How to Cope With Fibromyalgia
Remember to Rest and Relax
At the end of each evening, I reach out to loved ones and give them my wishes to “sleep well and have sweet dreams.”
This is something that I desire for myself as well, but through the years of dealing with fibromyalgia, I’ve learned that sufficient sleep is often hard to come by. Part of coping with your condition and flare-ups hinges on how well you sleep at night.
There are things you can do to promote the chances of better sleep:
- Make sure your body is prepared for rest. You can't sleep if there is light in your room or if a television is blaring in another room.
- Make sure your room is quiet, dark, and cool. Use earplugs if you are sensitive to noise, and use a blackout blind or wear an eye mask to block light.
- Eliminate afternoon caffeine from your diet, and exercise regularly – although not near bedtime. Sometimes a snack that is high in carbohydrates can help induce sleep because it boosts levels of serotonin in your body, a chemical messenger that helps regulate mood, appetite and sleep.
Take Care of Yourself First
Many of us who struggle with the changes that fibromyalgia brings, are so accustomed to going, doing, and serving others that taking time to care for ourselves seems foreign to us. Still, the only way to cope with life with fibromyalgia and still be what we desire to be for others is to take care of ourselves.
Below are some tips for doing just that.
Learn to Say “No”
This one is especially difficult for me as I find joy in being there for others. Still, failing to set personal limits or saying "yes" to too many demands will make you feel overloaded. That will add to your already elevated stress level.
To help yourself say "no" to a persuasive friend or activity, think through the situation before you answer. Check your calendar, and weigh the alternatives. Involve family members or friends in the discussion about what to do.
Would another commitment stop you from getting the rest, exercise, and relaxation you need to feel well? Would it interfere with the priorities that are high on your list?
The desire to help others is commendable, but being all things to all people may hinder your healing and make you feel resentful, tired, and depressed. It is important to take a firm stand, so say "no," and mean it.
Make Time for Yourself Each Day
Work towards achieving an overall lifestyle balance. Make time to do the things you "want" to do as well as the things you "have" to do. People with fibromyalgia are faced with special demands that other healthy people do not have.
The task of coping with fatigue and pain each day makes it necessary to keep your priorities in order, so you have the energy to reach your daily goals.
I penned a motto several years ago after dealing with the struggles of fibromyalgia and the resulting lifestyle change it forced on me. It simply states, “the being energizes the doing.” When we take time to relax and enjoy simple pleasures for ourselves, it recharges us, so to speak, so that we have renewed energy for the daily task and people in our lives.
An exercise routine is important for coping and easing symptoms of fibromyalgia. Because of the pain, trigger points and tender points, ongoing fatigue, and stiffness felt by people with fibromyalgia, many have become physically unfit.
Aerobic or conditioning exercises – such as walking, swimming, and cycling – have analgesic and antidepressant effects. Aerobic exercise can help enhance your sense of well-being and feeling of being in control.
Your doctor should be able to help in designing a program that is right for you and possibly even prescribing exercise therapy at a rehab, gym, or other facilities. I developed a routine of walking many years ago, and it not only became a great source of relief physically but emotionally – that quiet time on my “stroll” was an oasis away from the struggles I faced for a while.
Use Relaxation Tools
There are many relaxation techniques you can use to both cope and ease daily tension, anxiety, and pain.
- You might learn to relax with guided imagery or visualization. Closing your eyes and thinking or focusing on something pleasant or peaceful can still your anxiety, and relax your mind, muscles, and emotion. Download an app that provides visuals and sounds designed for that purpose. I have an app downloaded on my phone called “Calm.” You can choose various scenes and sounds of nature to “escape to.” A couple of my favorites are the beach and gentle rainy days.
- Meditation or prayer is another excellent coping mechanism. When you meditate and experience the relaxation response, your body is allowed permission to switch from the pumping "fight or flight" response into a calmer, more peaceful mood. Studies show that when you step back from problems and use mind/body tools to relax, you produce brain waves consistent with serenity and happiness.
- “Brain dump” everything. The leader of our group instructed us to take five minutes each evening to write down all the thoughts, ideas, and “to do” lists that were on our mind. Then put the list aside and let go of our thoughts to simply enjoy our evening. When our mind is still focused on activity while our body is needing rest, we rob ourselves of the time needed to relax, recharge, and restore. Thinking positive thoughts will, in turn, allow us to reduce negative voices in our heads as well. This produces a much more optimistic attitude when you can do.
Soak in a Warm Bath
This way of coping is perhaps one of my most favorite. I am amazed at how much better I feel afterward. Not only am I relaxed, but my pain is reduced, and my fatigue melts away.
Relaxing in a warm bath, whirlpool bath, or sauna or standing under a warm shower serves two purposes.
First, it helps you to relax tense muscles, reduce pain, and move more easily. Second, some studies show that the warm, moist heat may raise levels of endorphins and decrease levels of stress hormones.
The Bottom Line...
While life before fibro might’ve been somewhat different to live with fibro, life is still yours for the making. The truth is, life is full of changes in our journey with or without illness. What we choose to do with our “today's,” and what we value need not change.
Somethings are not dependent on how active we are, how much energy we have or level of productivity we provide to people or things. Love of family is still a treasure. The laughter of friends is still a joy. Quiet moments are still blissful, and life is always worth pursuing its everyday miracles and unexpected blessings along the way.
Don’t let pain, fatigue or any of the other conditions of fibromyalgia rob more than they have to. It may zap your energy but not your purpose. It may slow your steps but not stop the music.