Achieving a health work/life balance with any long-term health issue is no easy task. As someone who has lived with a long-term health condition for nine years, I would like to add a preface to this article. I want to start by saying straight away, without having met you, if you have a long-term health condition that you are doing amazingly well. To read an article like this means that you are determined, you have the courage to face each day and you are doing everything you can to live as fully as you can. Long-term health conditions, in all their many and varied forms, are hard. As a reader, you may be a person also living with a condition or illness and by clicking on this article, I think it is important for you to realise how much you have to offer. At the same time remember to be kind to yourself, that is a true need.
Below are some tips and tricks that I have learnt along the way about work/life balance. These ideas are just that – ideas that have helped me. Long-term conditions can limit or alter one’s life dramatically, their effect on you may be variable from day-to-day, from hour-to-hour. You may be able to work more, or less than the person next to you; or not at all. Wherever you are on that spectrum, you are doing just as brilliantly as the person next to you, your journey is yours and there might be tips that help you that I haven’t included.
This is vital. If your energy and concentration levels are impacted by your health issue you will have probably already learnt the hard way that you only get a certain energy quota per day, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. To pace does not mean using all that energy in the morning and then spending the entire afternoon on the sofa, with blinds down and paracetamol at the ready. It means to spread your energy out throughout the whole day – or if you feel the repercussions of exertion for a few days – throughout the whole week. By spreading your energy into manageable chunks, you will be able to concentrate better and produce a better quality of work. By pacing, you will also have a better chance of finding that work/life balance or ‘happy medium’. In the simplest sense, your middle ground will be somewhere roughly in the middle of what you can do on your best day, versus what you can do on your worst or bed-bound days. Having that middle point as your guide, whether that is four hours or twenty hours, means that you are being realistic and know what you can give each working day.
Part of pacing is being able to set realistic goals and you can only set realistic goals when you have mastered pacing. For me, these goals include lots of rest breaks in between a few high energy tasks and having lots of free time to prioritise work before any recreational activity. If you are working and it is possible, try to mix small admin tasks with intense concentration tasks to avoid burnout. It is important not to set your expectations to an unattainable standard as this will only lead to disappointment, self-loathing and feeling unwell.
Be open with your employer about your condition and what support you may need
To be able to find a good work/life balance you need to have a happy work environment. This involves having an employer that understands and accommodates your needs. By being open with your employer from the outset about where you may need support, facilitates an open and trusting relationship both ways. It means that you have a better chance of discussing flexible working options and job-share roles. Having flexibility in your work life is important when struggling with a long-term health problem. Due to the variable nature of your condition, you may be able to work more hours one week than the next and this is where flexibility is key.
Rest days in between working days
However your condition affects you, be it a lot or a little, it does affect you. Your body is contending with something outside of regular external stresses of life and work and for that reason, it is important to be kind to yourself, to listen to your body when you need to rest and to factor in this time to recharge. Resting in between working ultimately helps your productivity and you may find it stops you becoming unwell as frequently. This could involve naps, or simply sitting in the quiet and meditating or watching something you do not have to concentrate on so that your brain can rest.
Find that balance
This article is not just about managing work with a long-term health condition but it is also about ‘life’. Remember to pace, set realistic goals, rest in between work tasks but also make sure to factor in enough energy to see friends and family, to exercise (if you can) or to simply have your own hobbies outside of work. Just because your energy is limited does not mean you are limited to “working”, “resting” or “socialising”, you require a balance of all three.
Article by Molly Latham. Molly loves writing and likes to use words as a way of helping others. Having a chronic illness and disability means she has a unique insight, that she feels can be used to help others understand and support each other. In her spare time, she loves baking, reading and making new friends. She also loves going on walks in the countryside with her boyfriend and dog.