Self-care for living with chronic illness


It can be quite a blow when diagnosed with a chronic disease such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, etc. Know that it’s normal to experience a range of emotions in the wake of your diagnosis but know that you can live a fulfilling life. After the shock of your diagnosis and the rollercoaster of emotions have subsided, it’s time to learn about self-care and how it can become your guide for living your best life.

What is self-care for a chronic condition?
Self-care is any action taken to proactively take care of your health, physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s about taking responsibility for your health with your care team. It’s about doing all you can to help yourself by making good choices, being physically, emotionally and mentally active to live your best life with a chronic condition. Self-care is empowering.

Physical self-care is about promoting and maintaining a healthy body. This includes eating properly and exercising regularly.

Mental, or cognitive, self-care is any activity that keeps your mind engaged in an effort to remain focused and sharp, cognitively. Practicing cognitive self-care helps you make good decisions.

Emotional self-care is about taking care of your feelings via uplifting activities that make you feel good such as enjoying your hobbies, staying in touch with friends and family and doing kind things for others. 

Full disclosure—practicing self-care is not easy and takes commitment and effort. However, this commitment empowers you to navigate challenges is a healthy and productive manner. All you put toward self-care can pay huge dividends when dealing with issues and challenges concerning your chronic disability. Self-care provides the tools to cope and make healthy decisions with confidence. But the very best tools that self-care for a chronic disability provide are hope and empowerment, which are the direct result of the practice of consistent emotional, mental and physical self-care.


How to create a self-care plan
An effective chronic disability or illness care plan requires two things. First, it needs a devoted care team with you at the center. Second, it requires active, involved supporters such as your physician, social worker, caregiver, family and friends. They are your care team.

Your self-care plan is your roadmap to set goals and guidelines that support your physical, emotional and mental health. Meeting with your physician is an excellent place for guidance to begin the creation of your care plan.

Here are some tips created by the National Institute of Health to consider as you begin to create your self-care plan: 

  • Get regular exercise.

You don’t need to have full mobility to experience the health benefits of exercise. However, If disability or illness has limited your mobility, there are still plenty of ways to exercise to boost your mood, relieve stress, help your self-esteem and improve your outlook on life.

  • Eat healthy, nutritional meals and stay hydrated. A healthy, balanced diet plus plenty of water can boost your energy. Don’t overdo it on caffeine. 
  • Set a sleep schedule. The important idea is to stick to a schedule.  
  • Try relaxation. Try relaxation exercises. There are apps for your phone to help you with relaxation. Some enjoy journaling, others meditate or do breathing exercises. 
  • Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you feel like you’re taking on too much. Think about what you have accomplished, not what you couldn’t do.
  • Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down at night, or replay them in your mind. 
  • Focus on positivity. Identify and challenge your negative thoughts. 
  • Stay connected. Reach out to your friends or family members who can provide emotional support and practical help.

Something to consider as you establish your goals and routines is that there is help available for you to help you reach your goals. For example, if you need help preparing nutritious foods consider having a caregiver for a few hours each week to do it for you. They can grocery shop for you and prepare your nutritious meals. And most importantly, they can be a part of your care team to help you reach your care plan’s daily goals. Plus, a caregiver is someone to talk to and help you with other parts of your care plan. Calling SYNERGY HomeCare is a great start.

Don’t let your condition limit you.

Get out your paper and pen to begin designing the self-care plan that will complement your daily routine and provide motivation to live your best life each day.


  • Martha M. Funnell, MS, RN, Fam Pract Manag. 2000 Mar;7(3):47-51.
  • National Institute of Health