How to pace yourself if you have a chronic illness

Chronic illness and the need to pace yourself

Learning how to pace yourself if you have a chronic illness
Learning how to pace yourself if you have a chronic illness — Image by Pixabay

In my previous post The need to pace yourself if you have a chronic illness we looked at:

  • Why, if we don’t learn to pace ourselves, we’ll crash and burn
  • Types of chronic illness; both mental and physical
  • Where we might be going wrong
  • Chronic illness and the Spoon Theory and
  • The Push-crash Cycle

Moving on to understanding HOW we can pace ourselves

My youngest son is a Physiotherapist and, since I started this post last Monday and have been unable to finish it, we’ve talked a lot about understanding our limits.

He reminded me that pushing myself means more pain, yet avoiding any activity at all will also lead to more pain. He explained how pacing myself will help me to stay active, and how I’ll be able to get the things I love doing (or need to do) done with minimal pain.

We looked at how using the paced approach will give me a way to break down everyday activities and exercise into smaller bits; it means doing little bits often, and then resting.

He’s suggested 10 minutes of rest after 10-15 minutes of activity to get my heart rate back down. I’ll still be able to get things done, albeit a little more slowly, but this way I’m neither overdoing nor underdoing. I’ll be stopping the push-crash cycle that can take me days to recover.

Essentially, I’ll be using a Spoon (unit of energy) and then getting one back during my resting period, so I don’t crash before I even get to noon! Because I love visualisation I’m able to see my spoonful of energy going down with any activity, and back up after resting.

You might have another way of seeing your spoon? And you might find the above information given by a Physiotherapist useful too.

What you can do to pace yourself

Rest and Relaxation — Image by Unsplash

I’ll use my 10 minutes of rest to do some mindfulness, stretching or more visualisation, after which I feel rested and relaxed.

Watching t.v. or reading a book, or even writing down the chores I’ve remembered is a no-no! That doesn’t help (me).

And that’s where I was going wrong. I understand now that I need to switch off completely; give my thinking brain a rest! However, if you find reading or watching a film restful, then you can continue to use your rest period that way.

Ways you can get back some of the energy you’ve used to minimize symptoms and improve your quality of life:
  • Organisation is key in pacing, and it helps me feel grounded. Being disorganised can create chaos for me.
  • List all your tasks, chores, appointments, and exercise routine (daily/weekly) then separate them into has to be done and can-wait til…………….
  • Delegate where possible — is there someone else that can do the task?
  • Be mindful of each task as you’re completing it, that way you’re focusing on that one thing alone and not leaping to the next task.
  • Self-care — and this doesn’t have to mean bubble baths and candles, but take that relaxing bubble bath anyway. Just simple things like remembering to brush your teeth and enjoying that lovely clean taste will slow down the pace.
  • Be mindful when you’re eating. Turn the t.v. or music off. Chew your food and enjoy the different tastes and textures.
  • Do some breathing exercises, mindfulness or visualisation. You’ll also find heaps of these exercises on the internet ad Youtube.
  • Play your favourite track and really listen to it, enjoy the music and the lyrics; while you take time to breathe.
  • Spend some time with nature; whether it’s in your own garden or out in a local park. World Mental Health Week (10th – 16th May) has now passed but their theme 2021 was Spending time with nature. The Mental Health Foundation wrote “Research showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health.

‘There is something to be wondered at in all of Nature’


More you can do to improve your quality of life

blooming cherry tree with white flowers
Being amongst nature is relaxing — Image by Pexels
  • Go for a walk round one of your favourite parks, by the river or the coast; just amble and listen out for the birds, and take a look at the flowers and greenery.
  • You might enjoy cooking or baking — it’s something I love but I still have to be mindful of the stress it can create, so I’ll rest as my pots simmer.
  • Call or visit a supportive friend, the one who wants nothing more from you than a warm chat — not Auntie Joannie who constantly whines, saps your energy and always asks favours of you.
  • Do some stretching out on your sofa, bed or floor, and breathe…….
  • Spend time with a pet — in or outdoors.
  • Read a lighthearted book, blog, or magazine; not something that gets you wound up or takes any energy.
  • Do some form of exercise, whether it’s indoors or out. Exercise is well known to be an antidote to depression and many other mental health disorders.

You’ll have your own list of tasks or chores and various ways of relaxing; having some downtime. But you must remember to rest after each activity!

Over to you


Are you organised and manage to get through your to-do list? Or are you chaotic like me (the old me), dashing from one thing to another, pushing then burn? Do you manage to get some rest during your busy day or do you just soldier on?

Do you have any tips for others? I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’m happy to answer any questions.



Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

30 thoughts on “How to pace yourself if you have a chronic illness”

  1. Great blog post! Your list of tips is really good and helpful! My problem is that I live a lifestyle that’s too leisurely. I’m amazed that this isn’t the norm, but it does seem that more people struggle to relax rather than vice versa. I keep feeling the need to do more with my life but I’m not always motivated. And I’m not depressed (I don’t think) so I’m not sure where the breakdown is! I guess it helps me to live leisurely that I don’t have any kids! 😮 I think that’s the hugest mistake to make if you like a leisurely lifestyle! Much food for thought here!

    1. Thank you Meg. Oh me too, being lesuirely lol. I wish I could be. What’s your tips?

      Do you know what, I loved life bringing the boys up. Their hobbies became my life — meeting up with all the other parents at karate, swimming, football, rugby, athletics……….. I think I miss all that.

      1. You’re a great mommy!! 🙂 Awww!! Maybe you can have grandkids soon? That would rock!!

  2. I’m glad your son as a physio has a good understanding of pacing. I’m seeing a private physio at the moment for my problematic shoulders that keep popping out and he’s really good at the massage therapy, but doesn’t seem to ‘get’ chronic illness. This is why I hate conversations on what I’m doing, what work I do, how I spend my days etc.

    Aaaanyway, yes, pacing is a better way of managing illness, fatigue and pain I think. It’s certainly better than continually getting burnt out and feeling worse for it, though it can be incredibly frustrating. Sometimes it’s not possible to pace when you’ve got too much on and you end up paying for it afterwards. I do think every little helps so a couple of extra breaks is better than nothing. When I saw a pain management specialist she explained how every activity I did was exerting energy and using spoons. When I’d say crosswords or reading as a calm down activity, she said nope, even those use up energy! She had a point and I didn’t see it before. xx

    1. Yes, I’m lucky with my sons 🙂 They grew up listening to (and about) mental health so they have a good understanding of empathy and compassion.

      I know how frustrating it can be when you’ve got lots of things going on. I don’t work any more so obviously I have less to do. But how come it doesn’t feel like it lol.

      I have been pacing myself since I wrote this post and I have to say, it’s working — so far 🙂

      Wow, your pain management specialist sounds great. I haven’t had such luck but they done another referral for me so hopefully I’ll get to see a new one soon.

      Yes, that reading or solving puzzles etc is still using up your energy – I’m glad my son reminded me 🙂 x

  3. I love this post!! I also have difficulty winding down and in my head, reading a book or watching TV is something I’ve convinced myself is a lower-stress activity. I hadn’t heard of pacing before, but I’d love to incorporate that into my daily routine – powering down should mean powering ALL the way down as much as we can. I currently dash from one thing to another which helps my anxiety in the short-term, but I think hurts in the long run. Thank you for sharing, I learned a lot from this!

    1. Hey, glad you got something from it. Yep, we all tend to dash from one thing to another, trying to keep busy……….. to keep the anxiety away lol…………….. it never worked 😉 for me!

  4. I think that’s why I stare out a window, for lengthy periods of time, and watch the trees or shrubs move without too many thoughts going on.

  5. I love the idea of using a spoon of energy! It actually brings to mind the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” story with the concept of find that “just right” amount of activity between push and crash.

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