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Socializing with a Chronic Illness

Socializing with a Chronic Illness

Socializing with a chronic illness
©️ Antonio Visalli on Unsplash
Dr. Katie Rothwell
Medically reviewed by

Dr. Katie Rothwell, ND, a licensed Naturopathic Doctor with clinical focus in thyroid conditions and Hashimoto's disease through The College of Naturopaths of Ontario, Canada.

For many people with chronic illnesses, making lifestyle adjustments to manage their condition is not particularly easy. While some can handle it all the better than others, it is understandable why many might struggle to balance their long-term or lifelong medical condition with their daily lives.

From the moment a diagnosis is made until treatment begins, different people cope differently with the reality of their condition. While some may take some time to shake off the initial shock that may come with a diagnosis, others may be slightly less fazed by it all.

No matter the intrapersonal struggles that come with living with a chronic illness, there is also undeniably the interpersonal angle. No doubt, living with a chronic disease will likely affect your social life, regardless of the scale. Your social life includes relationships with others such as family, friends, acquaintances and strangers.

Certain lifestyle changes that are required to manage the symptoms of your condition may affect your ability to socialize conventionally. In order to make this work, some reasonable compromises may be needed both on your part and those around you.

A person with a thyroid condition such as hypothyroidism may experience thyroid brain fog, affecting their ability to engage people properly in a social setting.

If you are hyperthyroid, you may also worry about feeling too hot or sweating excessively at a social gathering, especially if you are having trouble managing your symptoms.

Social events tend to be exhausting, and you may want to reserve your energy by opting out, but worry about how others could perceive that. Worrying about all these could be detrimental to your peace of mind and overall social life.

Social events and engagements typically are avenues to interact with people and strengthen and explore your social life.

Unfortunately, the social engagements of people living with chronic conditions are generally negatively affected, especially among older adults, as revealed by a study that examined social engagement restrictions and associated factors among middle-aged and older adults with chronic diseases.

Besides the social challenges involved, it is also exceptionally harder for those with low socioeconomic status in terms of their health-related quality of life as compared to their more affluent counterparts.

The following are some coping mechanisms to help you efficiently socialize with a chronic disease such as a thyroid condition:

Manage your relationships

Learn to prioritize your relationships with certain people over others. Try to make as much time as possible for those dearest to you while acknowledging that you cannot give your entire energy to everyone, and that’s okay.

Relationships can sometimes be draining, so you can somewhat preserve your energy levels by focusing on the relationships that mean the most to you, do not stress you, or exacerbate your symptoms. It is also understandable that human relationships are typically complex, so while this approach may work for some people and in certain circumstances, it is not a universal solution.

It is, however, just a coping mechanism you could adopt to help boost your social life. In striving to strengthen your relationships, it is essential to communicate efficiently. You should be able to share relevant information with them, especially regarding your condition.

Ask for help when you need it. Be patient with them, just as they equally have to be patient with you, too.

Prioritize yourself

It is important to acknowledge that you may struggle with having an optimal social life if your physical and mental health conditions are poor. If you want to go out to socialize, you should do it on your terms and not compromise your comfort, health or safety.

If you are not in the mood for an outing and would rather stay home, it might be better for you to stay home to preserve your energy. Reschedule events if possible, and apologize for your inability to show up. This is much more feasible if you are surrounded by supportive and understanding people.

You may politely disengage if conversations feel exhausting or hard to follow due to thyroid brain fog. Once you appreciate that you do not always have to say “yes” to every invitation, you can fully focus on doing the things that matter most to you.

Perhaps, instead of attending major events with friends, you could opt for smaller, more intimate ways to hang out with your dear ones and enjoy each another’s company. Some of such options include watching a movie or TV show, or playing video games or board games, and cooking together.

Make enough time to prepare in advance for a social event

Planning ahead of a social event helps to mentally prime you for the event so you can have a good time without having to worry about the weather, dietary restrictions, or your medications during the event itself.

You will do well to properly manage your energy levels before, during and after a social gathering or outing. If the event is in the evening, try to get enough rest the day before and in the preceding hours.

You should also rest for some time after the event. Suppose you’re the type to get unusually exhausted after social events. In that case, you may want to make sure you attend only events that are scheduled right before your free days, most likely at the end of a work week, so that you can recover any lost energy over the weekend.

Also, ensure that your social life does not disrupt your medication routine. Other specific factors to incorporate in your pre-event plans may include what to eat, drink, and wear.

o   Be mindful of what you consume

It is rational to want to know what the menu will be for a social event you are about to attend if you are unsure of whether the event could adequately cater to your dietary needs. This could help you make an informed choice about whether or not to eat before attending the event.

You may be on a special diet and have to avoid certain foods to manage your symptoms. For instance, if you’re living with Hashimoto’s disease, you may want to avoid certain fried and processed foods and focus on dairy-free, gluten-free and anti-inflammatory diets.

There is also the option of preparing your own food when going out with friends. Be mindful of your alcohol intake as well, especially if you are hypothyroid or have some other thyroid condition.


o   Wear comfortable clothes

Some events or venues have strict dress codes that you must adhere to. You can work around this requirement if it is likely to cause discomfort. If possible, you could ask for an exemption from any dress code that could exacerbate your symptoms.

If you’re living with hyperthyroidism, you are likely to be more sensitive to cold temperatures than other people. Similarly, a hyperthyroid person is more likely to experience heat intolerance and excessive sweating. It is, therefore, imperative to dress appropriately to suit the occasion and make sure you are comfortable.

If you feel too cold or hot, especially when everyone else isn’t, it could be somewhat disconcerting and affect your ability to socialize efficiently.

Take advantage of social media

Social media is a great way to stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues. Where physical interactions can get awkward or limited due to your condition, social media can eliminate such barriers depending on how you use it.

With a plethora of social media platforms out there, you have at your disposal various means of virtually communicating with people and strengthening your social bonds.

While some may understandably worry that dependence, especially if excessive, on social media may be detrimental, you could efficiently use it to your advantage to make yourself feel less alone when your condition or some other mitigating circumstance makes physical, social interactions unfeasible.

Making the most out of technology to improve your social life in spite of your chronic illness is definitely a wise choice, especially if you are among the majority of the population that actively uses social media.

Key Takeaways

  • Long-term medical conditions affect many aspects of one’s life, including one’s social life. Some lifestyle changes may be required to have an optimal social life despite one’s chronic illness.
  • Brain fog, a common symptom experienced by hypothyroid patients, can make a person lose their string of words or train of thought and could negatively impact their ability to engage effectively in conversations. For many with thyroid issues, this is one major thing that affects their social life in terms of having conversations.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people and focus on building and strengthening meaningful relationships. To make this work, you will need effective communication.
  • Prepare adequately for any social gathering or event to ensure you have a good or profitable time and to avoid a burnout. The goal is to preserve your energy and feel comfortable.
  • You should also ensure that your social life does not disrupt your medication routine. (By allowing you to set automated reminders for your medication intake, the ThyForLife app is here to help you maintain a regular medication schedule that works best for you).
  • It’s okay to be a little selfish sometimes by putting yourself first. If you have to be present for a function and don’t feel up to it, feel free to say “no”. Avoid situations or people that could aggravate your symptoms. It is good to socialize, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your health, safety or comfort.
  • A practical and convenient alternative to physical interactions is social media. Virtual interactions are just as effective in getting cordial and sociable with people. With various social media platforms available, it has become easy to keep in touch with people regardless of distance.

FAQs

The article suggests several strategies, including being honest with friends and loved ones about your limitations, setting realistic expectations for social engagements, and prioritizing self-care. Additionally, it emphasizes the importance of finding supportive social networks and engaging in activities that accommodate your health needs.

Maintaining friendships can be challenging when managing chronic illness, but open communication and understanding are key. The article recommends being upfront with friends about your condition, expressing your needs and limitations, and seeking out activities that allow for meaningful connections without exacerbating health issues.

Support groups can provide a valuable source of empathy, understanding, and practical advice for individuals coping with chronic illness. They offer a safe space to share experiences, seek guidance, and build connections with others facing similar challenges, fostering a sense of community and empowerment, as discussed in the article.

Disclaimer

At ThyForLife, we do our utmost to provide accurate information. For detailed medical information regarding diagnosis, treatment, and general practices please consult your healthcare professional. Always listen to the advice of your healthcare provider.
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