Why Routines are Important with a Chronic Illness

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With the uncertainties of a chronic illness, having a routine is an essential element. Symptoms wax and wane from hour to hour, day-to-day making plans, arrival times, and daily structure vulnerable to spontaneous changes. Delays and cancellations occur, and the only thing reliable is the unreliable. Here is why routines are important with a chronic illness.

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created by Brandi Clevinger using the image from © Boggy at www.stock.adobe.com

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What’s the difference between routine and schedule?

Notice I said routines are important with a chronic illness. Not schedules. Let’s clarify the difference between routine and schedule. The difference is why routines, and not schedules, are important with a chronic illness.

Dictionary.com defines routine as

commonplace tasks, chores, or duties as must be done regularly or at specified intervals; typical or everyday activity

The site defines schedule as

a series of things to be done or of events to occur at or during a particular time or period; a timetable

The major difference between schedule and routine is the time factor. A schedule is a set of activities done at a specific time. A routine is a set of activities done regularly with no specific time. Think of a schedule as a task you do at certain times such as an appointment. Think of a routine as something you habitually do in and out each day such as going to bed.

why routines are important with a chronic illness

Schedules, I know, are ideal for kids. The benefits of a schedule for kids are:

  • more restful sleeping
  • more attentive to other family members
  • less whining
  • more laughing
  • playing more with their siblings
  • more interactive with the family
  • better listening
  • more obedient

That’s a lot of benefits! But do adults get the same benefits from a schedule? Yes, they do! But do adults living with a chronic illness get the same benefits? Not in my opinion.

Having a chronic illness means expecting the unexpected. Changes in plans will occur. Days will not go as planned. Events, no matter the preparation, will get delayed or canceled altogether. Anxiety or depression hits. Flare-up of symptoms happen without warning.  That is where having a schedule becomes difficult.

Routines have benefits

Routines are more beneficial when living with a chronic illness. It’s like having a schedule, but without the time constraints. Routines have the same benefits, but with the added freedom of when you do those tasks. Having a routine will also help you get more quality sleep which is essential in living with a chronic illness. It will also help you remember to take supplements or medication as well as a stretch or do a similar beneficial exercise.

For example, for my summer routine, I wake between seven and eight each morning. It’s breakfast while watching Good Morning America and coffee with Live with Kelly and Michael. I keep my supplements on my table to help me remember to take them. Read more about my daily natural regiment to treat my chronic pain.

This is how I prepare for the day – taking it slow and easy. During this time I’ll feed the kids breakfast as they ask for it and get any activities they may want. I may work on my blog or do some social networking. Nothing is set in stone.

Around noon, it’s lunchtime followed by resting time. The little one naps while the older kids choose quiet activities (electronics, reading). I either rest, read, do housework, prepare dinner or write. Late afternoon I may run errands or do a fun outdoor activity with the kids. This is completely dependent on my mood and how the kids and I are feeling. If no one feels up to it, then we stay home or go swimming.

In the evening when my husband gets home, it’s dinner time. Then we spend time with the kids. We talk about our days or play a board game until their bedtime between seven and eight. Then my husband and I have time together until our bedtime between ten and eleven. The weekends are more open to doing whatever. We have a routine of waking up, eating our meals, and going to bed around the same time. What we do and the times we do them are more lenient on Saturdays and Sundays.

As you can see, nothing in my day is concrete or marked by a definite time slot. I have the leisure of going with the flow of symptoms and aiding them if needed. It’s much less demanding and stressful for me and the entire family.


Having a routine does not mean the kids do not get the benefits of a schedule. In a way, they have the security of knowing about when and how their days will happen. They reap the benefits of a schedule while I reap the benefits of a routine. It’s a win-win situation.

Once school starts, not a whole lot will change. I will have a specific time for waking up to get the kids to school and picking them up from school. That will most likely be the only change. A routine keeps my stress levels and anxiety to a more manageable tolerance. If a flare-up occurs, there’s not a schedule to worry about. Read more about how to manage flare-up of symptoms. 

Click here to get your three-page guide to Simple Tips to Being a Rockstar Fibro Parent.

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Hi, I’m Brandi, the writer and creator of Being Fibro Mom and My Fibro Journal. Aside from my work on Being Fibro Mom, I run a group called Fibro Parenting on Facebook. I've been writing for the Fibromyalgia Magazine since 2016 and recently became the Secretary and Fibro & Families program director for International Support Fibromyalgia Network. Facebook-+-Twitter-+-Instagram

10 thoughts on “Why Routines are Important with a Chronic Illness

  • July 21, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    I’m a first time visitor from the PaintedTeaCup linky. Routines are super important for me to manage fibro and life with 5 of my 6 kids still at home. The most important part of my routine (other than regular meal times) is time to be up before everyone else. This is my sacred space and it lets me awaken naturally without feeling like I’m being shot out of cannon by my kids’ needs!

    • July 22, 2015 at 8:58 am

      Hello! It’s great to have a fellow fibro friend visiting. I agree that it’s much better to wake up naturally rather than the kids waking me up. My kids’ method is much more radical than mine. haha Thanks for stopping by!

  • July 30, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    I definitely do better with a routine than a schedule. I like routines because they can be adjusted and changed depending on how I am feeling that day- more energy, do more. Less energy, cut it back to the basics. With a schedule, I stress myself out trying to get everything done exactly when I had it planned to do it. And as anyone with a chronic illness knows, stress can throw you into a flare just as much as bad weather, too much activity, just about anything.

    The only problem is that I get so used to my routines, I don’t like when they’re thrown off! Lol.

    • July 31, 2015 at 9:47 am

      I have the same thoughts about routines and schedules! Schedules are so constricting and stressing. Routines allow a flow and room for adjustment.

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  • April 28, 2016 at 8:15 am

    Much to my wife’s constant annoyance, I am obsessed with routine.

    Don’t know if it is the chronic pain of my MS or the necessity because of forgetfulness brought on by the MS brain fog – but routine is essential

    • April 28, 2016 at 10:45 am

      Most likely a little of each. I am, by nature, a creature of habit and routine. My routine is helpful in remembering. If I stray from it, I tend to lose items or forget what I did with it.

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  • November 24, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Love this article! I am desperately trying to get my life back in order as I am finally realizing that I will never get ‘better’ but will have good times and bad times (flares). I have struggled with this because I ALWAYS lived on a schedule. My planner was like my bible. I try to do schedules now but find I can’t atick to them, then get depressed. I like the idea of ‘routine’ instead of schedules. I am going to give it a go.

    • November 28, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      Yes! I was the same way, Dawn, with lists and a strict schedule. Military was a great fit for me! However, schedules, like you said, can be a letdown and disappointing. Try routines and see if that gives you the security of a schedule while avoiding the letdown of one.


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