Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes a variety of aches and pains around the body, often alongside fatigue and mood issues.
According to Women’s Health, a website provided by the US Department on Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, the disease typically strikes during middle age. It affects 5 million Americans, the majority of whom (as many as 80 to 90 percent) are women.
It is characterized by symptoms of widespread aches and pains, trouble sleeping, headaches, numbness of extremities, sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises and cognitive or memory problems.
Fibromyalgia can be a difficult and painful disease, but thankfully, strategies to emotionally and physically cope with this condition can help to ease the discomfort and fatigue.
Though learning to better cope with fibromyalgia won’t take the disease away, it can help patients make strides in living a happier life with less pain and more energy.
Reserve Your Energy and Plan Ahead
It can be helpful for fibromyalgia patients to plan their energy usage in a way that they may not have considered before the disease was a factor in their life.
The Mayo Clinic suggests thinking of your energy as pennies in the bank, pennies that you need to budget. Prioritize to get the most important tasks done, and pace yourself when symptoms are causing trouble.
“Take a look at what's coming up on your calendar. Identify what's necessary and what's not. Focus your energy in the next few days on what's necessary,” reports the Mayo Clinic.
Getting enough sleep also often plays a big part in having enough energy. According to Women’s Health, “Getting enough sleep and the right kind of sleep can help ease the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia.”
Patients who are having trouble sleeping or aren’t feeling rested when they wake up should discuss this with a doctor. Strategies like changing the timing of exercise, caffeine intake and avoiding naps may help.
It may also be helpful for patients to keep a list of tips to help cope when a bad day strikes and pain is severe. When the pain hits, they can review the list and try different strategies – this may be especially helpful when the pain is distracting the mind.
Careful planning can also help reduce stress, which in turn can help ease tensed muscles, which potentially add to the discomfort of fibromyalgia.
Relax and Distract
It is a good idea for patients to start developing a cache of activities that can help distract them when symptoms are flaring up. For some, this may be time spent with friends outdoors, for others it may be a good book or a funny movie.
Exercise can also be a good distracting activity and, though it may be difficult with fibromyalgia symptoms, it is still important.
“Research has repeatedly shown that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia,” reports Women’s Health. “People who have too much pain or fatigue to do hard exercise should just begin to move more and become more active in routine daily activities. Then they can begin with walking (or other gentle exercise) and build their endurance and intensity slowly.”
Along with distractions, relaxation is an important step for fibromyalgia patients to take to help themselves cope in a positive manner.
The Mayo Clinic tells patients, “Set aside time for relaxation on your daily schedule. Add more relaxation time on days when your fibromyalgia symptoms flare.”
Deep breathing exercises can be helpful for calming the nerves, as can meditation. In meditation, people quiet their minds, perhaps by focusing on a single sound or mantra. Such practices can help relax both the mind and the muscles.
Visualization can also prove to be a helpful relaxation tool.
“Take an imaginary trip to a beautiful place. Use all your senses to experience the location as fully as possible. Feel the sun's warmth. Hear the birds,” suggests the Mayo Clinic.
Sometimes a change in perception can help make coping with difficult situations a little easier. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Studies have shown that what we say to ourselves inside our heads can affect our perception of pain.”
The Mayo Clinic suggests monitoring self-talk and turning negative statements into positive ones. For example, when a patient has thoughts like, “I can’t do anything because of my symptoms,” that patient instead should choose to focus on the thought, “I can do many things. I just need to pace myself and take breaks.”
Another example the organization provides: turning thoughts like “I have no control over my happiness. The pain controls me,” into thoughts like, “I can control my happiness. I can be happy and enjoy life despite pain.”
This kind of practice is not always easy, but over time it can start to shift internal perceptions from negative to positive and help patients enjoy a more upbeat, hopeful life.
It may also be helpful for patients to accept the fact that some days may be more difficult than others, and to share these feelings and frustrations with someone.
“You might be tempted to keep it to yourself, but resist that urge...Tell an understanding friend or family member that you're feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. But don't dwell on your signs and symptoms,” recommends the Mayo Clinic.
Support groups (both in person and online) can provide an understanding outlet for patients coping with a difficult period. These groups can be helpful and understanding resources through which you can connect with other people living with fibromyalgia.
Doctors can help provide information on local support groups, or a quick internet search can be an easy way to find information both on local groups and online support forums.
Talk to a Doc
An important part of coping with any disorder is to open up lines of communication with a medical professional.
This is especially true with fibromyalgia, as its symptoms can be present in other conditions and, according to Women's Health, "doctors often must rule out other possible causes of these symptoms before diagnosing fibromyalgia."
In an interview with dailyRx News, Alexandra Reimann, ND (Naturopathic Physician), suggested that patients work diligently to make sure that their condition has been carefully diagnosed.
"A good way to have a positive attitude about chronic pain is to be confidant that all of the foundational support is there and that no stone has been left unturned before accepting a fibromyalgia diagnosis and the accompanying medication," said Dr. Reimann.
After a diagnosis is confirmed, doctors can also help provide a variety of other forms of treatment, including pain medication, cognitive behavioral therapy or complementary therapies like myofascial release, acupuncture or chiropractic manipulation.
Dr. Reimann also suggested that patients look out for coexisting conditions, like potential thyroid disorders.
In these cases, patients need to work with doctors to ease possible dietary problems, as according to Dr. Reimann, nutrient deficiency can lower the pain threshold, potentially making fibromyalgia symptoms worse.
"The diet can be modified to inhibit proinflammatory prostaglandins that contribute to chronic pain," said Dr. Reimann.
Doctors can help explore these and other problems that may coexist with or aggravate fibromyalgia.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Through positive thinking, planning ahead, stress release and partnership with medical professionals, fibromyalgia patients can help to ease the discomfort inherent in this disease.
Different strategies will work better for different people, and even in the case of an individual patient, some approaches may work better some days than others.
By being prepared and willing to try new ways to ease the pain, patients and doctors can work together to make living with fibromyalgia a little easier, one day at a time.