‘Me Time’ When Coping with Chronic Illness, Part I

cars stuck in traffic “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” —Mahatma Gandhi

How many of us run ourselves ragged on a weekly basis? Spinning on the wheel of work, family, friends, appointments, and business responsibilities can leave little or no time to meet our own needs. Sometimes it’s like running on a treadmill with no “off” button. It leaves us feeling physically worn out and mentally exhausted.

Often we feel obligated to say “yes” to every invitation, opportunity, and plan that comes our way. Spending time with others and being active are behavioral coping skills I often talk about with people I provide therapy to. Being social can be energizing and distracting in a positive way.

But not having downtime or “me time” can be detrimental, especially when you’re dealing with a chronic medical condition. Too much stress can exacerbate medical problems such as high blood pressure, pain and inflammation, and headaches/migraines, not to mention increase anxiety and depression.

We all need a little time alone on occasion to recharge our batteries, meditate, and be still. Just as our bodies need time to physically recover from stress and movement, our minds need a break from the chaos and constant bombardment in today’s world.

The majority of people who see me (whether challenged with chronic illness or not) agree that “me time” is rare. Many people feel guilty for taking personal time, especially with spouses or kids in the home. Others simply have difficulty saying “no” to friends, employers, and family.

So how do we find “me time” in this fast-paced world? The first step is to prioritize so we can free up time to take care of ourselves. How does prioritizing work? Try walking through these steps:

  1. Make a list of your daily and weekly responsibilities.
  2. Prioritize your tasks into A-list (tasks that will lead to serious consequences if not accomplished today), B-list (tasks that may have a mildly negative consequence if not completed today), and C-list (tasks that have no consequence if not completed today).
  3. Ask yourself: “Am I responsible for every task on this list, or is there something I can delegate?” This is your D-list. (Examples of tasks others can do for you might include grocery shopping, cleaning, scheduling appointments, running errands, picking up the kids from school, doing laundry, making dinner, etc.).
  4. Once you find tasks others can do for you, let it go and ask for help. I know this isn’t easy for most of us, but the truth is that our friends and family want to help, especially when there is a chronic condition that limits activity. When we allow others to assist us, it helps them feel useful and valuable.
  5. Finally, work on completing your A-list tasks first and delegate your D-list. When you’re A-list is complete, move on to your B-list. If there is time, work on your C-list but don’t stress if you don’t get through your B- and C-lists; they will be there tomorrow.

These steps will help prioritize tasks, which in turn frees up time. My next article will cover how to embrace “me time” so we can effectively rest and recharge in light of a chronic illness.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea M. Risi, LPC, therapist in Denver, Colorado

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • martha

    martha

    January 23rd, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    I used to enjoy that me time so much but now that I work and have a family all of that time is gone and when I do have a little time for myself I honestly spend it pretty much thinking about the things that I need to be doing instead. Somewhere along the way I lost the ability to enjoy doing things for myself and instead have seen all of that turn into feeling guilty for the things that I p[erceive that I should be doing. No one else in the house seems to have this problem other than me and I would love to know how to get rid of the guilt and find a way back to enjoying a little more time for me.

  • Arthur

    Arthur

    January 24th, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    We must also consider the pain of those who are constantly taking care of someone in their family who is ill, how much of their own time that they give up and rarely do they get anything in return, much less time alone. This can be very stressful on anyone, but particularly for those who are seeking to comfort a loved one but then have every little time alone in which they can recharge their own batteries.

  • sandra c

    sandra c

    January 24th, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    If you have an illness like this this is the one and only time in your life when you should focus on you and only you and no one should say anything to you about it!!

    You need to discover your own dreams and desires and what better time to fulfill them than now? There may not be a tomorrow, none of us are guaranteed that, and it becomes so blatantly clear when you are faced with a disease that may or may not have a cure. Do the things that feel good to you, that make you feel your best, and there will not be a single moment of what you have left that you will regret or find that you wish that you had spent differently.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    January 24th, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Thank you for sharing, Martha! I think many people share your sentiment. Hopefully prioritizing as outlined above can help you free up some time for you. It seems others in your house can find “Me Time”…so can you ;)

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    January 24th, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    Excellent point, Arthur! Caretakers, partners, and family members are all affected by a loved one’s chronic illness and can get worn out as well. Everyone involved can use prioritizing skills and saying “no” to help find personal time.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    January 24th, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    Sandra – It is important to focus on yourself and your health when there is a medical condition. Research studies and feedback from my clients prove that our mental health is related to our physical health…one affects the other. “Discovering your dreams” can help improve mood and self-esteem, which in turn helps us feel more physically healthy.

  • sellars

    sellars

    January 25th, 2014 at 4:35 AM

    We all have so many demands on our time from outside of us that it may seem selfish to focus on the needs that we have determined are important but I assure you that what is selfish is not taking care of those needs too. You have to remember that what you have determined that you need out of life is just as important as what others have determined that they need out of life. Why should the wants of others eclipse you especially at a time when it is so imperative that you take care of your own health both mentally and physically? You can’t forget this because you aren’t any good to anyone when allowing yourself to be run down and ignored.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    January 25th, 2014 at 9:07 PM

    Agreed, Sellars. It seems selfish, but the truth is that we have to put our own needs first sometimes so we can be available for others. Thank you for sharing!

  • Logan

    Logan

    January 27th, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    I know that one of the hardest challenges that I face on a daily basis is the inability to ask others for help. I know that there are people wo are around me who would be too willing to help if only I could ask but then that is something that I struggle with! I guess it isn’t that I want to have to do everything because there are times when I need some help getting it all accomplished too but then again I feel so bad asking! Why don’t people just volunteer to help out? I wouldn’t feel like someone was stepping on my toes at all!

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    January 27th, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    I hear you Logan! I think we all find it hard to ask for help from time to time. But what I’ve found is that people are usually more than willing to help, and actually feel needed and useful when they can do something productive. Why not ask someone to pitch in?

  • Brenda

    Brenda

    January 27th, 2014 at 12:07 PM

    Logan, I too find it hard to ask. In my experience, people don’t ask either. I don’t know why. I’m only asked if I want help when I am visibly struggling to do something due to my neuropathy. I generally get the “but you don’t look sick.” It can become very depressing. Since I’ve experienced bouts of deep depression where I did very little, I’ve learned that not much is a super priority. Most things can wait.I’ve told my friend that I only “have to” die and pay taxes. She still doesn’t believe me.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    January 28th, 2014 at 7:31 AM

    Brenda – Unfortunately some people can’t comprehend how real a disease or illness is if they can’t physically see it (like arthritis, neuropathy, fibromyalgia, etc.). How do you handle this situation? Do you educate others about your illness? Do you take them to doctor appointments with you?

    Like you said, it is especially important to prioritize your “have to” tasks and not worry about your friends and family’s opinions.

  • Dawn

    Dawn

    February 9th, 2014 at 6:17 PM

    Brenda,

    Replying to your comment, making people understand who can’t understand or see your physical/mental pain has been the hugest thing I’ve been struggling with these past few months. Diseases like arthritis, chronic illnesses, auto immune are like “invisible diseases.” With all of my tests that doctor’s had done on me, there is no way for them to gage my pain levels except of how fast my heart is racing or how fatigued I am. So, it’s also hard for my boss, family, friends and relationships to see it as well. So, I’ve encouraged as many people as I can to research my illness and if they don’t, I email them specific key topics to help make them understand. Or take them to supportive arthritis meetings or counseling appointments, etc…

    If they’re people that truly care for you, they will take that openly and accept and even help you finding out extra ways to help. If not, from what I’ve found out from my own experience, that those people aren’t healthy to be in my environment. At least that’s what I’ve learned from my own personal experience with struggling to get people to understand my illness.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    February 10th, 2014 at 7:51 AM

    Thanks for sharing with us, Dawn…you gave some helpful suggestions! We all need supportive, understanding people in our lives. If we educate those around us about chronic illness and they still can’t be a positive light in our life, then they may not be healthy enough themselves to help us. Find those people who are!

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