How to Navigate Professional Relationships When You Have a Chronic Illness

  • By Miles Oliver.
  • 20 February 2023
  • 5 minute read
How to Navigate Professional Relationships When You Have a Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions

This article is written by Miles Oliver. 

Those of us living with chronic illnesses understand how draining, exhausting, and debilitating they can be. So much so that work is often off the table. But when it isn’t, and you’ve found a job you can settle into, most, if not all, of your energy and effort, goes to your work duties.

Building the necessary professional relationships on top of that can make things even more challenging. However, these relationships are essential for a meaningful work experience.

So, how do you ensure building professional relationships doesn’t overwhelm you and, instead, turns out to be a positive, meaningful experience?

1. Find ways to stay energized and motivated

Physical pain, mental exhaustion, and the many other symptoms you’re dealing with can cause you to feel fatiguedand uninspired to do anything.

Do your best not to let your chronic illness suck the energy and motivation out of you because you need both to navigate professional relationships. You can increase your energy and find motivation throughout the day by:

  • Setting achievable goals
  • Practicing positive self-talk
  • Limiting your technology use
  • Making plans for when you’re off
  • Taking doctor-approved supplements
  • Doing simple exercises while on break
  • Eating lunch outside or away from your desk

Find ways to stay energized and uplifted so that you have more to give your professional relationships.

2. Start with work

You don’t have to dive right into everything personal when building a professional relationship with someone.

Instead, start with work. Connect with coworkers through team projects. Ask for help when you need it. Talk about company culture and how to improve it. Attend work events together. Lead volunteer projects. Lean entirely on work-related interactions and conversations.

Doing so will take the pressure off of the relationship. It will also be an excellent foundation for bonding over more personal things, like similar hobbies.

How to Navigate Professional Relationships When You Have a Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
Photo by via

3. Bond over similar hobbies

There are a lot of things you like to do despite living with a chronic illness. You’ve got interests and hobbies that you probably share with your coworkers and managers. Don’t be afraid to bond over these things.

For example, if you find out that a few coworkers are interested in painting like you are, dive into conversations about it (when it’s appropriate, of course). You can take that a step further and go to painting classes, art walks, and museums together off the clock.

You can absolutely keep your professional relationships exactly that, professional. But bonding over things that make you, you, can make your relationships more substantial and more comfortable for you to navigate.

4. Try different approaches to networking

One of the hardest things about professional relationships is the ‘meeting people’ part. Often, the energy to go out and mingle is lacking for those living with a chronic illness, or you may feel vulnerable to think about putting yourself out there, let alone actually do it.

Rather than relying solely on socializing in person, you can explore alternative methods of networking and connecting.

For example, networking online offers a low-pressure, flexible way to develop professional relationships. Not only will your coworkers and managers be online, but so will other professionals in your industry.

Clarify your goals for networking online first. After that, establish a professional and intentional online presence. Then, determine who you want to fill your network with and grow those relationships with genuine acts.

5. Be only as open as you’re comfortable with

As mentioned above, you don’t have to go all in about everything personal when navigating professional relationships. However, eventually disclosing details about your chronic illness can turn out to be a positive thing.

You may find out that some of the people you work with and individuals in your extended professional network are going through the same thing. This can bring you all closer together. It can also be a source of support when you’re really going through it with your chronic illness.

The key is only being as open with people as you’re comfortable with. Go at your own pace when disclosing details about your personal life so that your professional relationships unfold naturally.

How to Navigate Professional Relationships When You Have a Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto via

6. Speak up when something bothers you

Just like personal relationships, you need boundaries in your professional relationships for them to be healthy. Without those boundaries, people will do what they want to in your relationship with them rather than what’s healthy for you.

A considerable part of enforcing those boundaries is speaking up when something bothers you. This ensures that the person who did it to you understands they’ve crossed a line. And you can then talk about how to best move forward in the relationship.

For example, let’s say a coworker discloses information about your chronic illness without your permission. Pull them to the side and discuss how that isn’t okay with you and let them know it can’t go on in the future if they want a good professional relationship with you.

Be an advocate for yourself and set boundaries that prompt healthy professional relationships.

7. Give it time

There will be days when your chronic illness leaves you so unmotivated/drained you don’t talk to anyone. Or weeks where your symptoms are so debilitating you can’t think about anyone but yourself.

These things may extend the time it takes to grow solid professional relationships. But they shouldn’t stop them. Give yourself time to learn how to navigate professional relationships while living with your chronic illness. Give yourself grace on the days you just can’t do it too.

What are your go-to tips for navigating professional relationships while also navigating a chronic illness?

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like How to Get Through Your Workday When You Feel Exhausted and 11 Tips for Working from Home with a Chronic Illness. 

Related articles in Coping with Chronic Illness

How to Do Hard Things in Life

How to Do Hard Things | The Health Sessions

How to Manage Pet Care When You Have a Chronic Illness

6 Tips For Getting Back Into Dating With Health Complications

6 Tips For Getting Back Into Dating With Health Complications | The Health Sessions