How to Do Housework When You’re Exhausted from Autoimmune Disease
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Tired all the time due to your autoimmune disease? Here are our best tips for managing housework and chores while battling chronic fatigue & exhaustion.
What does peanut butter and jelly, and autoimmune disease paired with no energy, have in common?
WARNING: Dad joke imminent…
They always go together! Get it?! (I know it’s not funny… but it’s true!)
Autoimmune disease seems to always have a tag-along buddy of chronic fatigue… or, as we like to call it: ULTRA-MEGA-EXHAUSTION. Which sort of makes sense when your body is taxed from having antibodies attacking its own genetic material.
And when you stack up everything that is associated with autoimmune disease… chronic pain, depression, exhaustion, bathroom fiascos, balance issues, and who else knows – all those “normal things” like household chores can fall to the way-side pretty quickly.
Oh, and not to mention having a job, a family to raise, a million doctor appointments (of which are probably battles in themselves), and no one to understand what you are actually dealing with.
Yea, autoimmune disease is tough. But having ALL of the stuff I just said, AND no energy – that’s just rude. So, I first would like to present you with this… your trophy! Just for making it to today and not giving up.
Seriously, you deserve it.
But the show must go on. And the show includes… chores. Doing these with no energy and an autoimmune disease takes tact. You might not be able to “find the energy” or “push through it” like everyone else. Believe me, I know this isn’t a lack of motivation or “laziness” thing.
Instead of letting them fall off your to-do list, I created this quick How-To guide. It will give you insight into the importance of doing housework, plus tricks on how to manage your time/body to get the tasks done. If I haven’t hooked you yet, I’m not surprised – chores aren’t fun.
But I will make sure the next paragraphs are!
Let’s take a look at the challenges ahead…
Without getting stressed out, close your eyes and think for a second of all the chores you have to do. They can be daily, weekly, monthly, whatever…
OK now stop or you might actually get stressed out. Right?
There are just way too many! And throw in the fact that you have no energy to do them and it’s not even fair anymore. But there are some that are non-negotiables. The ones that make or break your home (and your spirit) if they’re not done.
If you let these pile up, you could be doing your body a disservice, even if you’re avoiding them to save the little energy you have. These are things like:
- Vacuuming and Dusting
- Kitchen counters and surfaces
- Cleaning the bathroom (sink, toilet, tub/shower)
- Windows (a surprisingly important one)
- Laundry (the arch nemesis of us all)
Looking down the barrel of these six can seem daunting. Adding in the rest of them (like those in this Ultimate Household Chore List) is borderline impossible, especially if you try to stick to “normal” house cleaning practices and schedules.
But again, without energy, you probably aren’t convinced that these truly are non-negotiables. You might be thinking… “I’ll get to it when I can”.
So why fit them into a routine at all?
The Down and Dirty Benefits: How Doing Housework Actually Benefits Not Just Your Home, but Your Body & Autoimmune Disease
Successfully completing chores gives your brain the chance to feel accomplished. he result is a boost of endorphins! Endorphins are what give you good feelings and a positive mood.
This is a great benefit! But… it’s temporary.
The real value of an endorphin boost is that they play a significant role in properly powering immune cells like your B-cells, T-cells, and Thymus cells, to name a few. And before you say, “but, Frank, I have an autoimmune disease, I don’t want my immune cells powered at all, right?!”
A better way to say power is: modulate. Modulating the immune system means turning it on and off at the right times. Hopefully this makes more sense. Autoimmune disease usually involves degradation to your body’s tissue and if you can turn that off without losing the function of your immune system, it will improve symptoms. (If you want to learn more about how to modulate your immune system so you can finally start living symptom-free, click the button below to grab our free Autoimmune Starter Pack filled with the resources you need to get started.)
So really the goal should always be – keeping things in balance. If our systems are powered properly, they should behave properly.
The other benefit is that a clean house reduces your overall body burden. Vacuuming and dusting, for instance, removes the nasty stuff that collects on surfaces and eventually make its way into the air.
By keeping the dust, dander, and other allergens to a minimum, your body no longer has to take-in, and sort through things. This is a great way to let your immune system wind down and repair.
So boost those endorphins and help your immune system out by firing up that old vacuum!
But before we move on, I have a third benefit: exercise. Scrubbing toilets, pushing a vacuum around and doing laps around the house might not be considered “real” exercise, but it still keeps your body moving and heart rate above resting.
Some like to call this NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Time. It is invaluable, and more so for those with an autoimmune disease because power-lifting, or even jogging can increase inflammation – and that inflammation is a burden while healing.
Now I’ve got you pumped-up and ready to go! So, let’s review some ways to reduce the energy suck on your body.
Top Tips for Doing Housework while Battling Chronic Fatigue & Other Autoimmune Symptoms
Let’s start with the basics… These might seem simple, but don’t overlook them! They really make a difference.
1. Make a Schedule
Maintaining a house requires lots of chores AND effort, so at some point you will have to create a list of all your chores to help you figure out what frequency you need to do each one. We use an app called Tody to help remind us when things need to be done.
FYI – the Tody app is free on the Google play store for Android, but sadly $6.99 for Apple (which is the one we have – it’s actually worth it, just check the reviews). Once you have your app you can build your schedule:
- First, draft which chores you will do (broken down by rooms, categories, or what works best for you).
- Load your plan into the app.
- Set the frequency of each chore (how often you think you’ll do it – once per week, once per month, etc.).
- After picking the frequency and you begin working through your list, make adjustments to the frequency as necessary. If the toilet isn’t dirty after a week, make it two weeks. Don’t over extend yourself by cleaning when things aren’t dirty.
- Continue adjusting the schedule as you cycle through your list.
The schedule itself isn’t the trick though. What you’re really after is a schedule customized to your unique situation and one as bare bones as possible. Meaning you want to spread things out so you aren’t overwhelmed, or caught pushing yourself too hard.
Successfully scheduling everything in and not have to push yourself, provides the following bonuses:
- The opportunity to focus on the benefits – light exercise, endorphin boost, improves your indoor environment.
- Reserves the amount of fuel (energy) in the tank for better uses during the day.
2. Break It Up Into Chunks
An example of how to do this is: vacuuming, dusting, or both – one to two rooms at a time instead of the entire house. Chunking your chores pairs perfectly with your schedule (and is easily done in the app), but most importantly, keeps you from burning too much energy.
It reduces the amount of time you need to spend on a particular chore. Instead of vacuuming the whole house or cleaning the whole kitchen in one shot (a recipe for burning out), you vacuum a couple rooms, and only clean the counters.
You can even break it down further. For example, we have three sets of stairways in our home and vacuuming each stairway is its own task.
The objective: reduced load and sustainability. Just chip away at the big stuff and keep cycling through them on a lighter schedule.
3. Judge Your Energy Level
This one is by far the most important of the three. Regardless of what your schedule says, your body needs to have the last word.
If you don’t feel like you have enough energy today, gently coax the vacuum back into the closet for the time being – no need to overdo it. It’s just not worth it.
HOWEVER! Because chores demand energy, and it might be a while before you have some, you still need to do your best to get them done. In order to ensure you don’t end up over-using the “not enough energy” rule, there is some brain training involved.
One way to help with convincing your brain that your body does have enough energy is to do this:
Use a stop watch and record how long it takes you to complete a task.
This is a trick we used back when our newborn son was super clingy and only lasted about 3 minutes before crying to be picked up. But life had to go on, and as a result, we discovered there’s A LOT you can do in a tiny amount of time. Unloading the dishwasher, for example, only took about 5 minutes, but it seemed like much longer before we actually timed it.
As soon as you know how long a task takes, you have the option of telling your body that it really doesn’t take as long as you think, and is achievable.
Or, if certain rooms do take way too long, pick a small room, and get that one done. Basically, you are just chipping away until you check the box. Keep in mind all those juicy benefits, and your brain should be able to overcome the alleged energy crisis (real or not, and without overdoing it).
4. Get Rid of the Clutter
Wanna know what doesn’t get enough attention?
HOW MUCH CRAP WE ALL HAVE!
It’s like some strange part of the American dream to…
- Own one of everything you ever set your eyes on
- To never get rid of it once it enters your home (or your car)
Anna and I fell victim to this, just like most. But we also learned how (through some life events like a remodel/addition) to shed our attachment to objects by remembering that they are literally just objects.
Your belongings should only hold value if they are NECESSARY and provide value to you.
And the words necessity and value need to carry weight. For example, if you don’t use it at some regular frequency, time to say goodbye.
But why? (Rhyme!)
Imagine cleaning a house with less stuff in it. Less dusting, picking up and putting back down. Not as much moving things to vacuum. Less to organize and rearrange. Folding laundry? Cut your collection in half and donate. And finally, imagine being able to look around and see more open space!
All clutter does is increase stress. Stress increases inflammation. Inflammation triggers autoimmune flares. Reduce your stress and de-clutter. Your brain will thank you for how much less it has to process.
De-cluttering is easier said than done, plus it is an emotional process (both good and bad). Here’s an article outlining where to start if you’re feeling overwhelmed by clutter.
5. Lower Expectations
Not everyone will need this tip, but for those of us that can’t help but maintain perfection… you just. Have. To. Stop!
At least until your energy returns.
Burning all your energy to make sure the toilet is spotless isn’t worth it. So put down the toothpicks and cotton swabs for every nook and cranny… It is a must to learn how to cut corners and lower your expectations.
Remember – done is better than perfect.
Doing this will save you time, which you can use to improve your knowledge of your disease, and spend on other aspects of your new lifestyle.
6. No Shame
Often times, autoimmune disease can be difficult for a particular unforeseen reason: relationships.
Most of the time, people can’t physically see what is wrong with you, and no matter how many times you try to explain, nothing breaks through.
“Oh, you’re just being dramatic… you just have to push through it.”
Please DON’T! Crumbling in the face of peer/family/self-induced (perception-based) pressure can be downright dangerous!
So let me say this quickly – if you are in a flare, have little to no energy, and cannot clean your house – even if it starts lookin’ a hot mess, IT’S OK.
People wanna shoot you dirty looks and whisper behind your back (or to your face) – Let ‘em. Worst case, shut them out until you feel better. This is going to sound insanely harsh, but it’s true… Your health and sanity are more important than “friends” (and sadly family members in some cases). Most importantly, it is temporary. You will gain your energy back (and real friends/family won’t abandon you).
Real talk over.
No Energy? No Problem (Sort of..)
Once again, autoimmune diseases aren’t a walk in the park. Have I said this before? Especially when they drain your energy and leave you tired, frustrated, and wanting NOTHING to do with housework.
So, if you are truly suffering and have no energy, you also have the option to pay someone else to do it for you. And believe me, I definitely know that is not always in the budget. Plus, at least where we live, the majority of cleaning services use toxic (and super smelly/perfumey) products that might leave you feeling sicker than before.
But, if you are taking your housework upon yourself, then this guide will give you the methods and the reasons to get the job done! So, don’t delay, build your chore list and routine, and put those household horrors behind you.
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Hey there! I’m Frank, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. My wife, Anna, and I have battled our respective autoimmune diseases for over a decade. We have fumbled through and eventually learned that REAL mental and physical healing requires you to be your own advocate, to think for yourself, and to determine what information works for YOU.
We created this blog to teach everyone how to use the resources and tools available to make the best personal decision surrounding any health, faith, and lifestyle choice.
This was extremely helpful. I suffer from multiple autoimmune/inflammatory diseases, one caused heart failure so I feel like most days before my feet even touch the floor that the day is stacked against me. I am a bit OCD when it comes to cleaning and organization we even downsized our home to make achieving basic chores possible again and I’ve been beyond exhausted since we moved in. I’ve slept 17 hours in a day and had no issues going back to sleep. Hopefully this blog will help me regain my sanity with a clean house and everything in its perfect place. The second bedroom is supposed to be my home office and it contains my vanity for when it’s possible to even apply makeup and I can’t even get to them because of unpacked boxes and clutter that needs to go into storage. Maybe just maybe planning things out and timing them will allow me to have my life in order. Going from a very healthy woman enjoying her 30’s to a 40 year old that is very sick 95% of the time and sleeping most of it has been extremely difficult. Articles like this give me hope that I can slowly put my life back in order even though it’s done at a different pace. Thank you for sharing your success to help me
Amy, I am so glad that you found this article useful. I appreciate you sharing your story/symptoms and showing the strength you possess by doing your best to compensate for your challenges. Please reach out over email if there are more specific questions we can help with or to offer additional encouragement.
I just wanted to say thank you for your article it gives me hope they are not sure what’s wrong with me I’m having an MRI done in two days from now but I’ve read your article and hopefully it will help me to stop before I get exhausted and get weak just like today cleaning the dishwasher filter my son tells me to stop to know my body but I I don’t know my body and I don’t know when to stop hopefully your tool kit will help thank you for sharing what you guys have went through I really appreciate it I’m just taping this on a microphone so there’s no abbreviations I just can’t remember the name of the periods and stuff in it but I just wanted to get my feelings out and express to you that all your work on this article is so important people I’m going to share it with my girlfriend who is going through a very hard time too.
Gerry, we are so glad that you found this article helpful, and thank you for subscribing!
Thank you for this article. It gives solid advice for people like us, “spoonies”. I have been trying to schedule my household chores in the same way that you described. I recently had a bad flare that took a couple of days to recover. I’m gradually getting my home into a more manageable state. Best wishes to you and your wife.
Thank you for the wishes, Heidi. I’m so glad you found the ideas useful! Keep on chipping away and enjoying the little victories like getting your house in order – always feels good 😊
Thanks for this article – it’s the most helpful and pragmatic one on this topic that I’ve read so far. I used to be a perfectionist who did chores daily and still rage-cleaned on the weekends so I could see my entire home spotless at least once a week. It’s been so hard to give that up. It helped me to start by working with my therapist to understand how my authoritarian parents and traditional upbringing led to unhealthy, yet deeply buried, beliefs about cleaning and boat-loads of shame. But even after working through much of that, the crushing fatigue of POTS was still there.
Seeing the little trophy really made me smile. 🙂 I also appreciated the concrete advice about which chores to focus on. And you helped me stay firm in my resolve to not cave into the pressure to add more decor to my spartan home. I would just be dusting it for years to come, and I would only be doing it to please my extended family, when cleaning for my health is a way better motivation.
Finally, I appreciate that you wrote this as a husband and father. Growing up, I was taught that household chores are entirely the responsibility of the woman and they majorly reflect on her worth as a person. Even though I’m now a feminist and I don’t believe that, it’s hard to entirely shed the years of built-up pressure around it. Seeing examples of real spouses who share the chores helps me to keep letting go of that baggage.
I’m going to go do a small chore and time it now!
Hi Jillian, thank you so much for the high praise!! I’m cracking up about your term “rage-cleaning”… and also saddened that you had carried such a burden for so long. But, glad now that you found some relief and benefit from this post! I always appreciate stories like yours – you are resilient!
I’ve been dealing with CFS for several years; it’s been a learning experience–to say the least!–especially since I was a very active person. I’ve had to relearn just about everything, as well as how to accept I’m not going to get back to the way I was prior to the horrible flu that kicked the CFS into action.
One of the things I’ve struggled with is housework. I prefer a tidy home–especially now as the clutter makes me feel more tired. But I kept getting behind, which generated more stress and, thusly, more fatigue. I knew what I needed to do to keep things as I preferred–but I struggled with the how.
Recently, my apartment came to look like Dorothy whipped through on her way to Oz–then back again. I sat down and broke up all I wanted to clear up and clean into rooms–and phases for each room. That was helpful, but my thought was, “But how do I STAY on top of things?!” All my own tries hadn’t worked.
I’d done Google searches with strings like “staying on top of chores cfs”–but none of the posts I found were terribly helpful. They all regurgitated the same ideas and didn’t provide any help at all. I tried again a few days ago and found this post, and, through it, learned about Tody. At first, I rejected the idea of using an app–after all, I knew what to do, right?
Wrong. I reminded myself that all my ways had failed.
I have a super strict budget, but I thought the $6.99 might be worth it. It was! I’ve spent the last week scratching off all the things from my Chore-o-rama list. With the help of Tody, I’ve set up schedules for all the chores, plus ones for the future. I also love that I can do seasonal lists–that will be very helpful for maintaining my terrace container garden and keeping the area tidy. I finally feel like I can pace myself properly and chores aren’t dangling off in the “sometime in the future” way of thinking.
I’ve even used the app to create a section I called “Self-Care”; in there I’ve put things for a daily check-off that will help support my health. I chose to put laundry in there as I tend to stretch that out for as long as possible, and then I have 8.2 billion loads to do (okay, so not *that* many…but it feels like it); my apartment is on the 3rd floor, the laundry room is in the basement. That makes it harder as we don’t have elevators.
Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I’m so glad the search string I used brought me here.
Hi Heather! Thanks so much for your comment. I am laughing as I respond (that’s a lot of laundry loads)… I’m really glad my post was helpful! Hopefully your comment inspires other who are struggling to make a certain change/try something new.