I’m pretty sure most people reading this will have experienced fatigue of some kind. And I don’t mean the ‘Oh gosh I’m so tired, it’s been such a long day’ kind of fatigue. I mean the ‘I can’t bring myself to get out of bed this morning’ kind of fatigue. I have experienced this kind of fatigue for almost 10 years now and sadly it just doesn’t go away. But it does become more manageable!
In the early days, I found fatigue unbearably overwhelming. Which was not very helpful as it was bang in the middle of my first degree! Fatigue, coupled with pain from Fibromyalgia made things very difficult for me but what could I do? I just had to struggle through to get my degree as fibromyalgia was not very well known about back then. People just thought I was lazy. I had to fight and find my own way to get through things, but that’s a story for another day.
There is no one single way to ‘cure’ fatigue. But there are many ways that you can try to help manage it. There is no right or wrong answer, what works for one person may not work for another and vice versa.
One thing that you will be aware of if you have read blogs here before or have had sessions with Jo, is that pacing is widely used to help with managing fatigue. If you haven’t done a Pacing Masterclass yet, I highly recommend it. It has helped me look at things so differently. I am going to try some of the aspects of pacing and improve my quality of life even more.
There is always room for improvement and we continuously learn what is best for us, especially when situations change. For example, after 15 years of working in restaurants, I decided to come back to university in 2021. This was a huge change for me, I had to adapt the ways that I was managing my fatigue and time. My job had been very active and distracting, whereas university life is mainly spent on my bottom!
One of the areas Jo talks widely about is planning. Plan time in your day for rests. This way you will not have to have an enforced rest after doing too much. Forced rest can make you feel like you have achieved nothing with the rest of your day. It is also important that you include activities that you enjoy doing in your plan for the day or week. If you are only doing housework and cooking all day every day the joy will start to slip away. This will start to affect your mental health as well as your physical health.
One of the most important things with planning is to be realistic. When newly diagnosed, it can be tempting to think you’ll still be able to get on with your day like before. But this will just cause one massive crash. Try not to do too much. It is better to take multiple small breaks during the day rather than one big break. This way you will get more done and feel slightly better for it. If you end up feeling ok after your set tasks for the day, then you have free time to do whatever you wish. Which leads me nicely on to my next tip.
Restorative tasks are so important for your physical and mental health. These are the tasks that you enjoy, ones that do not take a lot of effort mentally and physically. These can range from listening to music or watching tv to knitting, sitting in the garden or in a park and bird watching. Your restorative tasks can also act as good distractions. Not only from fatigue but from other symptoms too, such as pain.
Hints and Tips
In your everyday life, there are so many different adjustments that you can make to help manage your fatigue. I’ll give a few examples that might be helpful and that I’ve certainly found make my life a bit easier. The biggest thing that has helped me is with doing the food shop!
I make a list before I go and on that list I follow the lay out of the shop. When I used to go shopping, I’d make a list because brain fog hits. I’d be walking up and down, getting the things off my list. But, I’d be exhausted by the time I got back to the car. Following the lay out of the shop means I only have to walk it once. I usually start from the back and work my way back down. So, I end up at the check-out with a full trolley rather than pushing my full, heavy trolley from the back of the shop to the tills. Another tip with shopping is to go at quieter times. If you’re a morning person, I recommend going at 7 or 8am. If you have more energy in the evenings then 7 or 8pm.
The other big thing that I found I struggled with when first diagnosed with fibromyalgia was cooking. There are many possible things that could go wrong with cooking: brain fog, pain, fatigue etc. My top tips to combat fatigue when cooking are to try and cook simpler meals. Ones that have less ingredients and don’t take so long to prepare/cook. If you have one, use a slow cooker and/or batch cook meals. Having meals for the next day has been a big help to me. I know when I am able to cook a meal from scratch one day, I won’t be the next day. It’s always handy to have food in the freezer for a rainy day.
Another thing I find useful is one pan/pot meals. This saves on the washing up which is very energy consuming. Don’t forget to soak those dishes first before washing them up to make life that little bit easier.
I’ve saved this topic for last because many people just aren’t sure about it and feel like it’s impossible. That is physical activity and exercise. Yes, at the beginning it seems like an impossible task, a large red activity. In a way it will be. For me, the last thing I wanted to be doing was exercise. I just wanted to stay on the sofa all day. Now I’m not saying it will work for everyone, no two people are the same. But when I eventually built up the courage and knowledge to go back to physical activity, it made me feel better, physically and mentally.
The biggest thing I want to get across is that it will not happen overnight. Baby steps are needed. I literally started by walking to the end of my driveway and back for a month. I built things up very, very slowly. 9 years later, I walk 10km a day, go trampolining twice a week and do yoga once a week. To people who aren’t chronically ill it may not seem a lot. To people who have just been diagnosed, it will seem impossible. Don’t get me wrong, some days I do have to have a rest after some of these activities. But it is worth it to me for my physical and mental health. I won’t go on any more about it because this blog is already huge!
This blog has just scratched the surface when it comes to managing fatigue. There are so many other things that can be done. If you would like any information on these or to talk to me more about physical activity/exercise, please get in touch via: firstname.lastname@example.org. Look forward to hearing from you!
About the Author
Hi, I’m Zandra. I’m a second year Physiotherapy student currently studying at the University of Brighton. My interest in Physiotherapy grew during lockdown while I was looking after my Mum and seeing what a difference I was making to her wellbeing. I have lived experience of chronic pain and fatigue as I have been diagnosed with CFS, fibromyalgia and haemochromatosis. Through finding my own ways to cope, I feel like I have a lot to offer to people who find themselves in similar situations.
I live in Kent with my Dad and my brother. In my spare time I love to walk, read, watch cricket and trampoline!
So let me know what you think and feel free to get in touch via email@example.com. I Also have an Instagram account that I am working on @zandraphysio. Hope to hear from you soon 😊