What is Fibromyalgia? “Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues” (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354780). It’s widely believed that fibromyalgia increases pain by impacting the pain signals that are sent from the brain. Fibromyalgia is more likely to occur in women than men and can start after a traumatic event or slowly over time.
There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, and it is classified as a chronic pain disease. It’s also often described as an “invisible” illness because the person suffering may not show any outward physical signs. In addition to pain, people dealing with fibromyalgia often suffer from brain fog and fatigue, making day to day activities challenging. All of these things can lead a sufferer to feeling misunderstood and isolated. If you are suffering from fibromyalgia there are things you can do to lessen and better manage your systems.
Your mental health and stress levels can directly impact your pain from fibromyalgia. If you are able to relax mentally you may avoid pain triggers, lessening your pain or number of painful events. Here are some strategies to help you relax and improve your mental health.
- Meditation. Meditation can help you focus your mental energy and allow you to be more in touch with your physical and emotional being. It can also be a good opportunity for you to practice positive visualization.
- Breathing exercises. Breathing exercises can be an effective way to calm down your mind and body. Practicing breathing exercises in times of stress can help you avoid triggering a pain episode and also give you a sense of control over your stress levels.
- Listen to your favorite music or practice a favorite hobby. When you suffer from fibromyalgia, you may not have enough energy for everything that you want to do in you life including being there for your family and friends but it is so important that you make time for the things that bring you joy. This could be time to write, paint or anything else that helps you feel calm. If you don’t make time for simple pleasures like this it can lead to feelings of depression and being overwhelmed.
- Lean on your support system. When you are living with an “invisible” illness it is very easy to feel misunderstood and alone. Make sure you surround yourself with family, friends, therapist, support group, and/or others with fibromyalgia. By reaching out to your support system you help your loved ones understand what you are going through and together can work to manage your symptoms and challenges. It is critical for your mental well being that you know you are not alone.
Take Care of Your Physical Health
Your mental health is just one piece of an important puzzle. Your physical health is equally important to helping you manage your fibromyalgia pain. Here are some strategies to give you the best opportunity to avoid trigger pain episodes and/or decrease their intensity.
- Low Intensity Exercise. Exercises such as walking, water aerobics, and balance exercises are all helpful. Exercise as regularly as you are able. Low intensity exercise can help alleviate pain and fatigue, giving you more energy and helping you feel better. Make sure that you consult with your doctor prior to starting any new exercise regimen. Also, don’t push yourself. If you have concerns about falling due to balance issues or worry about fatigue during exercise take a friend and stop when needed.
- Warm yourself often. Soaking in a warm bath or sitting in a sauna can help ease your tension and relax tight muscles. This in turn can help you feel more peaceful and reduce your pain sensations. Relaxing your body is also a good practice before bedtime which brings us to the next important point.
- Get enough sleep. This is easier said than done. When dealing with chronic pain it can be impossible to get a good night’s sleep which in turn leads to exhaustion, fatigue and more pain. Put in some time to make your bedroom your sanctuary. It should be dark and free from distractions such as the TV. Your bed should be comfortable and supportive and you should do whatever you can to maintain a regular sleep routine.
- Watch what you eat. Nutrition plays an important part in your overall physical health. Fill your body with nutrient rich foods, which will help fuel your body giving you more energy.
- Massage. Similar to a warm bath, massage can help release stress, tension and relax tight muscles. A regular massage can be very therapeutic and help you better manage your pain.
- Yoga. This type of exercise is good for both your mental and physical health. You can perform a series of stretches and exercises that may make your muscles stronger and more limber. Yoga also combines breathing techniques with the movements, making it even more positive. It is important that you do not push yourself too far and if you feel pain you stop immediately.
- Switch to decaf. Caffeine may seem like a good pick me up, but it can do more harm than good. Caffeine can make you feel on edge and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. Avoid caffeine if at all possible.
Assess Your Work Life and Make Changes if Needed
Maintaining a 9 to 5 job can be nearly impossible if you are suffering from fibromyalgia. Episodes of pain and brain fog can make it difficult to show up to work on time and put your best foot forward. There are some ways to work around these challenges.
- Talk to your boss about a flexible schedule. You will have bursts of energy and varying windows of time when you can be accurate and productive. Talk to your supervisor about working a flexible schedule or cutting back on hours if needed.
- Work to make your office or work environment as comfortable as possible. Just as it is important to make your bedroom your sanctuary, you also need to make your workspace as comfortable and conducive to your needs as possible.
Set Healthy Boundaries
People around you may not always understand your illness and its accompanying symptoms. You are the first and most important advocate of your own health. So if coworkers are insisting you accompany them on a night out or your boss asks you to take on additional work, say no if you need to. Because people cannot always see your pain, they may not understand it. Kindly, but firmly set boundaries to protect your own well-being and health.
Track Your Symptoms
Your symptoms may seem completely random but there are many different triggers that can come into play. That’s why it’s so important that you track your symptoms. Keep a journal close at all times or use your phone if it’s more convenient. Whatever your tracking method, keep detailed notes about every pain episode including the time of day, what you were doing just before, how long and intense the episode lasts, and anything else pertinent you can think of. This will help you and your medical team identify and eliminate possible triggers.
Consistent Medical Care
While there are plenty of things you can do to create the healthiest, pain free life for yourself; nothing is a substitute for good medical care. Your team of medical professionals should work with you to help manage your pain, symptoms and triggers. Your doctor can help with medications as well as exercise regimens. You should be meeting with your team regularly and reviewing your notes about your symptoms. Together, you can work to achieve the most pain free life possible.
If you suffer from fibromyalgia, please know that you are not alone. At our office, we regularly help people dealing with pain. We will work with you as a team to implement strategies to make your life as pain-free and fulfilling as possible. Please give our office a call, we would be honored to help you tackle your fibromyalgia pain.