When living with chronic illness, productivity can feel constantly out of reach. The symptoms of your conditions create barriers to getting things done and meeting obligations. It’s easy to think you simply aren’t trying hard enough. But the truth is, you can’t just push through illness through sheer willpower alone. What you need is balance between productivity and self-care. Self-care for productivity is just as crucial as crossing off your to-do list.
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Taking time to recharge through self-care gives you the energy and resilience to handle your responsibilities in a sustainable way. Self-care is not a detour or distraction from productivity, but rather an essential ingredient for maintaining output and motivation long-term. By caring for your mind and body, you equip yourself to better manage your life and achieve what’s meaningful to you. The key is realizing that regularly prioritizing self-care paves the way for successfully achieving your goals.
It reduces symptoms.
Many self-care strategies directly target your symptoms. Getting enough sleep can help with fatigue, while meditation relieves anxiety and stress. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet or taking supplements may decrease pain and brain fog. When your symptoms are flaring up less intensely, you’ll have more capacity to get things done. Don’t wait to take care of yourself until after you’ve powered through your to-do list—do prioritize self-care for productivity beforehand so you’re operating at your best.
It boosts mental clarity and focus.
When we’re in a good emotional space, it’s easier to direct our attention, plan ahead, and problem solve. Self-care activities like journaling, spending time outdoors, or engaging in hobbies can clear away the mental clutter of stress. With a calm and centered mindset, you’ll be able to focus your mental energy where it needs to go. It’s much harder to get into a productive flow when you’re overwhelmed or anxious.
It prevents burnout.
Pushing through your limits may work in short bursts, but it’s not a sustainable strategy. Eventually, you’ll hit a breaking point, no longer able to keep up the frantic pace. At this point of burnout, even basic tasks will feel impossible. On the other hand, making self-care for productivity a consistent practice keeps your nervous system from becoming overloaded. You’re protecting your energy reserves so that you don’t hit that unproductive wall. It’s much easier to maintain a reasonable level of productivity than to recover once you’ve already crashed.
It empowers you to set boundaries.
Many of us struggle to say no to extra tasks and responsibilities, even when we’re already stretched thin. We take on too much and feel resentful when we can’t get it all done. Self-care helps you recognize your bandwidth and set firmer boundaries around how you spend your time and energy. When you know your needs and make them a priority, you’re less likely to end up overwhelmed. Being selective allows you to focus on accomplishing what’s most important.
It keeps motivation high.
When productivity feels like a frustrating, uphill battle every day, your motivation eventually sinks. Self-care for productivity makes space for positive emotions like joy, meaning, and a sense of accomplishment. This intrinsic motivation continues fueling you even when the work gets difficult. Taking time to recognize your progress and wins helps to counteract the feelings of frustration that can sabotage your drive. Allowing yourself pleasurable downtime and relaxation prevents you from burning out.
It fosters resilience.
Living with illness means coping with the ups and downs of symptoms. Your energy and capacity can change drastically from day to day. Self-care for productivity strengthens your ability to roll with these punches. Instead of collapsing in despair each time you hit a low period, you’ll have more resilience to weather the storm. Resilience comes from knowing your needs, having tools to support yourself, and holding on to hope. With practice, you can learn to be productive within your current limitations, even on rough days.
Tips for Making Self-Care a Habit
If you’re used to running on empty, self-care for productivity may feel foreign at first. Here are some tips for making it a consistent habit:
Tie Self-Care to Your Routines
Identify 2-3 quick daily practices, like 5 minutes of stretching, drinking herbal tea, or writing in a gratitude journal. Attach them to your morning or evening routine.
Pick self-care activities that only take a few minutes so they are easy to fit into your daily schedule. You might set aside 5 minutes after you wake up to stretch or meditate. Or wind down before bed with a cup of chamomile tea and journaling. Tie the practices to habits you already have like brushing your teeth so they become seamless.
Schedule Longer Self-Care Sessions
Schedule time for longer self-care activities a few times per week, like light exercise, meal prepping, or leisure reading (may I suggest one of my poetry books?). Put self-care for productivity in your calendar and protect that time.
In addition to mini daily rituals, plan time for more immersive self-care a few times a week. Block off 30 minutes for a yoga video, an hour to prep healthy meals and snacks for the week, or a chunk of time to curl up with a good book. Enter these appointments in your planner so they don’t get bumped by other obligations.
Set Reminders to Check In
Set reminders on your phone prompting you to take self-care breaks and check in with your needs throughout the day. I love the Finch app for this!
It’s easy to power through your to-do list without coming up for air. Set reminders like hourly chimes, app notifications or calendar events prompting you to pause. Use these moments to drink water, stretch your body, take some deep breaths, or assess your stress levels. Checking in helps you notice when you need more substantial self-care.
Challenge Critical Self-Talk
Notice when you’re tempted to override your own needs, and challenge stories like “I don’t have time for this.”
Tune into the self-talk that encourages you to keep pushing yourself past healthy limits. When your inner critic says you’re too busy for a break or don’t deserve rest, get curious. Ask yourself: “Is this true or is it a story I’ve internalized?” Remind yourself self-care is necessary, not selfish.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, consider utilizing Talkspace online therapy.
Start small—even 5 minutes of self-care is worthwhile, and helps build the habit.
Taking a gradual approach prevents self-care from feeling intimidating or time-consuming. Even very small actions like sipping tea mindfully or reviewing a few words of affirmation recharge you. Getting in the habit with bite-sized rituals means you’ll be more likely to expand your self-care over time.
Pair Self-Care With Pleasure
Make self-care more enticing by combining it with pleasurable activities. Listen to a guided meditation while snuggled under a cozy blanket. Do gentle yoga as you watch a favorite show. Bringing in those feel-good elements makes you look forward to the practices.
Reflect on the Benefits
Reflect at the end of each day on how the self-care practices impacted your mood, symptoms and productivity.
Check in with any effects you noticed from incorporating self-care that day. Did your headache improve after meditating? Feel a mood boost after phoning a friend? Spot any links between self-care and getting more done? Reflection cements the benefits and helps motivate you to keep it up.
Celebrate when you make time for self-care, even if you start slipping up again. Remember: we’re looking for progress, not perfection.
Instead of judging yourself harshly, offer compassion when you struggle to stick with self-care for productivity or otherwise. Regularity takes time. Cheer on every step in the right direction. Remind yourself long-term consistency comes from small day-to-day victories.
Living with illness poses many challenges, but your needs deserve to be met. Instead of surviving life, choose to thrive. Prioritize self-care—your energy, health and productivity depend on it.