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Telling Someone with a Chronic Illness to “Slow Down" isn’t Kind – it’s Patronizing

Two friends with arms folded offended as one rejected unsolicited advice about chronic illness
Getty Images / PeopleImages

When living with a chronic illness, people may face pressure from others to "slow down" and "take it easy" due to their condition.

Kat Naish points out that, as one of the people managing a chronic condition, she is perfectly capable of setting boundaries on her own. Likewise, this "well-meaning advice" suggests that she's not already doing everything she can to manage her illness.

It's time to recognize that people with long-term illnesses are already experts in their own bodies and experiences. So, please stop telling people with chronic conditions what they "need to do.” Instead, “Let me know you'll be there for me when I need you, and trust I will ask you for your help when that day comes,” says Kat.

"Are you sure you're not overdoing it?"

"Should you be working that much?"

"Maybe you should reduce your hours."

"I hope you're not taking on too much."

"You're so busy at work; no wonder you have XYZ symptoms."

Sound familiar? You're not alone. On the surface, this is all well-meaning advice. But I am sure you've felt like me before - getting frustrated when others try to set boundaries for you. Especially when they've never been in my situation or have my condition and don't have the foggiest idea how I feel about it.

I set my own boundaries, thank you very much! I don't need someone to constantly remind me of my limitations.

Good stress v bad stress

I come from a family of strong women who all held respected careers and contributed substantially to their households. Having a fulfilling career is very important to me. It's a big part of my identity. But that doesn't mean I'm a workaholic - far from it. I know that I need to be sensible about my work-life balance to continue working. That's not to say I don't get stressed over a heavy workload or occasionally feel the pressure of a looming deadline.

The key is knowing my limits and always listening to my body. It also means putting measures in place to stay within those boundaries. This isn't something I learned overnight. It has been a painstaking path of personal trial and error.

So, can stress be good? Absolutely! Remember feeling nervous about taking an exam but smashing it because those same nerves helped you become laser-focused? There's nothing like a tight deadline to help you knuckle down with a work project.

A little pressure can be positive when doing something demanding but enjoyable. Good stress is when work is a challenge you can meet and not find overwhelming. When I overcome obstacles at work, it gives me a huge sense of achievement.

I love my job. I'm lucky to do something I'm passionate about. At the end of a working day, I feel accomplished. The last thing I want to hear when I talk about a busy day is that I'm overdoing it - because I should know, and I know I'm not.

Trust me to know my boundaries and how to stick to them

I have learned the hard way about pushing my limits too far. Believe me when I say I understand the importance of rest. I now know how to advocate for myself when things get a little sticky!

If I listen to my body, I can tell when to take more small breaks. I may go for a walk to clear my head, do a 10-minute meditation, or go to bed earlier at night. If I do those things, I can keep the bad stress at bay and under control.

My colleagues and boss know I have a chronic illness. I have made them aware that I must be mindful of certain things. They know I need regular breaks, especially during meetings lasting longer than an hour. If there's a work event, I travel the day before so I can be at my best on the day. In fact, making my needs known has helped the other team members set their own healthy boundaries!

Understand that I know my own body

How can anyone else know how much is too much for me? Have faith in me to understand and listen to my body well. Let me feel as normal as I can for as long as possible.

I don't need you to remind me that I have a chronic illness and need to take things easy. I know things could become very different one day when I won't be able to manage anymore. Let me know you'll be there for me when I need you, and trust I will ask you for your help when that day comes.

The takeaway

There are a lot of things that cause unhealthy stress in my life. Work isn't one of them. I enjoy my work. It fulfills me and makes me feel "normal.” Constantly telling someone with a chronic illness to slow down makes them feel restricted and overprotected. Remember how strong most of us are! After all, we deal with our conditions daily.

We're a determined bunch, we can achieve a lot, and we're valuable team members with something to offer.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-ALL-NP-01074 AUGUST 2023

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