Navigating the professional world as a young woman with an invisible illness

It’s not easy when you have an invisible illness. Find out how to navigate the professional world and advocate for yourself.

An invisible illness is a chronic condition people can’t immediately recognize just by looking at you. If you told them that you’re sick, they’d probably say you don’t look like you are.

That’s the most challenging part about having an invisible illness. Many people may not show you the empathy and support you deserve because they can’t grasp the gravity of your condition without seeing it. 

This can be especially hard in the workplace. You don’t want to be treated with kid gloves because of your condition. But you also don’t want managers and coworkers to completely ignore it and neglect to give you the support you need to thrive. 

Advocating for yourself in the workplace and a few other actions will help you navigate the professional world confidently as a young woman with a chronic illness. 

Learn as much as you can about your chronic illness 

An invisible illness diagnosis can be hard to accept. You essentially have to change your whole life around to accommodate it and that can be scary. 

However, navigating life generally and at your job is much more manageable when you don’t live in fear of your condition. Instead, learn as much as you can about it so that it becomes less scary. 

Study how your chronic illness can affect your daily life and your life in the long term. Understand the worst and best-case scenarios. Dig into treatments and medications and their side effects. Also, explore how other women living with the condition maintain full-time careers. 

Becoming knowledgeable about your condition will empower you to live with it in the best way possible. 

Take your healthcare seriously 

Invisible illnesses can be debilitating if you don’t actively treat them. So, you must take your healthcare seriously if you want to be able to go to work every day and tackle your duties with 100% effort.  

Keep every appointment with your primary care physician (PCP) and any specialists you see for your condition. Take your medication faithfully. Maintain your therapy or counseling appointments as well. 

Take care of the rest of your health too. Go see your dentist to keep your oral health in check. Go get your eyes checked every year. Consider seeing a nutritionist and personal trainer too. 

Being holistically healthy will only do good things for your condition. And taking your healthcare seriously will help you stay in control of your healing

Manage work-related stressors 

Managing work-related stressors is critical because stress affects your body and can exacerbate your chronic illness. 

Stress can send you into fight or flight mode, triggering your sympathetic nervous system and releasing adrenaline that causes heart palpitations and breathing issues. That adrenaline can increase pain perception as well which can be a nightmare for those with chronic pain

Stress can also cause you to gain weight. Weight gain can lead to additional health problems, like diabetes, that hinder your ability to stay on top of your invisible illness. 

Do whatever you can to decrease your stress at work. This could be self-care-related activities (which we’ll talk more about in a moment) like, meditating or doing a quick yoga session at lunch. 

Set boundaries with managers and coworkers on taking on any extra work outside of your daily checklist. 

Furthermore, it’s a good idea to think about what you want long-term in your career. Working toward this vision will help you not focus so much on the tough times you’re going through now and will instead help you concentrate on the positivity that lies ahead. 

Incorporate self-care into your routine

Self-care will help manage work-related stressors along with the suggestions above. More importantly, self-care is fundamental in helping you flourish while living with a chronic illness. 

Self-care can nourish your body when you partake in activities like nature walks, long baths, self-affection, and massages. 

In addition, you need a strong mind to navigate living with a chronic illness and working. There will be tough days and you need to be self-aware, gracious, and positive to get through them.  

Fortunately, you can improve your mental health with self-care techniques like:

  • Get on a regular sleep schedule; 
  • Participate in some sort of physical activity every day;
  • Eat a nutritious diet;
  • Talk through issues with a close family member or friend;
  • Reach out to a mental health professional for extra support. 

When you take good care of yourself, your body and mind will feel better. And that, in turn, will help you navigate your work life. 

Advocate for yourself in the workplace 

If you want to walk into your workplace feeling good and wholly supported, you have to advocate for what it is that will ensure this happens. In other words, you need to advocate for yourself in the workplace. 

Don’t be afraid to disclose your invisible illness to your manager. They won’t be able to support you if they don’t know what you’re going through. Let them know about your condition and what you would need at work to thrive. 

Normalizing conversations around mental and physical health in the workplace isn’t a bad idea either. You can help someone who may be going through the same thing. You also bond with your coworkers. When those relationships get stronger, they become an additional support system for you at work. 

Use these tips to feel more empowered and in charge of your health

Navigating the professional world as a young woman with an invisible illness can be a lonely and isolating experience if you let it. There’s so much you can do to feel empowered and in charge of your health despite what you’re going through, starting with the tips above.