Fibromyalgia: Living a Balanced Life

Here’s how to get past chronic pain and fatigue to live a full life with fibromyalgia.

It can be difficult for anyone to balance everything in life. But when you have fatigue and chronic pain from fibromyalgia, prioritizing your activities and taking care of yourself is even more challenging -- and more important.

“For many people with fibromyalgia, it can be difficult at first to find a balance that feels comfortable,” says Kim D. Jones, RNC, PhD, FNP, associate professor at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Nursing. “Chronic pain and fibromyalgia fatigue may prevent you from doing some of the things you were used to, such as working, taking care of your family, and participating in hobbies and activities you enjoy.”

You can live a full life with fibromyalgia, however. The key is to listen to your body and be flexible with your plans. You may find that you need to schedule in a day of rest after certain activities. Or sometimes you’ll need to rearrange your day to put yourself first.

With fibromyalgia, slowing down and doing less can ultimately allow you to do more. Here are five strategies for living a balanced life. 

Coping With Fibromyalgia: Put Yourself First

“People with fibromyalgia are often so used to doing things for others -- whether it’s for family, friends or work -- that we end up doing a disservice to ourselves by taking on too much,” says Lynne Matallana, president and founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. Matallana has lived with fibromyalgia for 10 years.

“I’ve found it’s really important to learn how to take care of yourself and focus on your own needs,” she says. Depending on how you feel, that might sometimes mean lying in bed all day reading a book or going to a movie with friends. “It’s important to understand that taking care of yourself will ultimately help you heal.”

Set Limits When You Have Fibro

It’s also important to know your limits and to let others know that you may not be able to do everything you used to. “You shouldn’t feel bad when you need to say ‘no’ to requests,” Matallana says. “Fibromyalgia is a legitimate chronic illness. You have the right to do what you need to do to take care of yourself.”

Try these tips for taking care of your own needs:

  • Keep your options open. “When you get an invitation or request to do something, tell the person that you’re very interested, but you’d like to think about it and get back to them in 24 or 48 hours,” Jones says. “That way, if you decide you can’t do it, you won’t feel so put on the spot.”
  • It’s OK to cancel. If you’ve scheduled something and you aren’t feeling well enough to do it, reschedule. “Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do something,” Matallana says. “Try to remember that there will be other times you can do it.”
  • Keep a fibromyalgia journal. Recording your activities, meal times, sleeping schedule, and how you feel each day can help you identify what causes your symptoms to flare.
  • Delegate. Negotiate with your spouse or family members to take over certain tasks, such as cooking or cleaning, when you can’t do them. Try to work with your family to come up with solutions together.
  • Take a break. If you’ve been active on organizations or committees, consider taking a break for a period of time while you focus on taking care of yourself.
  • Eat out or order in. Rather than having family or friends over for dinner or holidays, make reservations at a restaurant or order in.
  • Plan activity during the hours you feel the best. For many people with fibromyalgia, this is between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., but it may be different for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “People will usually go out of their way to help if you ask for it,” Matallana says. “But they need to know what you’d like them to do.”

Fibromyalgia Coping Tip: Do Things You Enjoy

This can be tricky if you are already limiting your activities. “People with fibromyalgia often have difficulty scheduling pleasurable events,” Jones tells WebMD. “Because they use their energy to do things for others, when it comes time to do something enjoyable for themselves, they are often too exhausted.”

But finding and doing things you enjoy can make a big difference in your quality of life. “Doing things that make you feel good can ultimately make you feel better,” Matallana says. Things as simple as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or visiting with friends can lift your spirits.

Don’t always avoid enjoyable events because you’re concerned about fatigue or pain. For example, sometimes you might choose to go to a party knowing it may cause a flare-up of your symptoms the next day.

“For many people, going out every once in a while is important enough to their emotional well-being that it’s worth it,” says William Collinge, PhD, MPH, a psychotherapist and health consultant based in Kittery, Maine. “On these occasions, you can plan ahead and allow yourself to spend the next day in bed or relaxing if you have to.”

Take the same approach when it comes to family vacations or other outings. For example, plan to take a day off before your vacation, and then another day or two after to recover.

Fibromyalgia: Get Enough Sleep

Being well rested is another important way to take care of yourself. Many people with fibromyalgia have difficulty sleeping, which can make symptoms worse. “Poor quality of sleep impairs the body’s ability to recuperate,” Collinge says. “So anything you can do to improve your quality of sleep will help you feel better.”

Collinge recommends these tips to make sure your body is getting the rest it needs:

  • Go to bed early and get up early. You can experiment with what time works best for you, but aim for a bedtime of no later than 10 p.m. and try to wake up around 6 a.m. 
  • Take a nap in the afternoon. The trick is to get enough of a nap to help you feel refreshed, but to not sleep so long that you’ll affect your sleep that night. A 20- to 30-minute nap works well for most people. Setting an alarm will help ensure you don’t oversleep.
  • Eat dinner a few hours before bedtime. Ideally, plan dinner around 5 or 6 p.m. This will help ensure that your body isn’t still digesting food when you’re trying to sleep. You can also try eating your heaviest meal at mid-day and having a lighter meal at dinnertime.

Coping With Fibro: Don’t Give Up on Feeling Better

How you feel will vary from day to day, but it is possible to feel relief from the fatigue and chronic pain of fibromyalgia. “I think it’s important not to dwell on what you can’t do and instead focus on the small things you can do to feel better,” Matallana says. “You may need to be patient, but if you learn to take care of yourself and listen to your body, you really can start to heal over time.”

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