19 Ways to Make Working with Chronic Pain and Fatigue Easier

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Last Updated on September 17, 2021 by melissanreynolds

How can you work with chronic pain and fatigue? Working when you are in pain and when you have a chronic illness is no easy feat. Actually, it’s pretty darn hard.

Sometimes fibromyalgia, chronic pain and fatigue are defined as a disability. That depends on your location in the world. This post assumes you are able to work, but need some support to do so. This may mean rethinking what work looks like.

In this series I am sharing ideas to manage fibromyalgia, chronic pain and chronic fatigue at work and my story in case it helps you in your journey. For some context: I have had chronic pain and fatigue for the entirety of my working life, so I have had to manage pain and fatigue every single working day of my life.

19 ways to make working with chronic pain and fatigue easier

I won’t share about legal requirements of companies and employers because it differs from country to country. But do check your rights.

This article from Harvard Business Review states that “over one-third of Europeans aged 15 years or older and nearly 60% of adult Americans are living with at least one chronic illness. Chronic illness can last from several months to a lifetime and can take many forms: arthritis, musculoskeletal pain, diabetes, asthma, migraine, blood disorders, cancer, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune disease, and a range of mental illnesses like depression and debilitating anxiety. Each year, depression or anxiety account for up to 50% of chronic sick leave in Europe.
Despite this omnipresence, leaders are overwhelmingly unprepared to support chronically ill employees.”

how can i work with chronic pain and fatigue

So it is high time to start supporting those who are chronically ill in their efforts to remain in the workforce. Or there won’t be a workforce.

As a person who has worked in full time office jobs, worked part-time, worked from home and created my own business I can tell you that none is easy when you have a chronic illness. They are especially hard when your employer doesn’t understand your condition and is not/cannot accommodate you.

The good news is that there are many things we can do ourselves to manage our work and our illness so I will share some ideas for you.

Of course, how well you manage at work will likely be a reflection of your overall health. Bookmark these posts to come back to:
Ultimate guide to managing fibromyalgia
Managing chronic fatigue
My Favourite Five Books About Fibromyalgia

Ways to work with fibromyalgia, chronic pain and fatigue?

  • Modifications to your work station (ergonomic assessment)
  • Using a discreet heating pad
  • Have healthy snacks and loads of water
  • Appropriate breaks – you tea breaks but also micro breaks. Productivity research shows the ideal work to rest ratio is 52:17 (52 minutes work to 17 minutes of rest), but I doubt that will go down well with your boss. So at least 5 minutes every half hour during sustained computer work, stretch and look away from the computer. And a couple minutes here and there to stretch fingers and gently shake out your hands.
  • If you usually stand for work, try to sit in your break (and raise your legs if possible). If you usually sit try to walk for part of your break.
  • Stretching- discreet regular stretches and full stretches where possible (if it’s not possible at work then at home).
  • Meditation- during longer breaks and/right after work
  • Breathing – regularly! Feeling tired, sore or stressed? Inhale for four, pause for two, exhale for six.
  • Use your sick leave when you need it.
  • Use the physical therapy that works for you (I highly recommend a gentle version of dry needling by a physiotherapist, but check out this post on saving money on Physical therapy).

Flexible work options to negotiate:

  • Reduced and/or flexible hours
  • Set yours hours to earlier or later according to your best energy envelope.
  • Working reduced hours – as an example I did well on an 8.30am-2.30pm schedule prior to children. Even earlier than this, and when I was not earning enough to work much less I reduced from 40 to 37.5 hours (to 9am-5pm).
  • Reducing one day a week (as an example, when I first went back to work after my first child, I had Wednesdays off with him which helped a lot. Though its not exactly a day off to be with a busy toddler, but the switch helped).
  • Condensed workweek may help some, if you’re already getting ready for, and going to, work, then you could work your hours across four days and have three days for rest.

After work

  • Rest
  • Get to bed at a decent hour
  • Do Yoga Nidra guided meditation either straight after work as a rest or right before bed to encourage relaxation and good sleep.
  • Use your coping mechanisms (warm bath, heat pad etc.)
  • Do some restorative yoga to reset the body and relax.

The benefits of working from home with chronic pain and fatigue

  • Using what you need more easily to manage pain such as aromatherapy, heating pads, topical ointments etc
  • Using your breaks to meditate or sit with heating pad
  • Reducing fatigue from commute
  • Setting up the work station exactly as you need including lighting levels and other sounds/lack of

Some countries have organisations that will assist you with equipment to set up a work from home situation.

how can i work with chronic pain and fatigue

Yoga for chronic pain and fatigue at work

Obviously I have a load more to say about using yoga to help you manage chronic pain and fatigue at work, but this post got quite long. This post is a bullet point, cliff notes to get you started today.

If you need help creating your plans, enacting them and short and simple yoga practices for your workday – then join us here. This is the guide I wish existed back at the beginning of my journey, in those days I was desperately trying to manage with high levels of pain and fatigue.

need some help working with chronic pain and fatigue? Join the working with chronic pain and fatigue program

Your turn:

Tell us what helps you manage at work in the comments.

And pick at least one thing I’ve offered here to try this week.

5 thoughts on “19 Ways to Make Working with Chronic Pain and Fatigue Easier

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these great tips. They’re tips I wish someone had told me and things like yoga, breathing and taking rest breaks are things I wish I prioritised before becoming unwell. One of the hardest parts of chronic illness is losing our ability to work and our financial independence, especially as I was self employed. Your tips are so useful and will really make work life easier for so many, thank you.

    1. melissanreynolds says:

      You are so welcome, thanks for your comment, Lucy! I hear you on the lose of independence. It took me so long to take the leap into proper pacing (meaning less work hours) because the doctor at the time discouraged me knowing that I’d have less money but still symptoms. If only she’d known how much it would change my life! I really hope this post helps someone manage a little easier at work because it is so important to be financially independent where we can.

  2. Wonderful tips and advice, Melissa. I’ve been working from home since 2009 and these tips are all part of my regular ‘work day’ at home. Unfortunately, businesses in Taiwan will not work with flexible hours which is why I ended up leaving the workforce here and starting my own business. I was able to implement better decisions for my health by doing so. I’m sure many patients will benefit from this article!

    1. melissanreynolds says:

      Thank you, Carrie! It is such a shame that flexible and part-time work is still so undervalued. Even with the research showing that less hours can lead to more productivity! All of these tips would have helped me to manage better when I was working outside the home too.

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