Tips for managing college student life when you have a chronic illness - from a student living with Hashimotos and Ehlhers Danlos Syndrome.

Almost two months ago I posted this article about the truth of living with chronic illnesses as a college student – the responses were amazing. Comments on the article itself, replies to the social media posts sharing it, and direct emails all came flooding in. Throughout these messages there was one common theme: wanting more. More about my story of living with chronic illnesses, more honesty about how I manage everything I do (I’m talking multiple jobs and being a full time student), and more tips for those of you who are also students with chronic illnesses.

I hear you loud and clear – and I am so excited to open up even more and share with you how I juggle everything, yet still handle my chronic illnesses.

Chronic illnesses are a tricky thing, no two are the same. Even two people with the same diagnosis could experience vastly different symptoms, struggles, and day-to-day experiences. It all takes trial, error, and working with some wonderfully understanding doctors to manage any illness. However, here are 7 things that help me personally to manage life as a student with a chronic illness.

1. Track Attendance Policies

One of the most frustrating parts of being a student with a chronic illness is not knowing how your grade may be affected if you are unable to attend class.

In some classes, attendance and participation do not matter and are not counted at all. In other classes, they are a significant part of your grade. In others, if you miss a certain amount you automatically lose a letter grade or two.. or even worse, get dropped from the course. As a student with a chronic illness, there are some days when you are completely unable to get to class – due to situations out of your control. How do you deal with this?

First and foremost, keep track of the attendance policies in your classes. If your professor has a rule where you can miss 3 classes, unexcused, before your grade starts to drop – make a note of that. If your professor says that attendance is worth 10% of your grade, make a note of that. Then, track your absences in each class.

For example, in one of my classes my attendance is worth 100 points. After doing the math that is roughly 2.5 points per class period, which means that I can miss 4 classes before getting a B in attendance in that course. I will keep in this in mind when I am having really bad flare up days and am unable to attend class. Knowing how my absence will affect my grade helps to relieve stress by knowing that missing a class or two will not derail all of the hard work I have been putting into that class.

To track this, I make a page in my OneNote notebook for the school semester with a simple table to track all of my absences.

2. Get Doctor’s Notes


Many professors will excuse absences if you provide them with a note from your doctor. While this is not always the case, and I certainly know that not every absence results in attaining a doctor’s note, when it does apply it is worth it to get that absence excused so it doesn’t count against you.

3. Make a Friend

If you have a friend in your class – great! If not, be nice to the people next to you and get their number. If you’re missing class for whatever reason, don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask them to send you any notes or announcements that you missed. Having a friend in class is also helpful for dealing with brainfog (a symptom of many chronic illnesses) where you can ask them questions if you forgot anything from class.

RELATED: Listen to this episode of my podcast, The Quarter Life Crisis Club Podcast, on Living with Chronic Illness:

4. Keep an Eye on Assignment Point Worth

what to do between college courses

Similar to tracking attendance, keep an eye on how much each assignment/exam/paper/project/presentation is worth.

Of course you want to complete every assignment, do amazing, and ace class – however sometimes life (and doctor’s appointments, bad flare up days, and hospital visits) get in the way. Missing an assignment can cause some bad anxiety, and staying up until 3am to finish assignments every night can cause symptom flare ups. When you track how much each assignment is worth then you can weigh the pro’s and con’s of going through something rough to complete the assignment. On the other hand, if you are unable to complete a smaller assignment such as a discussion board post that is only worth 2 out of 300 points in the class, noticing that it is only worth those 2 points will help to ease your anxiety and give you a chance to skip the assignment and take care of your body instead.

5. Register with Disabilities Services

One of the first things that my parents and I did when I started at my university was register for disabilities services. While at first I felt a little embarrassed and thought that I didn’t really need to be registering for this – it has paid off.

Disabilities Services, while different on each campus, can offer you some amazing things to help ease your pain as a college student with a chronic illness. For me, for example, I was able to get a dorm room with a kitchen so that I could eat right for the allergies I have developed due to my disorder – which would have been impossible in my school cafeteria.

Schedule a meeting with your school’s disabilities services to see what they can do for you.

6. Schedule in “Me Time”

chronic illness

Self care as someone with a chronic illness can be so hard. When you already immediately reach for your bed as soon as you have the chance to, it can be difficult to distinguish between self-care and just watching Grey’s Anatomy for the 7th time. (BTW, has anyone else seen their chronic illness come up as a diagnosis on Grey’s Anatomy? I have! So weird.)

Turn off that Netflix, turn on some music and light some candles. Open a bottle of wine and find a hobby that goes easy on your body, and engages your mind. Examples include: Blogging, coloring, cooking, cleaning, makeup art, planning, writing, painting my nails, video games, and yoga.

Taking the time out of my busy day to listen to my body and slow down is so important. This allows my brain to focus on something productive, fun, and calming – rather than thinking about how much pain I’m in, how far the walk to my next class is, how long I’m going to have to stand up to present at my meeting tonight, the long drive home, how much reading I have to do… I can tune that out and try to relax.

7. Listen to Your Body

All of these tips have a common theme, and that theme is: Listen to your body.

Coming from someone who once juggled 5 jobs and 18 credits of classes at once – college students are busy, but don’t be afraid to slow down and take a day off here and there. While you do have to stay accountable and responsible about 90% of the time, it’s important to take care of yourself and – if you’re pushing it too hard – take that 10% to only do what you need to.


If you have a chronic illness – how do you make sure to take care of yourself amidst a busy schedule?



Managing Student Life with a Chronic Illness
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6 thoughts on “Managing Student Life with a Chronic Illness

  • February 21, 2018 at 12:56 am

    I totally agree with you, especially with number 3–making a friend. I struggled a lot when I had problems connecting with the people in my class. Thankfully, I eventually made friends with some of my classmates and they were very helpful, personally.

  • March 6, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Something I’ll definitely do at my next college is make use of Disability Services. I felt embarassed at my first college and didn’t even bother. Now I’m wondering if it would have helped in any way. Making friends is really hard for me, as someone with Social Anxiety, so getting a classmates number might not be a reality. Better become close with the teacher haha

    • August 29, 2020 at 9:07 am

      Honestly, I wish I had done this, too. I knew before I ever graduated high school that I would be seeking counseling for anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Through this, I was diagnosed with panic disorder and persistent depressive disorder, but I’m in my last year now and am always debating whether it’s worth it to identify for the home stretch. Studying wears me out so easily, and brain fog is a daily struggle. The question burns stronger in my mind since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

  • June 4, 2018 at 1:12 pm

    Wow!! I am an incoming freshman and really nervous about college! I have multiple autoimmune diseases and this really helped! Before I read this, I was going in blind! Thanks!

  • June 16, 2019 at 12:00 am

    I was born with spina bifida! It has been a battle but I did manage to get my Masters degree. My first year I didn’t want to lean on anybody. Big mistake. When I got sick half way through my first semster there was nothing I can do. The first thing you need to do is go to the disability office . They can get you accommodations and will talk to your teachers for you. Then make friends with at least 3 people. One is not enough. If one of those people get sick too you have a back up plan for someone to take notes for you. I give this advice to all my tutoring students.


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