Ever felt like chronic illness burnout is making your travels a lot harder? You’re not alone. Living with chronic illness isn’t easy at the best of times, but when you’re trying to keep up with activities planned on a trip, it can be even harder.
Chronically ill people need time and energy for travel, finding dietary approved locations to eat at, taking rest stops along the way, not to mention any special travel arrangements that need to be put in place.
On top of that, you need to manage the stress that comes from dealing with your long-term illness which often saps your energy and motivation.
Fortunately, there’s hope. Through proper self-care, lifestyle changes and surrounding yourself with supportive people, you can manage chronic illness burnout even if you’re headed on a trip of a lifetime.
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Note: I am not a medical professional. This post is based on my own experience with chronic illnesses. Please seek medical advice if you yourself suffer from a chronic illness or require an official diagnosis.
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What Is Chronic Illness Burnout?
There are different variations, but chronic illness burnout is a type of burnout.
Burnout has been a controversial topic in the medical field for a while. It’s thankfully now officially classified as a medical diagnosis according to the World Health Organization.
The ICD-11 Handbook refers to burnout as a syndrome that results from the inability to deal with the ongoing stress in a work environment. Doctors can diagnose someone with this syndrome if they have the following symptoms:
- Experiencing severe fatigue and lack of energy
- Reduced effectiveness at work
- Increased mental separation from job, or feelings of pessimism or despair related to their job.
Chronic illness burnout is similar to occupational burnout. It’s a state of physical and mental exhaustion resulting from the stress of dealing with the everyday demands of a chronic illness.
Living with chronic illness can be extremely physically and mentally taxing. You can experience consistent unpleasant symptoms and are usually restricted in your activities, social life, diet, and other aspects of your life.
What makes it worse is that you still have to allocate more time and effort to manage your condition. You’ve got to schedule medications and doctor appointments, deal with medical bills, maybe a full-time job and chores. You might even have to schedule when to have fun, and adjust your lifestyle according to your condition.
When you’re traveling, it’s even more challenging to manage your condition as you have to deal with unexpected flares and symptoms while you’re away from home.
This ongoing stress creates a significant burden that often leads to chronic illness burnout. Symptoms of chronic illness burnout may include any of the following:
- Consistent fatigue, even after a good night’s sleep
- Turning down social invitations and having no energy to socialise
- Lack of motivation to stay on medication, attend medical appointments, or stick to a care plan
- Short temper and feelings of frustration
- Cynicism toward healthcare providers
- Emotional exhaustion
How to Deal With Chronic Illness Burnout While Travelling
Studies have shown that burnout can lead to more serious consequences, such as depressive symptoms, body aches, digestive problems, exhaustion, and lack of motivation.
So, learning how to cope with chronic illness burnout is crucial to engage in your daily life activities and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Let’s see what you can do to deal with the demands of a chronic illness:
1. Prioritise Self-Care
No matter how many times you try to explain it to others, many people will have a hard time understanding what we go through having a chronic illness.
That’s why the first and most important step in dealing with chronic illness burnout is to prioritise yourself. Yes, you have responsibilities and tasks to take care of, but your physical and mental health must always be your top priority.
Give yourself enough time to rest, relax and take care of yourself. Don’t deprive yourself of your favourite activities, such as reading, watching TV, meditating, or exercising.
Don’t push yourself too hard when travelling. Sit back, relax, and listen to your body if you’re not feeling well.
I tend to plan a day of rest in the middle of trips, so I have enough time to recuperate if necessary. This doesn’t mean that you have to stay in bed all day, it could just mean that you sit by the hotel pool or stay close to the hotel when you venture out so you can easily go back for a nap if needed.
Chronic medical conditions already take a huge toll on your mental and physical health, so it’s extra important to keep yourself in check while travelling.
Practicing self-care doesn’t have to be complicated; here are some simple ways to distract your mind from the chronic pain:
- Socialise with other passengers if it makes you feel better
- Take short walks for a change of scenery
- Treat yourself to a nice local meal
- Give your best friend or family members a call to give yourself some of that cosy home feeling
- Practise deep breathing, yoga, and meditation
2. Seek Support
It’s pretty important to seek support from friends and family members when you’re feeling overwhelmed by your chronic illness. Share your experiences and feelings with them so they can understand what you’re going through.
They can also help you cope with your symptoms and manage your daily tasks to give you more room to rest and unwind.
This may be a little more difficult when travelling, since travel can be an isolating experience.
If you don’t have enough people around you to help while travelling, you can opt for social support groups in your community, church, or even online. That way, you’ll connect with people with similar conditions who understand everything you’re going through.
I also recommend letting the hotel know if you need any extra assistance, or even letting them know if you’re having a flare day so they can check on you from time to time.
3. Build Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Ever heard the phrase “you are what you eat”?
Despite the controversies around it, it turns out it’s accurate at some level. Everything you ingest directly affects your mood, energy, and mental health.
When we go on holidays, we tend to throw any healthy diet out the window and engage in an ‘all-in’ mindset. But for those with chronic illness, you should consider taking better care of your diet while travelling.
Try to limit your intake of sugar and carbs. They may give you a little energy boost but then leave you feeling even worse mentally and physically.
Instead, try to increase your intake of nutritious and healthy foods such as:
- Lean protein
- Whole grains.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated, as drinking plenty of water can also improve your mood and make you feel more content.
When travelling, I recommend researching all the available food options before your trip. I have many intolerances, including gluten and lactose, so I always need to plan ahead to make sure I can eat healthily while abroad.
Even if you’re only away for a few days, it’s not worth the risk of getting ill while you’re away. You can always make restaurant reservations beforehand to skip the long waiting queues and take your time reviewing menu items.
Engaging in physical activities is also another excellent way to cope with chronic illness burnout. Studies have shown that regular exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which improves your mood and reduces feelings of pain, stress, and anxiety.
Now obviously, if you’re having a high pain day, rest is the best healer. But if you can manage it, short walks can help tremendously.
4. Ask For Help
It’s common for people with chronic illness burnout to feel down and ignore their medical appointments. However, seeking professional medical help is never too late. Even though most chronic conditions can’t be cured, healthcare providers can help you deal with the frustrating symptoms.
Unfortunately, those with chronic mental illness burnout are likely to get depressed. So if you’re feeling like you can’t cope with your symptoms or having a hard time socialising with people, it’s crucial to seek medical care.
If you’re abroad and you have a therapist back home, it’ll be quite helpful to reach out to them online, even if it’s for a few minutes. Alternatively, you can use an app such as BetterHelp to engage with a therapist while you’re on the go. It’s fantastic!
5. Set Boundaries
Maintaining healthy relationships with family, friends, and co-workers can be challenging if you’re already dealing with chronic illness and burnout. And when we’re travelling, especially with a group of people we don’t know very well, this can be even more difficult.
You might have a hard time explaining to your new friends why you can’t do a particular activity if you’re not feeling well.
But setting boundaries and reducing your ‘to-do list’ is crucial, especially if you’re suffering from chronic illness burnout on a trip.
Learn to understand your body and what it needs. When you learn this, you’ll know when you need to say no to an invitation or a particular activity.
PIN FOR LATER!
To wrap things up, battling chronic illness burnout is no picnic, especially when you’re away from the comforts of home. But remember, you’re not alone in this fight.
It’s okay to ask for help, set boundaries and take time for self-care. Listen to your body and give it what it needs. After all, your health and wellbeing should always be your top priority, no matter where you are.
So, keep these tips in mind for your next trip, and you’ll hopefully be able to enjoy your journey despite the challenges.
Vourneen is a travel junkie and chronic illness warrior. Although she was late to game in terms of travelling, she has picked up numerous tips and tricks from the almost 30 countries she has visited in the past 5 years.