Working As a Nurse When You Have a Chronic Illness

Nursing can be tough work. It is physically and emotionally taxing. But in addition to the usual stressors of nursing work, a surprising amount of nurses are battling their own chronic illness day-to-day. This makes their work even harder.

So how do you stay sane, minimize stress, and still do your nursing job when you are living with a chronic illness? Of course, not all chronic illnesses are the same, but here are four tips that may help.

  1. You Are Entitled to Breaks. Take Them!

There is a running joke in nursing that we do not have time during a shift to go to the bathroom. Some nurses end up charting during their breaks or doing other work-related tasks. Whether you have a chronic illness or not, the law (in most parts of the world) stipulates that you are entitled to adequate breaks. We all need them. But you especially need them if you are coping with a chronic illness.

When we do not take breaks, we overstress the body. For most chronic illnesses, stress exacerbates symptoms. Take your breaks. If you are unable to, discuss this with your direct manager. This is not optional.

  1. Work Shifts That Most Agree with You

In our article on Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD), we discussed the possible implications of working shifts that do not agree with your personal constitution. If you have a chronic illness, you may be especially vulnerable to SWSD. Here is a reminder of a few typical symptoms of SWSD:

  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Low level of energy throughout the day
  • Poor mood & irritability

As much as you can, make every effort to only work shift times that do not aggravate your condition.

  1. Get Help When Needed

Nobody is a super nurse. If there are times you are struggling but a co-worker has more time/capacity than you, ask for help. As we all know, asking does not necessarily mean you will receive. But you do know for sure that if you do not ask, you will not receive.

Speak up for yourself and get help before you are feeling overtaxed. Always remember that nursing has a high burnout rate and one of the reasons is overwork and overstress.

  1. Rest

When you are not working, rest. This sounds obvious, but it is typical for us healthcare workers to lead busy lives, whether working or not. Make sure you let your body have the time it needs to rest and recuperate. In between shifts and on days off, schedule ample time to give your body the break it needs.

It is common for nurses to care for everyone else but themselves. We will sacrifice our own health time and time again to care for our patients, family, friends. But this does not serve anyone, especially you.

The most important person you can care for is yourself. You come first. Without caring for yourself, you are unable to care for anyone else. Remember that you are your #1 priority during the times when you are on the fence about taking time to rest or do self-care. This is not selfish. It is the most giving thing you can do, for yourself and for others. Coping with a chronic illness is not easy. Learn to manage your work and your illness to minimize overstress and exhaustion. You deserve it. 



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