A full-time job can be demanding, even more so if you have a chronic health condition. Nearly half of all American adults have a chronic health condition, which is defined as a physical or mental condition that lasts more than a year, causes some restrictions in their ability to function, or requires ongoing monitoring or treatment.1
Medical visits, hospitalizations, and illness flare-ups all add up in terms of lost income and time off work. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 75% of all healthcare spending in the U.S. goes toward treating chronic diseases. This translates to an estimated $5,300 per person per year.
When you have a full-time job and a chronic medical condition, you have to balance the needs of your job with the needs of your health. Working too much can worsen your chronic disease, but taking too much time off can affect your employability. This is especially true for people who have less-visible chronic health conditions. However, there are several steps you can take to foster professional success while protecting your health.
Self-care takes time, but the adage is true: You cannot care for other people if you don’t take care of yourself. Self-care is an essential part of managing your chronic disease. Time spent caring for yourself will result in less time off work and being better prepared to achieve high job performance levels.
Self-care components include:2
- Nutrition: buying, preparing, and consuming a nutritious, whole-food diet. Avoid processed foods and consume healthy sources of protein and fat.
- Stress management: making time for hobbies, exercise, and activities you enjoy to reduce stress.
- Social habits: spending time with family and loved ones reduces stress and improves your quality of life.
- Sleep: practice good sleep hygiene and get 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night.
- Exercise: depending on your health condition, aim for 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
- Set goals: set personal and work-related goals and track your progress toward achieving them.
- Build a team: health professionals, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, physical therapists, friends, neighbors, and relatives are all potential team members to help support your efforts to manage your chronic disease.
- Healthcare: keep your appointments, get lab work done, and take all prescribed medications. Take care of your mental and emotional health as well.
Taking time for self-care and balancing home life, work needs, and your health can be even more challenging if you have your own business. Read 6 science-backed self-care tips for entrepreneurs to learn how to better manage work, family, and health demands.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was uncommon and hard to get. Necessity is the mother of invention. Employers in all sectors showed that remote work is possible in more ways than anyone could have imagined. Working remotely frees you from demands that may drain your energy.
Commuting can be a challenge for anyone, especially people with mobility issues. Remote work opens more career possibilities for people with disabilities, allowing them to work in a comfortable environment that reduces stress and anxiety.
Working remotely can increase productivity without increasing work hours. Whether it is workplace dramas or unnecessary distractions, working remotely gives you more control over your work environment.
Remote work can offer a more flexible schedule, which makes it easier for people to work when they have the most energy and to make medical appointments. Setting a schedule based on an individual’s productivity levels instead of when an office is open can also mean greater productivity for the business. Of course, this is not always possible, especially in service-oriented industries.
Whether your chronic health condition affects your immune system, is affected by stress levels, makes it difficult to be mobile, or causes increased fatigue, remote work may make it easier to work.
In many ways, healthcare for managing chronic diseases is coming out of the medical setting and entering homes. Wearable devices may improve the quality of life for people with chronic diseases as they collect health metrics anytime and from anywhere. Devices are now available to measure oxygen saturation, temperature, exercise, blood sugar, blood pressure, and much more. This makes it much easier to notice trends and catch changes in our health earlier. It also gives you feedback on how self-care is impacting your overall health.
Remote patient monitoring is a more formal monitoring system. Apnea, heart rate and variability, oxygen saturation, positional trackers, and blood pressure monitors can send a constant data stream to your healthcare provider. Artificial intelligence can evaluate large amounts of data and organize it. Patient monitoring that previously would have required an extended hospital or rehabilitation center stay can now be done from home.
Using a telehealth service, you can schedule appointments or even see a medical provider on the same day, all from the comfort of your home or office. This saves time and money. Besides the worry of taking time off work and setting appointments based on a provider’s schedule, people with chronic diseases also risk catching an illness while at their medical appointment that could lead to extended time off work. A remote doctor’s visit may be the safest and most convenient option for everyone, but especially for people with chronic health conditions.
See a doctor online and experience the benefits of telemedicine. Once you do, you will probably want to receive as much of your healthcare online as possible. It is so much easier to integrate telehealth into your healthcare routine than it was in the past. Your online doctor can diagnose most medical conditions safely and securely via a phone or video call. If you need a prescription, they can transmit it electronically to your pharmacy. It can then be delivered to your home or picked up at your local pharmacy.
If you are interested in telehealth but have questions or are unsure how to start the process, Telegra MD has resources and answers to your questions.
Disclosing your chronic medical condition to your employer can be stressful. You don’t need to tell anyone about your health unless you want to, but if you need accommodations or your health condition affects your job performance, you may need to disclose at least some information to your supervisor and ultimately to human resources if you need more frequent breaks or a different work schedule. Be straightforward and disclose details about your chronic health condition only to people who need to know them.
Prepare for this conversation by knowing your rights and what accommodations you need. Focus the conversation on the accommodations you need to be as productive as possible at work. Be as specific as you can and only share as much information as you need to help your employer understand how your chronic health condition affects your ability to work in the job environment.
If possible, delegate tasks inside the home and workplace to prevent burnout and make it easier for you to focus your energy on more important tasks.
It can be hard to ask for help. Start with your manager or supervisor. Discuss your current limitations and ask for help in identifying tasks that can be delegated to others. Prioritize your tasks. Pass the less critical ones to others so you can focus your energies on the more important tasks. Cross-train in your department to make it easier for people to cover for each other. This will also normalize the idea that people need to help each other.
It is important to strike a balance between protecting your health and meeting your job responsibilities. Delegating tasks can reduce stress and help you manage your workload, leaving more time for self-care.
Set clear boundaries about what you can and cannot do. Establish the importance of keeping your medical appointments early on. Give as much notice as you can about upcoming appointments, but make it clear that your top priority is to keep them.
Be clear and consistent when discussing your workload expectations, working hours, and roles. Be consistent in enforcing these boundaries. Set realistic expectations about what you can and cannot do and stick to them.
Finally, it is important to see if your chronic health condition qualifies as a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not provide a list of disabilities. It defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life areas, has a history or record of such an impairment, or is perceived as having such an impairment.
ADA is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against anyone based on disability. The ADA applies to any employer with 15 or more employees. Learn more about these workplace requirements at Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance for employers.
Telehealth services, remote monitoring, and remote work may make it much easier to overcome some obstacles people with chronic health conditions face as they balance the demands of their job with protecting their health.
- Raghupathi W, Raghupathi V. An Empirical Study of Chronic Diseases in the United States: A Visual Analytics Approach. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Mar 1;15(3):431. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15030431. PMID: 29494555; PMCID: PMC5876976.
- Tulu SN, Cook P, Oman KS, Meek P, Kebede Gudina E. Chronic disease self-care: A concept analysis. Nurs Forum. 2021 Jul;56(3):734-741. doi: 10.1111/nuf.12577. Epub 2021 May 3. PMID: 33938572.