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Managing a long-term illness is a job within itself, its relentless and requires all of your time and attention. The most basic tasks become exhausting. The constant medical appointments fill you with dread, and trying to balance everything else on top of it can lead to chronic illness burnout.
Have you ever skipped an appointment because it was all too much? Or ghosted your friends and family because you felt like giving up? Me too.
Managing a long-term illness is no joke. Life is hard as it is, but when you throw a life long illness into the mix, eventually, you’ll burnout.
What is burnout?
The World Health Organisation officially recognised burnout as an occupational syndrome. Which is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by workplace stress. In can happen when you feel overwhelmed, exhausted and unfulfilled.
Apart from exhaustion, those experiencing burnout can also feel helpless, sad, have decreased levels of productivity and feelings of resentment.
It can also affect your health, making you more susceptible to things such as cold, flu and other health issues.
Is Chronic illness burnout a real ‘thing’?
Although burnout is said to result from workplace stresses, it can also apply to those of us living with chronic illness.
A study led by Adrienne Martinez-Hollingsworth, PhD, RN, PHN looking at burnout amongst health care professionals and patients, showed that it’s much more than just an occupational syndrome.
During the research, a group of varied patients, health care providers and caregivers were put together for several workshops.
This is where they helped come up with a new model of burnout, which included the patient’s as well as provider perspectives, now known as The Burnout Dyad Model.
The model condemns hierarchy in clinical settings, that often puts the needs and wellness of healthcare providers above their patients.
According to Adrienne Martinez-Hollingsworth, PhD, RN, PHN “the Burnout Dyad Model identifies patient factors as playing a role in provider burnout and recognizes that patients may also experience burnout,”
Basically, all burnout is equal!
Although chronic illness burnout isn’t an official diagnosis. I’m pretty sure those of us living with chronic illnesses will agree that it is, in fact, a thing.
What causes chronic illness burnout?
Chronic illness is exactly what it says on the tin, chronic. Meaning long term or lifelong!
Remember, I mentioned earlier that burnout is officially classified as being caused by chronic workplace stress?
Well, chronic illness, which I’m sure you’ll agree, is a full-time job!
We have a lot to contend with, from:
- The physical and mental effects of our illness
- Back to back medical appointments
- Dealing with the side effects of medications
- Sleep issues
- Juggling our health and family life
- Coping with negative feelings about our illness
- Trying to maintain confidence and positive self image
- Chronic illness affecting our career, finances, and relationships
- Brain fog
- Having to plan your time, activities and life around your illness
That’s just to name a few. It’s exhausting.
How many times have you felt hopeless, or just wanted to lie in a dark room to avoid all the things that come with managing your illness?
Plenty of times, right?
Looking after our basic needs on top of our illness is exhausting, which can inevitably cause us to burn the fuck out!
Unfortunately, this is a job we’re stuck with!
How Do You Know If You’re Burnt Out?
Chronic illness burnout can cause you to feel mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. Leaving you feeling angry, hopeless, or drained by your illness and all that comes with it.
It can manifest itself both physically and psychologically.
I know I’m burnt out or reaching that point when I isolate myself and avoid everyday tasks because I’m exhausted by chronic pain.
Here are a few more common signs of chronic illness burnout to look out for:
- Constantly feeling tired or drained
- Weakened immune system and getting sick frequently
- Avoiding or not carrying out responsibilities, such as attending medical appointments
- Worsening of your symptoms or illness
- New symptoms or aches and pains
- Digestive issues such as nausea and loss of appetite
- Feelings of helplessness
- Isolating yourself or feeling alone
- Low mood or depression
- Lack of motivation and having a negative outlook
- Feeling anger or frustration because of your illness
- Sleep issues
5 Ways to Tackle Chronic Illness Burn Out
I’ve mentioned this a thousand times and I won’t stop mentioning it–setting boundaries is important!
Particularly when you’re managing chronic pain or any long-term illness. It’s an act of self-care.
Knowing when to say no can be hard, but it’s also a key part of managing your illness.
Whether it’s turning down social invitations because your body needs rest. Setting boundaries with your friends and family. Or setting personal boundaries to not push yourself beyond what your body allows.
Each boundary will be different depending on the person or situation. Don’t be scared to put them in place to take care of your health and manage your illness.
Those that don’t respect your boundaries don’t deserve a place in your world.
Build & lean on your support system
Trying to cope with everything on your own is not only exhausting, but will eventually make you burn out.
As I already mentioned, chronic illness is a full-time job and sometimes we need co-workers to make things a little easier.
With that being said, it’s also important to have the right people around you. Who you surround yourself with will influence on how you manage your illness.
So be mindful and keep positive, honest people around you that have your best interests at heart.
It doesn’t have to be a load of people or just friends and family. Our lives comprise so many moving parts.
So, it could be a supportive friend that listens to your concerns and needs.
A family member that helps you get to and from medical appointments.
An employer that puts adjustments in place to help you best manage your illness and do your job.
Or a doctor that listens to your health concerns and puts in place the right tools or treatment plan.
The choice is yours.
Asking for help may make you feel like a burden, but don’t let that stop you from leaning on your support system when you need help.
A healthy support system won’t ever judge you or make you feel like a nuisance.
Make self-care a priority!
Managing a chronic illness alongside career, family and the needs of others is never ending.
So, taking time out to prioritise self-care may seem unrealistic and unachievable. But it’s so important!
I’m not saying you must do weekly spa-days or face masks. Self-care is more than just that.
The World Health Organization describes self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker”.
Those of us living with chronic illness can all agree that stress plays a major part. I know that when my stress levels are high, my chronic pain flares up even more.
So, practice self-care by managing your stress levels. Listening to music and spending time alone helps me destress. It’s helps me disconnect from whatever is stressing me out and redirects my attention.
Perhaps you could try journalling, meditation or breathing exercises? Find something that works for you.
Cut yourself some slack!
Beating yourself up about the things you can’t do, or the invitations you have to turn down, is a normal response to living with a chronic illness. But it also burns you out mentally.
Trust me, I know it’s hard, but reframing the way you view yourself and other things can make so much positive difference.
Rather than focusing on the things you can’t do, focus on the things you can. Find value in your day-to-day.
Ok, you might not be well enough to go to every social event, but you’re still the person who your loved ones can rely on when they need someone to talk to..
Focus on all the things that make you an amazing person, rather than the things that chronic illness has tried to take from you.
Seek professional help
If you’re stressed, confused, or worried about your illness or symptoms, seek professional help.
Being anxious, or unsure, can contribute to stress, anxiety and depression and eventually lead to burnout.
Not only that, but we all know that chronic illness has a major impact on our mental health.
So, speak to your doctor about how you can manage both the physical and mental effects of your illness.
A good doctor will find the right tools and create a treatment plan to help you manage both.
Just cure the illness…
In an ideal world, we’d just cure the illness and although sometimes that is possible, that doesn’t apply to all. Which is why we should find the best ways to manage our illness and deal with the burnout it may cause.
A cure is ideal, but what’s most important is taking care of our mental and physical health, right now, to help us have a better quality of life.
What are some ways that you manage chronic illness burnout? Share your tips in the comments.
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