Tips for Coping When You’re Signed Off Sick

Whilst having a set period of time off of work might be Heaven for some, for those of us who are sick, it’s a bit of a nightmare. 

I’ve found that the chronic illness community – myself totally included – are great at putting everything first but ourselves first, and when the mention of “being signed off” comes up in conversation, we’ll often shoot it down or think about all the things it might mean, rather than accept we need it.  I’ve been signed off for more time that I care to remember, and it still never feels any easier!

In the UK, you can self-certificate for up to 7 days.  What this means is for this short period of time, you don’t need a a sick note from your GP or other healthcare professional.  Think of it when you have a really bad cold and take a couple of days off work – no one asks you to see the sick note do you?  And, interestingly, you don’t really think twice about being off for something like a cold.

But when it comes to needing a decent amount of time off work either post-surgery, a period of illness or just simply because your body needs it, we find it hard and spend our time worrying about what it might bring. 

 So, I’ve complied some tips and suggestions to help you cope when you’re signed off – be that for any health-related reason. 

Probably the most important – try not to worry about your finances.

I know it’s totally easier said than done, but you have to try and separate any worries about your finances – worry and stress are not going to help you get better.  There is a saying that “having your health is wealth” and it’s so true – if you continue to push yourself and make yourself iller and iller, then working may become achievable.  You’ve got to listen to what your body needs.

If you know you’re going to be off in advance (e.g. elective surgery), then make sure you talk to your employer and gain as much information as possible regarding their policies on sick pay and absences.  Whilst not every employer has to give paid sick leave, in the UK employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay – think of it as a Government thing.  And although these payments are very often not reflective of your normal salary they are something.  Other things you can do if you know in advance is save a little extra or adjust things to avoid spending unnecessarily.  

If you don’t know in advance or are off for longer than expected, then making sure you talk to your partner and/or family so that you can keep on top of your finances and know what’s what.  I’ll often keep in touch with my companies payroll team so that I am aware of what is coming off of my monthly payslip, as this often eases my worries.

Communication is important.

Making sure that people know you’re off can be helpful (if you’re comfortable with others knowing) – there’ll be less expectations on you and you’ll have a good number of people to count on if you need it. 

It’s also important to keep the lines of communication open, as it’s more than likely you’ll be on your own for most of the days you’re off.  This means you’ll be able to vent any worries and frustrations, as boredom and loneliness are things you want to avoid.  Being able to have links with people will help you feel “normal” and you never know – people might come and keep you company!

This can also include social media – a great platform for connecting with friends, family and other people in a similar situation.  I’ve written many times about how connecting to the Spoonie community has helped me and I’d recommending reaching out to anyone! 

And if you’re happy to, you could always keep the communication open with your employer so that you aren’t feeling out of the loop!

Have some distractions.

Being stuck in hospital or at home for a period of time can sometimes lead to developing “cabin fever”!  Those same walls and daily activities can feel mind-numbing and endless, but even though you aren’t feeling as up to scratch as normal, having things to do will help with any boredom and frustration. 

Here are some great distractions; 

  • watching films
  • getting hooked into a new TV series or boxset 
  • arts, crafts and colouring 
  • reading and writing 

And when you’re feeling more up to it, do little things like baking or having a family member or friend over for coffee – company is a great distraction also!

Get a breath of fresh air!

This time round, it took me a lot longer to be able to have a walk around the block, but after days stuck inside, it was so refreshing.  Getting out of the same environment does so much good for your mental health, thus aiding recovery.  

No one is saying it has to be a marathon – just going around the block or even around your garden when you’re able will help.  Not only will it make you feel good, it’ll give you the confidence to know that you are able to do things.

Make sure you have a routine.

This might be an odd one, but it works.  

When you’re stuck in hospital, there is a very clear routine.  Most patients are awoken at 7am, the medication rounds are at set times everyday and there is a very strict system with how everything works.  Although it sounds boring, it does help make the day go by. 

When you get home, there isn’t really much routine.  I’ve found making sure I have lunch by a certain time or making myself get out of bed by a certain time, I’ve felt like I’m not just stuck at home and I’ve not “lost” my everyday routine.  It’ll also help you adjust easier when you have to get back to work. 

Do what is comfortable for you. 

Just because you’re at home on your own, doesn’t mean you can’t make an effort with your appearance.  NO, I am not saying you’re not allowed to be in your PJs all day – I’m saying that if dressing up or putting make-up on makes you feel better, then go for it! If it’s the other way around, no one is going to judge you!

What no one ever tells you is that being signed off is not all it’s cracked up to be – people assume you get to spend all day on the sofa or doing whatever you want, but that’s simply not the case.  

Being signed off work is often a worrying time, so I hope these tips make it just that bit easier!

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