This week’s post comes a day late to coincide with its publication here: www.ChronicBabe.com
Are your fibromyalgia symptoms driven by stress?
For most of us, our stress loads (whether business or personal) result in increased symptoms. Then the increased symptoms become the source of more stress. We’re stuck! We wonder — where does it end?
I actually once had a doctor tell me to stop feeling stressed. He said that I should just ignore it. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find that advice very helpful.
It occurred to me that telling a person with fibromyalgia to ignore stress
is somewhat like telling a pea to ignore the pod.
Stress and fibromyalgia are intricately intertwined … and it shows! Under stress, the digestive system goes into mutiny, the muscles snap to attention, and the brain tries to run the whole show, finding as much success as the Wizard of Oz behind his veil of disguise.
So … what’s a ChronicBabe to do?
The obvious starting place is to eliminate or reduce the cause of stress. Beware — this might not work. It’s common for the source of our stress to be something we can do little about (hence, the feeling of stress!). If we can’t eliminate stress, what can we do? We can take action and deal with stress in healthy ways.
Here’s why that’s important. In physiological terms, stress causes increased blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and a decrease in digestive function. Bad news! This is the sympathetic nervous system at work, also referred to as “fight or flight.” Chronic health challenges result from staying in this unhealthy state for long periods of time.
The antidote? True relaxation! When the body is relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system calms the body by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and while allowing healthy digestion.
The parasympathetic nervous system induces a healing state. Want to kick your healing state into action? Try prayer, meditation, deep breathing, gentle exercise, imagery, and humor. The best thing about these healing modalities is that you don’t have to spend money, have special training, or even leave the comfort of your home. You can learn more about any or all that interest you online or at your local library. A plethora of books, CDs, and DVDs are available.
Looking for relaxation in life means seeking a state of balance. Recognize the effects of stress on your body. Notice how out of balance you feel. Make a point to implement regular deep breathing techniques. Lose yourself in prayer or meditation. Take a nature walk with your family, or listen to guided imagery CD. Even laughing at a funny movie can bring you to a state of relaxation.
The next time you feel life coming apart at the hinges, remember this: The states of stress and relaxation cannot exist at the same time, just as darkness cannot exist where there’s light.
So … flip on the light and apply the relaxation techniques that work for you! Fill me in on YOUR favorites!
Couldn’t agree more…I find that adrenal stress issues are one of the most overlooked (yet obvious) factors in chronic diseases like fibromyalgia. Many health professionals recommend impractical advice when it comes to stress. They tell you to “sleep more”, to “relax”, to “try meditation”, but when you’re wired and tired, these are the last things you want to hear…these tips need to be explained in a way that’s practical for your life… You can’t meditate for 10 minutes or 30 minutes if you can’t meditate consistently for 1 minute. You can’t deep breath for 5 minutes if you can’t do 10 deep breaths daily. Find the minimum threshold that you can be consistent have, build up your fundamental stress skills, and sometimes you can help support the process through supplementation and other behavioral tips. Eventually you’ll come back to sleeping more, meditating more and simplifying your life…but it’s gotta be practical first!
Again, thanks for the post!
Great points, and well made, Dr. Rinehart! Love the feedback!
I find swimming very theraputic and a great stress reliever. It is not only good for physical health but mental health also! When extremely exhausted I have to pace myself and take all the rest my body commands having fibromyalgia etc. Swimming helps boost endorphine levels and usually helps the mood. At the very least I know Ive done something positive for my self even if on a bad day the mood doesnt respond accordingly. Other stress relievers- a simple walk out and getting a bit of fresh air- along the canal where I live is nature and countryside right in the town. Also my passion for music keeps me going and gives me the will to get through another day when stress levels have got so high that I wonder if it’s all worth it. Stress has made me unbelievably ill I believe. Stress sets me back with exhaustion and joint pains all over- in places I never realised there were joints!! I am begining to see the connection between stress and fibromyalgia in my case. It is therefore of utmost importance that I ‘pace’ myself and ‘budget my energy’ as I say. I have learned that I must listen closely to my body to avoid otherwise ending up bed-ridden for days- frustrating when the mind is raring to go yet the body can to nothing.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience here, Carolyn! Swimming can be a great way to relieve stress as well as provide gentle stretching and exercise of the body. It sounds like you’ve found a very valuable tool to help you deal with your illness and I hope that others read your comments and try it as well!
I quite agree that FM and stress is pretty intertwined. But as a person living with FM I am here to say that those of us with FM probably are NOT able to cope with even a little bit of stress. I know I haven’t been able to cope with stress since I was a young child. I don’t have the skills or the capability. Somehow, somewhere along the line I never learned. Instead, perhaps I learned how to feel stressed instead. lol the irony, that.
So with that said, telling someone without stress coping skills to learn how to deal with stress is a bit like telling an overweight person to eat better. We KNOW what the problem is. What to do about it and how to go about it is another thing entirely.
The same thing goes with extreme exhaustion and having sleep issues. I have had diagnosed sleep apnea for 5 years – the CPAP machine does not help enough (I use it faithfully anyhow). I know I need better sleeping habits, but the body does not co-operate no matter what I try. This is not an ability you can learn (like coping with stress) but a disability that rears it’s ugly head despite my best efforts lol
Meditation most certainly helps me. So did yoga, when I could do and afford it. Unfortunately, my financial situation (due to the inability to work) means anything extra is not remotely possible. For many of us, anything that costs money is not possible. For some, that means being unable to afford pain relief medication they desperately need and deserve. At least I don’t have to personally worry about affording medication. For that I am very grateful.
Yes, you can do meditation and yoga at home if you have the space and can find/make the time. It’s not enough though and it never will be imo. At least not for me and the pain levels I endure. Sometimes though, I really can achieve a few hours worth of respite that is so very worth it. I am never well and truly relaxed. Achieving that seems to be a myth!
So how do I cope? I listen to my body. I rest when I need to, or can. I don’t dwell on things I cannot control, and I try not to worry about tomorrow either. Rather, I do what I can today and focus on that. The rest of the time I simply avoid confrontation and try to minimize the possibility of random outer forces being able to cause stress. Some people may call that a cop-out. I call it survival.
Great feedback, Shannon. Whatever you can do to “protect” yourself from the effects of stress is healthy. Healing is very individual and that’s why we need to be proactive and learn what remedies and treatments work for us. Sounds like you’re doing very well on that front!
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