Feature Image by Avel Chuklanov

Did you know that, according to the National Health Council, 133 million Americans are affected by a chronic illness? That’s more than 40% of the population! Given those numbers, chances are that you know someone dealing with a chronic illness or are dealing with it yourself, which is defined as “a disease that persists for a long time” like arthritis, asthma, and cancer. As much as chronic symptoms can negatively impact your life, you can still live a full life and have a meaningful career.

We recently spoke with Nicole Lapin, New York Times bestselling author and former CNBC anchor, who’s speaking out about her journey with migraines. With Lapin’s expert advice, we compiled a list of tips to help you navigate your career with a chronic illness.

Be prepared
There’s always a common misconception that you can just “get over it,” but just like you can’t recover from a cold without tissues, cough drops and plenty of juice, you can’t recover from or cope with a chronic flare-up without some help. Know that rough days are bound to happen, but if you’re prepared, you can deal with them and get back to work. Keep a stash of your pain-relief essentials at your desk – whatever you need, make sure it’s on hand.

Get creative
A chronic illness can change a lot of things, but sometimes, those changes can be for the better. Lapin says “For me, it was really important to reframe how I was feeling about my career.” That means accessing your job, your goals and your dreams. Decide if what you’re doing now is working for you, and if it isn’t, that frees you up to explore other options. Lapin encourages everyone to “think of new ways to excel” because those new ways might lead you to your next big success.

Inform your boss and HR team
This is a big one but take a deep breath: you can do this. Explain the situation, what it can mean for you physically or mentally. Have a plan for what accommodations you’re asking for and suggestions on how to integrate these into your daily work routine. There may be a little negotiation here, but most people will appreciate that you came prepared with solutions! For more talking points, helpful tools for a variety of chronic illnesses and details of your rights as an employee, check out the Job Accommodation Network.

Talk to your co-workers
Many chronic illnesses are also invisible illnesses, which means your teammates may be seeing just your symptoms, and not what’s actually going on. It’s your decision how many people you tell as well as how much you tell them, but it will help you to feel better knowing that you have someone in your corner. Don’t feel pressured to make it a long conversation; rather, a series of small chats can be just as beneficial and have just as big an impact in helping your co-workers understand your situation.

Take care of yourself
Self-care is all over social media at the moment, but when it comes to caring for a chronic illness, self-care is non-negotiable. Yes, getting enough sleep, drinking water, meditating or doing yoga is great, but there are so many other important things too. Going to the doctor and speaking with a therapist are forms of self-care as well! Listen to your body and give it what it needs. When you’re in a good place physically and mentally, you’ll work more efficiently and more accurately. There’s a reason that flight attendants tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first. As Lapin says, “You can’t be of service to anyone if you’re crashing and burning yourself.” Take care of yourself. Then, you can shift your focus to others.

Look ahead
There will be rough days that make it difficult to keep up your current work schedule, but Lapin recommends looking forward to those symptom-free days. Visualize yourself doing your favorite hobbies or working on your passion project. Brainstorm ideas for small steps that could help you achieve your overall goal. Picture yourself lying on a beach for your next vacation. Whatever you do, focus on future wins to get you through the current pain.

xx, The FabFitFun Team