Having fibromyalgia can often feel like living on a roller coaster. When your symptoms are low, you push to get as much done as you can. But doing more than the body can tolerate, you intensify your symptoms and crash. You rest to reduce symptoms, but then, you feel frustrated and try to make up for lost time. This may plunge into another round of over-activity leading to another crash.
The key to successfully managing and living with fibromyalgia is rest. Most people with fibromyalgia tend to push themselves beyond their available daily strength. Often, this results in a push/crash cycle – doing way too much one day, then taking multiple days to recover. Doing beyond what the body can tolerate, you intensify your symptoms and crash. You then rest to reduce symptoms, but then, you feel frustrated and try to make up for lost time. You then plunge into another round of over-activity leading to another crash.
When it feels as though you have a million and one things to do it is easy to end up doing too much.
There are two things that you need to address to pace yourself successfully.The first is the feeling of needing to do everything now. You know, the voice in your head that tells you all these things that you need to do? The one that won’t stop and will make you stress out. Making you feel guilty until you tick everything off your to-do list? You must learn to shut that little voice up. You must change your priorities and expectations. Nothing is more important than your own health. Things can wait! – It’s not the end of the world if you don’t do things immediately. Many times it doesn’t matter if they get done at all.
You need to find a way to stop yourself from getting carried away. Starting a task and feeling like you have to keep on going until it is finished. This has to do with changing expectations. Finding ways to remind yourself to stop before pushing yourself past the breaking point.
Staying in the pocket
One way to explore the idea of limits is through the concept of the strength pocket. You can think of your situation in terms of three factors:
- Available strength: The strength you have. It is limited, and is replenished by rest and food;
- Expended strength: The strength you lose through physical, mental & emotional exertion;
- Resulting Symptoms: fatigue, brain fog, pain, etc.
If you expend more strength than you have available, you will intensify your symptoms. This is called living outside the pocket.
Living in the pocket.
- If you keep your expended strength within the limits of your available strength, you will gain control over your symptoms.
Here are several ways to stay in the pocket:
- Write Down Everything That You Need To Do
Feeling the need to do everything immediately is because of worry that you will forget to do it. Writing down a to-do list helps to remember everything. You instantly feel more in control while reducing your stress.
- Prioritize Your To-Do List
Once you have your to-do list in writing, it is easy to see everything that you need to do. It instantly feels more manageable. Then prioritize what needs to be done first and what can wait.
- Ask For Help
Before you do anything, see if there is anything on your list that you can ask for help with. Don’t try and do absolutely everything by yourself. Asking for help can be daunting and embarrassing but, trust that people want to help you when they can.
- Choose One Task Per Day
Decide what task on your to-do list is a top priority. Choose only the top one to work on completing each day. Think about whether you can achieve it in one day and if not, break it up over two or more.
- Do You Need To Forgo Doing Something Else
If a task is particularly tiring, even when you limit yourself to doing it for a short duration, you may need to ask yourself if there is something else you can forgo doing. We only have limited strength resources (A/K/A Spoons) each day. For example, you might decide not to do your usual daily walk so that you have more strength to invest in another task.
- Set A Timer During Tasks
Limit yourself to only doing something for a set period of time and stick to it. This will be individual (some will be able to do more than others) and task dependent but 10 minutes is a good place to start. Using a timer stops you from getting carried away and is an auditory reminder to take a break. If you simply use a clock or watch, it is easy for time to run on without you realizing.
- Time Rest Too
Do 10 minutes work and then set your timer for 20 minutes of rest. Error towards doing more rest than work. Setting a timer ensures that you rest for that amount of time.
- Listen To Your Body
Becoming attuned to your body is so important. You will begin to learn and pick up on little signs that are your cue to stop what you are doing. This is when you need to stop. If you don’t, progressively you will become more exhausted, ache with intense pain, feel nauseous, in addition, feeling restless and irritable. If you reach this point you have done too much and you will ‘pay for it’.
- Appreciate The Small Achievements
Instead of thinking about what you still need to do, think about how amazing it is that you have managed to achieve a small step towards reaching your overall goal. It’s all about changing and managing expectations. This becomes easier to do when you start to achieve your goals and fell well doing so.
- Build Up Slowly
The huge benefit of pacing is that when you get it right you will begin to feel better. It is important to resist the temptation to do too much. You need to have discipline and keep on using all of the above techniques, even when you suddenly have a day where you feel better. When you start to have more good days than bad, that’s the point when you can start to do a little more. Make anything extra that you do quantifiable. For example, do an extra 5 minutes only. It might feel frustrating when you want to do more than this but it will prevent you crashing and undoing all of your hard work.
- What If I Don’t Feel Better From Doing All Of This
The unfortunate answer is that you are probably still doing too much. Your life is unbalanced and needs to include more rest and you may benefit from doing even less until your body is stronger. I can’t tell you how to specifically go about that. You are the only person who knows that answer. It’s down to you as to whether you think it is worth slowing down even more.