outside of taking medications and applying a crap-ton of sunscreen each day. 

person with a chronic illness meditating

Tips for living with a chronic illness

For those going through a similar experience, here are some ways to live well with a chronic illness:

Understand the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle

Before making drastic adjustments to your lifestyle, you need to have an understanding of what “good health” entails. Nancy Mitchell, RN, contributing author for Assisted Living Center, shares her thoughts on the subject. 

“For those learning how to manage and live with chronic disease, getting the fundamentals of health in place is your priority,” she says. “This means building a consistent sleep routine, addressing your diet and any nutrient deficiencies, and doing your best to exercise as regularly as possible.”

These practices can help those with chronic disease establish a foundation of health that will carry them through flare-ups and regression, adds Mitchell. They’ll also help to eventually drive your body forward in its healing process.

If you’re unsure of where to start your health journey, speak with your chronic illness specialist (for me, that would be my rheumatologist) and a registered dietitian for professional medical advice.

Be mindful of your sugar intake

I’ll be the first to admit I love sugar cookies and donuts. While it’s perfectly fine to enjoy these sweet treats, it’s best to be mindful of your sugar intake if you have a chronic illness. 

That’s because consuming a large amount of sugar daily can cause chronic inflammation and increase the chances of developing a second chronic condition, such as heart disease. 

The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than six teaspoons of sugar daily.

Do a body scan

Living with a chronic illness often entails pain management. Aside from medication and other practices, a body scan may help alleviate pain. A body scan is a mindful practice that helps people identify and be aware of their pain in a more positive, calming way. 

“(Body scanning) involves bringing your awareness to the top of your head, then scanning your entire body from head to toe slowly by guiding your awareness to what is happening inside you,” explains Teresa Lodato, a professional certified coach and founder of Becoming Aware. “This [body scanning] is also a great technique for people experiencing pain, as making subtle adjustments in your body can help alleviate pressure points and pain.”

You can do a body scan by lying flat on the bed or floor in a quiet environment. There are a few steps to follow to ensure you have a successful body scan (check out Psychology Today’s guide for more information). The practice can last a few minutes to an hour, depending on each person’s needs. 

The bottom line: Before engaging in any of these tips, consult your healthcare provider and dietitian. Everyone’s chronic health conditions vary, so it’s best to work with your medical team before trying anything new. 

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About Taneia Surles

Taneia is a public health professional and freelance writer specializing in health and wellness content. She currently works full-time in the healthcare administration field while freelancing part-time. She has a bachelor’s degree in Public Health & Minority Health and a master’s degree in Public health with a Health Behavior concentration. Taneia aspires to become a sexual health educator working with low-income and minority communities to improve their health literacy and form her health consulting business in the future. When she's not at work or freelancing, she enjoys playing with her pets, Gooby and Jynx, journaling, shopping, and watching true crime documentaries.