If you’re suffering from a long-term illness, the last thing you might be thinking about is indulging in self care.
But language is important, and chronic illness self care is not “indulgent”— it’s necessary and in many instances vital.
Here’s what to consider if you’re suffering from a chronic illness and you’re interested in learning more about self care.
What is a Chronic Illness?
The language around chronic illness is also important, and shouldn’t limit your need for seeking care. The Centers for Disease Control defines chronic disease as a condition that lasts one year or more,1 while the National Cancer Institute says it’s one that lasts for three months or longer.2
Most would consider chronic conditions being heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis, but should also include those that “require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.”3 That means other conditions like COPD, asthma, and depression can also be considered chronic illness.3 Chronic pain conditions like endometriosis and those that may limit your lifestyle, such as incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse, can also be considered chronic conditions.
There’s also the possibility that a strict definition of chronic illness and recommendations for its management will be missed by those who do not know that the information applies to them.3 What’s more helpful is a simpler definition: a condition that is “continuing or occurring again and again for a long time.”3
What’s important is that self care is considered part of your treatment. Researchers have shown that “self-care is a fundamental element of treatment for patients with a chronic condition.”4
What Does Chronic Illness Self Care Look Like?
If you have a chronic condition, there are significant potential benefits of self care.5 Past research into self care has defined healthy behaviors as physical activity, dietary intake and medication management.4 But there are gaps in limiting self care to those acts.
Self care should be considered more broadly: actions you can take to lead a healthy lifestyle, to meet your social, emotional and psychological needs; to care for your long-term condition; and to prevent further illness or accidents.5
The reality is that self care may look different for each individual, depending on their background, expectations, and the condition itself. What’s vital is that self care is included as part of a “whole system” approach, allowing patients to receive information they need, along with support and guidance from practitioners and a healthcare system that is responsive to your needs.5
Managing your own self care can also be seen as adapting to your condition, and learning ways to “live well” with your illness. It means reclaiming a sense of order and moving forward with your condition, based on your abilities and priorities.6
See a Doctor
Chronic illness self care looks different for every person, and can be different depending on your condition. What’s vital is that self care is part of your health care plan. The goal is to retain quality of life and feel hope for the future.
Use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you who can help with information and guidance on your self care journey, so you can live your best life despite your chronic condition.