How do you manage your chronic health condition at work?

Good afternoon,

I hope you have all had a good week, I know for many this will have been the first week back to work after the Christmas and New Year break.

It’s been a busy week for me, with a return to client work and starting a new job! This was me on my first day:

 

I am really interested in this blog post to discuss how it is managing a chronic health condition, whether that be chronic pain, or other health condition such as MS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, stress, depression…and either managing the requirements of your current job, or getting back into work if your condition has meant that you haven’t been able to sustain a job, or find work.

My own personal experience covers all of the above! 

In the past having to leave what I thought was my chosen and destined career path within the NHS, due to developing chronic pain and other personal circumstances at that time.

Then having a number of physically demanding jobs that would contribute to the boom and bust cycle that I discussed in an earlier blog, meaning that I spent a lot of time in the bust part of the cycle. In pain and unhappy.

Then struggling to find a job that suits my ultimate career aspirations whilst not escalating my pain levels.

It can be a long journey to finding your ultimate job, or choice of career that suits the best management of your health condition and gives you the job satisfaction and personal fulfillment that ultimately we all want.

In my experience not working can lead to social isolation, loss of self-esteem and confidence, leading to a worsening of the health-condition anyway. So finding the right job can be life changing – boosting self-confidence through interacting with co-workers and customers, having a sense of purpose and something to focus on in life other than the pain (or other distressing symptoms that you may have).

Ultimately the right job can boost the self-management of your health condition, as there is a real link between mental health and physical health.

What job might you want?

This is a really challenging one, especially if like a lot of people you may have found yourself following a career path that ultimately pays the bills, but isn’t 100% what you want to do, leaving you feeling stuck and unsatisfied.

How could you find a job that you want, or a new career path?:

Vision boards:

 

 

Here are a couple of really useful article as a starting point to what vision boards are about and how to make one:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-rider/the-scientific-reason-why_b_6392274.htmlu

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Vision-Board

 

Similar to the self-care wheel that I discussed in my last blog. You could create a vision board to work on one particular area of your life, in this case your career aspirations. Or you could create a number of vision boards to cover lots of different areas of your life that you would like to develop.

Then dream big! Write words associated with your dream job, find pictures, quotes, objects that are associated with thoughts and feelings to do with this dream job. Put the vision board up on the wall and keep looking at it and working on it.

Then when you are happy with the vision board, you might then want to talk through the ideas that have come up with a trusted friend, or relative. A life coach, or counsellor could be useful here too, to gain clarity and see what steps you could take in the future to start to build experience and work towards the dream you have identified.

I will use counselling as an example.

If you decided you might want to become a counsellor in the future but wasn’t 100% sure that this was the right path for you, or you didn’t have any experience of a job role like this. You might start by investing in a short course that you could do that would give you a flavour of what was involved in counselling. I know many colleges offer a counselling introduction course that is typically around 10 weeks long and could be offered as a day time, or evening course. By doing this course you wouldn’t have to invest too much time, or money, but you would get a good idea of what was involved and good experience that could assist you in your next steps (further study, or getting a care-related job role).

Free online courses that you could explore are available at:

1. Open Learn: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/

Open Learn Logo
Free modules on various subjects from the Open University.

2. Future Learn: https://www.futurelearn.com/

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Free modules on a range of subjects from various Universities.

Along with a short education course you may decide to explore volunteer work that could give you a flavour of what it is like to work as a helper in a helping capacity.

Two related volunteer roles that I had at the start of my counselling journey was as an Assistant in the Inpatient Unit of a local Hospice, delivering teas, coffees and meals to patients and their visitors and I also worked as a Welcomer/ Receptionist at a local counselling agency, welcoming clients to their appointments, answering the phone and taking cash and card payments for appointments. Both related to counselling and both roles requiring a commitment of a couple of hours per week.

 

How to manage chronic pain at work?

In my experience there are a number of strategies that can be useful to managing chronic pain, so that you can perform effectively whilst at work.

I will share a few of the best ones that have worked for me. I would welcome any suggestions of things that have worked for you in the comments. Let’s get a discussion going and see if we can help each other.

  1. Self care

    Self care here can include making sure that you take your medication on a regular basis. Ensure that you adequate food and fluid intake throughout the day. Try to get adequate sleep every night, or if you have broken sleep that can often occur with chronic pain, maybe include a nap in the day. All of these simple self care activities can help you to ensure that you can maintain your energy levels and your concentration throughout the day.

 

  • Regular appointment with a counsellor
    In my experience a regular appointment with a therapist can be revolutionary in chronic pain management. Enabling you to ‘get things off your chest’ and to reduce stress levels. Put simply, stress can lead to increased physical tension in the body and this tension can increase pain levels.

 

  • Physical exercise, stretch breaks.
    I know that physical exercise can be extremely difficult if you have chronic pain, or any other chronic illness. But in my experience regular physical exercise and keeping the body moving can be very beneficial to pain management. This could be something as simple as going for a short walk in your lunch break, or getting up at regular intervals from your desk (maybe once an hour) to stretch and walk around for a couple of minutes to minimise stiffness and pain from prolonged sitting.For me yoga is extremely helpful to maintaining strength and flexibility. I would recommend that it’s helpful to discuss your physical conditions with the teacher before the class, so that they can offer you modifications to the moves in the class if required. Hopefully it will help you to feel more comfortable in taking breaks during the class as well, if your teacher is aware that you may need to do this.

 

  • Meditation/ pacing.

 

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This one goes without saying. I am a huge advocate for a regular meditation practice (even 10 minutes per day) and pacing of daily activities, so that you can sustain your activities without getting into bust mode and having a pain flare, that means you can’t do anything!

I hope these ideas have been a useful starting point to your reflections. Any questions please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me.

 

Warm wishes,

Mary

 

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