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Managing a good work-life balance can be tricky. Add an unpredictable factor such as asthma, and you might feel like you can’t manage. You may feel you can’t do what you’d like to do and that important aspects of your life get neglected.
Often, one of those aspects is your social life.
Maintaining a balance in life is hard. I realised I was failing at it when my friends stopped inviting me to things because they knew I wouldn’t attend. They thought I was burying myself in my work, but they didn’t understand that I was doing all I could to just keep my commitments. I was doing all I could manage, but barely keeping my head above water. I felt a bit like a duck that appeared to be swimming calmly on the surface but was paddling ferociously below.
The pressure of work eventually became too much. I love my job and prioritised it over everything. I finally broke down during a review when my boss asked me what I did outside work. I admitted that my asthma had become so much for me to handle that all I could do outside of that was work. I had no coping skills or ways to get myself out of the rut.
When you fight for something you love, it’s hard to admit defeat. But I’m glad I did because being honest with my boss about how I was managing finally helped me to put some strategies in place. It was one of the best things I could have done.
When I returned to work we evaluated how I felt and what I thought I could manage. We managed to scale my responsibilities back so that I wasn’t pushed too much and that I could give my body a chance to recover. I didn’t realise it at the time, but scaling back my workload gave me more energy for the times when I wasn’t working and allowed me to have a bit of a social life.
Yet I was worried about being seen doing things outside of work while struggling at work. I thought this would reflect negatively on me and felt I should save all my energy to being well enough to work. My boss explained that work was not the be all and end all of life. I was told that my asthma is a chronic condition and that they were there to support me. It might be different situation if I was constantly off work for different illnesses while not pulling my weight when in work, but that’s not me!
Pacing and planning are skills that I employ to manage the balance. Both have been major life-changers for me, even though it has taken some time and a lot of practice to employ.
At the start of each month I look ahead and see if anything big is happening, for example an event like wedding or a trip. It has been a trial-and-error approach, but I try to give myself quiet days on either side of a big event. I know my work schedule and can plan when I am working, or have days off.
Meal prep and food planning has also been invaluable, especially when I’m tired. Preparing your food in advance means less thinking. I can get it out of the fridge when I need it. This also saves me time during the day, opening up valuable space for resting and relaxing.
When I first started planning my weeks, I became a little obsessive and planned all my days out, but that didn’t last long. I now have the balance of work, social and rest time.
If I hadn’t spoken to my boss, I would still be in the vicious cycle of pushing myself to keep working. These days I know there is so much more to life than just work. Having my boss tell me that it’s okay to prioritise other things too gave me the permission I needed to have a social life again without worrying that it would jeopardise my work.
So in a nutshell, here are my key tips for working with a chronic condition:
* Speak to your boss. Be realistic about what you can and cannot manage.
* Pace yourself. Everything doesn’t have to be done at once.
* Plan ahead. You don’t need to have every hour planned, but draw up a rough guide so you can still do what you enjoy and manage work while looking after yourself.