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My 7 Life Hacks for Living With a Chronic Illness

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Living with a chronic illness, such as pulmonary hypertension (PH), can require some adjustments in your routines. Once I was diagnosed, it became clear my daily routine would have to be adjusted. Suddenly little things I never thought twice about became a challenge, and even an obstacle sometimes.

But there are shortcuts, or life hacks, I have added to my routine to make life a little easier and to save more of my energy. Here are a few:

Hack 1: Bird baths

Am I the only one who finds showers really exhausting? Sometimes a full shower isn’t necessary. Instead of having a full shower I will have what I refer to as a “bird bath,” where I quick hop in the shower with a shower cap on, or fill the tub with a bit of water to freshen up. If you find your hair gets greasy in between showers, a dry shampoo might be a good investment. You may want to purchase an organic dry shampoo that is free of talc, or a waterless foam shampoo to use just at the roots. I have bangs, which is the only thing that looks a little questionable on second-day hair. Bangs absorb natural oils from your forehead and moisturizer, so they can look a little piece-y or curly on day two. No problem! I quick-wet my bangs and blow dry as usual, but leave the rest of my hair the way it is. A beach spray helps reactivate my curls, and I go in with a wand to fix any misbehaving pieces. (Sleeping in a “pineapple” also helps preserve your curls if you have curly hair.)

Hack 2: Save steps

Do you live in a home with lots of stairs? Do you try to avoid them at all costs? I do, and sometimes it can be challenging to go upstairs just to brush my teeth, or grab a sweater or lipstick, before going out. To avoid having to go up the stairs for a single item, I try to bring down with me what items I may need during the day. It also is a good idea to invest in some items you can keep on the main floor to avoid that extra trip upstairs, such as a spare mouthwash.

Hack 3: Prep meals

When you are not feeling well, chopping vegetables and cooking probably is one of the last things you want to do. If you are able, set aside some time on a day when you feel well enough to plan your meals. Use ingredients that can work in several other meals and save them for leftovers, or freeze them for another day. There are restaurants near me that make low-sodium, fresh vegetarian meals. My lovely parents go out and get some of their delicious specials for me to freeze and eat whenever needed.

Hack 4: More accessible spaces

Unfortunately, the world isn’t fully accessible to everyone’s special needs. I’ve gone to many places, from a tea shop to a concert venue, that simply aren’t designed with accessibility needs in mind. Sometimes accommodations can be made; sometimes they cannot. If you are unsure if a place will be accessible, call ahead, let them know your needs, and see if they are able to work with you to create a solution. Don’t be afraid to make changes around your living space to make your direct world more accessible as well. When I was first diagnosed I had a stool in the shower to help make it a little easier. I also changed my wall shower head to a hose shower head, which made it easier to rinse my hair.

Hack 5: Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your support system. There may be some tasks that are challenging for you, but they could do almost effortlessly. Chances are the people in your support system won’t mind helping you. I still live at home, and vacuuming is a chore that is no longer an option for me. However, I am able to use a Swiffer on the hard floors in the house. I also empty the top rack of the dishwasher. I leave the bottom rack for my parents because they are able to bend easier than me. It is a small task, and when we divide by ability, it makes the job easier for everyone. I’ve also interviewed a woman named Elsa for my blog. Elsa has lived with PH for several decades and has a difficult time cleaning the house and running her own businesses as a hairdresser. Her solution? She hired a maid. I know that hiring a maid may not be financially feasible for everyone, but if it is an option for you, it could be a great way to save your energy for other activities.

Hack 6: Plan ahead

You may not always be able to plan your day, but planning ahead can help make for smoother sailing. If I know I am going out, I will have a smaller workout and save my steps for whatever activity I will be doing later. Planning ahead also helps me know how to get ready for the day, and what to pack with me, from medications to an extra sweater, or snacks that fit my diet because I know they aren’t available everywhere.

Hack 7: Self-care

Self-care is a necessary step to help you recharge physically and emotionally. Do whatever you need to take care of yourself. For a lot of people the idea of self-care may seem indulgent, but that simply isn’t the case. If you have a difficult time practicing self-care, there is a technique where you imagine yourself as a young child (visualize how you were around 5 years old.) How would you take care of yourself? Some people are more inclined to practice self-care if they can view themselves as a child. Self-care can range from taking naps when you need one, staying inside your house and wearing sweatpants on extra tough days, or treating yourself to a cup of your favorite tea while watching an episode of “Veronica Mars” and treating yourself to a piece of dark chocolate.

What life hacks would you add to this list?

A version of this post originally appeared on Pulmonary Hypertension News.

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Originally published: November 26, 2016
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