My 5 Daily Essentials for Life With Chronic Illness

As a former perfectionist and workaholic, chronic illness has forced me to change my ways. The first five years after being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and adrenal fatigue, I was still pushing myself too hard and trying to do too much. This resulted in more frequent flare-ups, and a higher level of chronic pain.

After reading a workbook on chronic illness, I finally learned the importance of pacing myself, and using my limited energy on my top priorities. It was a humbling process to realize that with today’s energy level I simply can’t do everything I used to do, nor should I keep trying. I had to stop and think about what I find helpful to do each day, and then I made a list for my bathroom mirror to help me stay focused. It looks like this:

My Daily Essentials:

1. Prayer
2. Exercise/Movement
3. Meditation/Deep Relaxation
4. Nature
5. Create

My daily essentials include self-care for my mind, body, and spirit. I need this list in plain sight to remind me not to slide back into doing things I think I should be doing that tax my body and cause more pain. With practice, I find this simpler-focused life works much better for me. I like to start my day with a reading from an inspirational daily reader and a prayer for guidance and gratitude. When I do this each morning, I find myself better prepared to face the day.

After a nutritious breakfast, I like to do some sort of movement each day. On low-energy/high-fatigue days, often all I feel up to is five to 10 minutes of range-of-motion exercises. On better days I do 20-40 minutes of gentle yoga. I have several gentle exercise DVDs that I rotate through each week, depending on how I’m feeling. One is a simple head-to-toe series of working through each joints’ range of motion. Another is a gentle yoga program for the neck, shoulders, and back, and one for the low back and sacrum. With ankylosing spondylitis, these are problem areas for me, so it’s important to keeps those joints moving and supple.

After 30 minutes of physical activity, I need to rest, so I find this is an ideal time of day for me to meditate. Forty minutes of daily meditation has been shown to reduce chronic pain after about eight weeks. It works for me, and I find meditation’s benefits improve even more with practice. Even listening to a deep-relaxation CD for 20 minutes, not only helps me recharge, it helps prevent flare-ups. Pre-illness, I could rarely get myself to rest or meditate, but now it is essential.

For me, nature is essential to my well-being. I loved spending time outdoors as a kid, and I still do. I can’t go on long hikes like I used to, but I am blessed to live in the Pacific Northwest near lush evergreen forests and mountains. I make a point of going outside at least once a day, even in winter. It may be just for a quick breath of fresh air and to feel the brisk cold; other days I go for a short walk. In summer, I spend much of my days sitting outside on the deck. Spending time in nature helps me to thrive. Think about what would help you to thrive within your chronic illness imposed limits.

Last on my list is to create something. I don’t always get to this one every day, but it is an important goal for me. In winter, it often means baking healthy snacks (I’ve always loved to bake), adapting recipes to avoid my food triggers. Some days it means writing or sketching. In summer, I have a small food and herb garden that I love spending time on. This helps me feel like I have a goal to work toward, and a life to enjoy beyond just taking care of my aches and pains each day.

Your own daily essentials will be unique to you. For me, these are the things that I want to do every day that help me feel better and function better. If I have energy leftover after I’ve done my daily essentials, that’s icing on the cake. Many days, my energy is spent after doing my daily essentials, so I rest in bed or read in my recliner. And that’s OK. I always feel like I’ve had a good day when I accomplish my daily essentials. These essentials keep me functioning as best I can, and I’m less likely to become discouraged on a down day when I don’t accomplish anything else.

To create your own daily essentials list, keep it short, three to five major categories, or even less, depending on what is doable for you. The main thing is to work within your own limits. This list of essentials should be things you look forward to doing, or things that support your well-being and your body, mind, and soul.

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