5 Ways to Better Balance Work, Life and Your Autoimmune Disease

Woman eating at office


Holly Bertone
Holly Bertone
April 18, 2024 at 8:7AM UTC

As women, we constantly strive to find that perfect work-life balance. Add an autoimmune disease to the equation, and all bets are off. Two of the most common side effects of autoimmune conditions are chronic fatigue and pain, both of which can make any tasks take more time. It’s difficult for your loved ones to understand what you are going through. But on the flip side, it's difficult in the workplace when your employer can’t “see” your condition. You feel like you are barely hanging on to take care of yourself, your family, and to stay gainfully employed. 

According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA), 54 million Americans suffer from autoimmune (AI) disease, of which 75% are women. That means over 40 million American women are struggling with an autoimmune disease, many of whom have full-time careers.

To aid those women, here are five ways to help balance not just work and life, but also your autoimmune disease.

1. Change your time management philosophy.

Our bodies have their own rhythms. They dictate when we wake up, when we get hungry, and when we need rest. Listen to these rhythms in your body and plan your day around them. Do you have the most energy in the morning? Plan the most difficult tasks at work during this time. Do you crash in the afternoon? Plan your easier and more administrative tasks for when you are tired, and include extra stretch and movement breaks to help keep the blood flowing.

2. Ask for reasonable accommodations at work. 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, an autoimmune disease is considered a legal disability. The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer (“undue hardship”). 

All autoimmune diseases and symptoms are different, and the law does not define which accommodations must be granted. But once you have submitted the proper medical documentation, you can ask your HR department to consider accommodations such as a flexible work and leave schedule to include working from home on occasion, longer breaks, ergonomic chairs and desks, privacy to make doctor’s calls and appointments, and even a parking spot closer to the building.

3. Learn to say "no."

Saying "no" is one of the most difficult things to do in life. Especially in the workplace, where saying "no" is fraught with career sabotage. Is attending this meeting necessary? Do you have to respond to that email right away? Does this assignment take away from your priority project? Is the deadline unreasonable? Your goal at work is to be productive, not overwhelmed. 

Keep your responses short and direct: “Thank you for thinking of me but I need to focus on this priority assignment.” “I’m not able to stay late tonight, but I can come in tomorrow 30 minutes early and make this a priority for my morning.” “If I focus on this new assignment, then I won’t be able to focus on my current one. Which one is the top priority?”

4. Shift your thinking at home: plan ahead, ask for help and accept the results.

You’ve completed a productive and stressful day at work and endured a long commute home. Now, it’s time to make dinner and get the house organized, but your energy is depleted. All you want to do is go to bed. 

Don’t wait until the last minute to figure out what’s for dinner. Plan your meals for the week ahead of time, whether it’s something healthy in the crock pot, or a meal delivery kit. If you have roommates or a family at home, ask for help. Give them specific tasks for specific days such as cleaning up after dinner or taking care of the laundry. Be grateful for the help that is given. Many of us have certain ways we load the dishwasher or fold the clothes. Let it go and accept the help with a heart full of gratitude, even if the results aren’t up to your standards.

5. Love yourself for where you are.

It’s easy to beat yourself up when you feel like you are failing not just yourself, but everyone around you. Stop. Just stop. Your health is your priority and nothing else in life will happen without it. Instead of feeling like you aren’t good enough, shift your thinking to a place of gratitude. Think of five things every night that you are grateful for and consider what you’ve accomplished that day.

Focus on your victories every single day, regardless of how big or small. And love yourself where you are on this journey.


This article is shared by Holly Bertone, CNHP, PMP, of PinkFortitude.com. She is the author of the #1 Amazon bestselling book, Thriving in the Workplace with Autoimmune Disease: Know Your Rights, Resolve Conflict, and Reduce Stress, the first book ever to educate individuals specifically with an autoimmune disease on their legal and disability rights in the workplace. Holly is a breast cancer and Hashimoto’s survivor, and turned these two significant health challenges into an opportunity to help others find their fortitude.

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