“When people get diagnosed with chronic conditions, oftentimes they’re very motivated to change everything at once, which can be overwhelming and hard to sustain,” says Amy Walters, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the director of Behavioral Health Services for St. Luke’s Humphreys Diabetes Center in Boise, Idaho. Instead, focus on incremental changes that can help you bring more control into your life and make managing an illness easier, whether you’re the patient or the caregiver.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
When someone is dealing with a chronic condition, they may have to scale back on how much they do each day. “Maybe in the past you could go out and run errands all day long and now that you’re experiencing significant fatigue, you’re good for about an hour and that’s it,” says Walters. “You need to plan around that and pay attention to your body’s needs.” It’s normal to yearn for the energy you once had, but remember that while things are now different, they can still be good. Focus on activities you can still enjoy, and find hobbies that fit your lifestyle.
2. Gather the Right Recipes
“Addressing your diet is a big deal because we know that no matter what chronic disease you have, it can be impacted by diet and lifestyle,” says Sarah Cawley, a physician’s assistant at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine. Ask your care team for advice on the kind of diet you should be following. They can help you look for condition-specific guidelines and recipes. If you have a heart condition, the American Heart Association offers heart-healthy diet advice. And if you have high blood pressure, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests low-sodium meal ideas.
3. Get Moving
You might not always feel like exercising, but regular movement is a great way to up your energy and mood. In fact, a 2015 review found that physical activity yields positive returns across a variety of chronic conditions, from easing pain in osteoarthritis sufferers to improving blood pressure control among diabetics. Physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to make a difference, either. Brisk walks, gardening, and water aerobics all count. Talk to your doctor to discuss the routine that’s best for you.
4. Activate Your Support Network
“When we look at the research on outcomes for people with diabetes and other chronic health conditions, having a strong support system is definitely predictive of better outcomes,” says Walters. Asking for help isn’t always easy, but that shouldn’t stop you. Walters suggests this script: “When someone says, ‘Is there anything you need? Is there anything I can help with?’ respond by saying, ‘Yes. Actually I would love some help. What are you open to doing?’” Making it easy for friends to help, while allowing them to play to their strengths, will be a win for both of you.
5. Simplify Your Medication Routine
“When you take multiple medications it can start to feel like ‘Groundhog Day’ because you’ll feel like you just did it, but now it’s time to do it again,” says Walters. Routines, like taking your medication at the same time every day, can help you stay on track. Find a reminder system that works for you, whether that’s a pillbox, checklist, medication log, alarm reminders on your phone, or sticky notes around the house.
6. Prioritize Sleep
If you have a chronic disease, getting adequate rest is important in making your disease more manageable. But shut-eye is important for caretakers, too. Without enough sleep, “it’s much more difficult to be level- headed through any sort of caretaking scenario,” says Walters. “So optimizing your sleep by getting at least seven to eight hours of high-quality sleep is really important.”
7. Streamline Your Paperwork
When you’re juggling multiple doctors, as well as medical tests and procedures, the paperwork piles up fast. Getting organized can help. First, rely on your primary care doctor to be the quarterback of your care team. He or she can help you oversee your specialist visits, review test results, and maintain records of your health history. Help your primary doctor stay in the loop by keeping good records when you see specialists.
“Keep a binder with your medical history, medications, recent test results, the names of different specialists or people who are on your care team,” says Cawley. If a binder isn’t your thing, try a folder in the cloud through a site like Dropbox, or an app on your phone. You can also create an email account that you use only for medical-related reasons.
Copyright © 2020 Rally Health, Inc. All rights reserved.