One of the most commonly reported symptoms of chronic illness is fatigue. It is more than just feeling tired, as it continues even after getting plenty of rest. Fatigue is a deep, intense feeling of weakness and heaviness that your mind and body can experience for different reasons. Many people describe it as having heavy weights attached to different areas of their body preventing them to doing simple life tasks.

Let’s talk about seven ways to help boost and manage your energy with a chronic illness.

1 – Listen to Your Body

As a person with chronic illness, you are one of many people that experiences changes to your body on a daily basis (many that can be uncomfortable, to say the least). Here’s the hard part… fatigue can occur at any point of the day.

Ask yourself this question: Are there certain times of day or specific activities that make me feel more fatigued? No matter what or when, the key is to 1) acknowledge/accept it and 2) give your body what it needs.

Accept it?! What? I know, it may sound dismissive to some, but let me explain… Chronic illnesses require you to accept that your body requires more time and care to function than others. It’s simply a fact and part of your reality now; and that’s okay! Your role is to become more aware of when fatigue is presenting itself in your body so that you can respond as needed.

Example: You’re getting ready to leave the house in the morning, but once you get dressed, you don’t even have the mental or physical energy to prepare breakfast or let the dog out… This is your body’s way of communicating that is needs something. Listen!

2 – Monitor Your Body’s Energy Level

There are some amazing benefits to knowing your energy levels throughout the day. After all, you are more likely to enjoy activities when you have more energy. Looking ahead in your day, consider whether or not your body is able to handle what comes up next.

A fellow chronic illness warrior and advocate, Christine Miserandino, posted an article called “The Spoon Theory,” which describes her journey with Lupus and how her energy levels change throughout the day. The Spoon Theory encourages listening to your body by becoming more aware of how many “spoons” you have available to use throughout the day. Those with chronic illness inherently begin with less spoons (energy) than those with “normal” levels of health. Take a look at her article here to learn ways to keep track of your own “spoons” each day.

3 – Simplify Your Routine

One of the most important adjustments you can make with fatigue is simplifying your routine throughout the day. That doesn’t mean you won’t do some things you enjoy; instead it means that those activities must be considered in the grand scheme of your day (and week) to make sure you have enough energy to take care of other life tasks (i.e., hygiene, take out the dog, eat dinner, complete a work task, etc.).

Big questions (in tantrum voice): “But how do I do that? How do you expect me to simplify all of these things when they all have to be done?” Well, let’s first take a deep breath and remember that this process takes time, but you can’t realistically do everything at once. You will do each thing one at a time.

Let’s try an exercise:

  1. First, write down everything you typically do during the day (even the small activities you may not give much attention to).
  2. Now, consider how much energy is required to do those things.
  3. Take a moment to notice where your energy levels are often depleted…

If your energy levels are depleted before you get through the rest of the day, it may be helpful to 1)  remove some things off the list for the day 2) space activities out or 3) move rearrange the order of the activities/tasks to give your body time to recuperate. This leads me to my next point.

4 – Prioritize Your Needs

Taking activities for the day off of your list/schedule can be frustrating and defeating, but it is necessary sometimes in order to maintain some sort of healthy balance in your life while living with fatigue. Prioritizing what you do can ensure you do things of importance with realistic expectations. So, let’s consider ways that you can do things you love in the most logical way for YOU.

Example #2: You enjoy exercising but notice that your fatigue sets in later in the day, making it hard to go after work. Prioritizing your needs can look like scheduling your exercise earlier in the day or even changing the intensity and duration of the exercise to best accomplish your goal realistically.

Here are some benefits of prioritizing your needs when planning tasks:

  1. You become more aware of the difference in your needs vs. wants
  2. You’re in a better position to put your needs FIRST
  3. You may feel better (physically and mentally)
  4. More enjoyment and energy with completed activities
  5. Feeling more accomplished
  6. Feeling more sense of control with energy and chronic illness symptoms
  7. More confidence in communicating your needs with others

5 – Set Boundaries

A boundary is a rule you make FOR YOURSELF that determines what you will or will not do, because crossing that line will bring more consequences for you later. They help you stay on track by only doing things that are beneficial for your health (even if the surroundings and people around you suggest you do something different).

Here are some common examples of poor boundaries with chronic illness and fatigue:

  1. Working overtime despite feeling tired and in pain
  2. Taking on more responsibilities/activities on the job, school or home when currently struggling with basic tasks
  3. Staying up late to watch a show when you have an early morning (knowing your body needs X amount of rest to feel well)
  4. Eating inflammatory foods at the cookout despite knowing its negative affects on your body
  5. Planning to attend 4 outings this week without considering how much down time you need to recuperate

Setting a boundary for yourself ensures you do things of importance without harming yourself or jeopardizing your health along the way. Ask yourself FIRST: What does my body need? What will likely happen if I do XYZ? Is this outcome avoidable? If so, how can I help myself accomplish this realistically? If not, what’s my alternatives?

The answers to these questions often mean you can do certain things through prioritizing tasks (as mentioned before). Other times, making a rule to protect your health and energy level may be best. These boundaries can help you to maintain a certain amount of energy, and for some… avoid a flare and high levels of pain.

So, even if you decide to go out, give yourself a set time to leave instead of staying too long. For some, it’s best to plan ahead for someone else to drive you. Perhaps scheduling 4 outings isn’t best, but maybe plan one and attend another if feeling up to it.

6 – Communicate your limitations with others

It is important for you to communicate your limitations with others, because they may not always know that they exist. After all, you don’t have FATIGUE or CHRONIC ILLNESS written on your forehead.

Communicating how you feel can be challenging sometimes, especially when you don’t want to appear incompetent, incapable or a burden (as many often report feeling). However, communicating what’s happening SUPPORTS you meeting your needs. Informing others when you’re not feeling energized or well enough to do something gives them the opportunity to help you accomplish them. The conversation can focus on what is realistic for you in that moment.

Consider what will happen if you don’t expressing what’s happening… Will you overstep a personal boundary out of guilt or feeling obligated? Or will you perhaps feel worse later? Maybe even feel resentful of others because you think they don’t understand what you’re going through? I hear you.

The built up energy and stress of holding these thoughts inside will eventually become more harmful for you, which is what you’re hoping to avoid. It’s okay to speak up and ADVOCATE for your needs. Your mind and body will thank you later.

mental health services Maryland7 – Follow medical recommendations

After receiving your diagnosis of a chronic illness, your doctor likely provided information describing symptoms, recommended treatments and potential side effects. Be mindful that all of these recommendations are based solely on YOUR needs, and may not look like the next person. What is important is that you develop a routine that incorporates all the recommendations necessary to live an optimal quality of life with your chronic illness.

Here are some common medical recommendations for managing or decreasing fatigue:

  1. Take medications as prescribed
  2. Exercise (based on your body’s needs – stretching, yoga, walking, etc.)
  3. Drink water
  4. Eat a healthy diet

If you notice that your body starts to feel worse or that some symptoms are not improving, contact your doctor to discuss the concerns. Request information on alternatives as available.

Next Steps for Fatigue and Chronic Illness Support

Trying to get through your day while managing your chronic illness and fatigue can literally be exhausting – both physically and emotionally. Speaking with a therapist who is knowledgeable of chronic illnesses can help you feel heard and supported. It can be a much needed space to unpack all of the sudden changes in your life, including ways to develop helpful routines to manage your energy levels.

Adorned with Life, LLC provides mental health therapy to teens and adults who are living with chronic illnesses and the emotional toll that it can bring. We can talk through your personal experiences, build more supports and help you learn components of living a life of wellness. Although you cannot control certain aspects of your illness, your mindset and intentional actions afterwards are big steps for healing and feeling in control.

You can schedule your first appointment with me by booking a 15-minute consultation call using this link.

The Spoon Theory written by Christine Miserandino

20 Strategies for Fighting Fatigue from Chronic Illness