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Tips for Coping With Fibromyalgia

About 5 million Americans suffer from the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. There is no "pill" to end your symptoms. But there are ways of managing them so they don't disrupt your busy life as much.

Why Is Coping With Fibromyalgia Important?

Learning how to self-manage fibromyalgia symptoms with exercise and other lifestyle habits is vital to improve your mood, improve your sleep, and get relief from pain. For instance, many people with fibromyalgia are often caring for others, either by parenting or care giving for an older loved one. Yet they allow little time to take care of their own health and well-being. This is a problem because a chronic disease such as fibromyalgia comes with a whole set of limitations. Those limitations stem from fibromyalgia tender points, chronic fatigue, and ongoing pain and stiffness.

The limitations of fibromyalgia can be lessened if you get the facts. Learn more about the disease and how it's treated. Seek the latest information on fibromyalgia and lifestyle habits. Get answers to your questions and take proactive steps to focus on your health. With increased support, you can get your life and priorities in order.

Here are some simple coping strategies you can use to help yourself live well with fibromyalgia:

  • Minimize stress in your life. There's speculation that stress may play an important role in triggering fibromyalgia symptoms. In fact, many people with fibromyalgia tell of feeling anxious, nervous, and panicked around the time when fibromyalgia symptoms flare. Some experts find that when fibromyalgia patients reduce stress in their lives, they also experience a reduction in depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Sleep becomes more restful and their minds relax. Because they feel more in control, the symptoms that were once immobilizing subside, and quality of life improves.
  • Remove yourself emotionally from stressful situations. Sometimes, people magnify problems, making them seem far greater than they are. The stress reaction is triggered by perception. When you imagine something to be a "life or death situation," even though in reality it isn't, your body reacts as if you are in danger. Work at tempering your emotions as problems come up throughout the day. Instead of seeing every crisis as "horrible," learn to view life's interruptions as "inconvenient, but tolerable." You will find that when you see life as something that you can easily handle, you will not feel overpowered when trouble comes.
  • Make job site modifications. To keep working part-time or full-time, you must stay mentally and physically able to handle your job responsibilities. But to avoid stress and anxiety, you may need to allow more time during the day to get your responsibilities done. Talk to your employer and work out a flexible schedule that allows you to come in later and leave later. Or ask your employer if you can work at home two mornings a week so you can get more rest or take a nap at lunch time to boost your energy. Whatever modifications you make, avoid procrastination. Budget your time, follow your daily "to do" lists, and limit your outside commitments on work days.
  • Work to improve communication skills. Communication is also important with a chronic condition like fibromyalgia. Open and honest communication helps decrease conflict between you and your spouse, family, friends, and co-workers. This is especially true when you feel angry or resentful over having unending pain and fatigue. The mental distraction can hinder productive communication. If you feel overwhelmed with the stress of fibromyalgia, psychological counseling can help you develop appropriate and functional communication strategies to deal with your disease and other issues in your life.
  • Learn to say "no." Failing to set personal limits or not saying "no" to too many demands will put you in overload. That will add to your already elevated stress level. To help yourself say "no" to a persuasive friend think through the situation before you answer. Check your calendar, and weigh the alternatives. Involve family members or friends in the discussion about what to do. Would another commitment stop you from getting the rest, exercise, and relaxation you need to feel well? Would it interfere with the priorities that are high on your list? The desire to help others is commendable. But being all things to all people may be hindering your healing and making you feel resentful, tired, and depressed. It's important to take a firm stand, say "no," and mean it.
  • Keep a daily journal. Writing in a journal every day can become a great tool for self inquiry. Some people are able to identify a series of events that are associated with the beginning of fibromyalgia symptoms. That can help them understand how and when symptoms start. Keeping a journal can also assist you in tracking your muscle pain and fatigue and in identifying what may cause them. For example, you may write in your journal that you are having great pain and feeling exhausted after doing yard work with fibromyalgia for several days. Months later, you might look back on this entry and perhaps recognize a pattern that identifies a relationship between your increased fibromyalgia symptoms and certain lifestyle triggers. Or perhaps you haven't slept well in days. Looking back over your journal may enable you to see any emotional or physical problems that have contributed to your sleep problem.
  • Soak in a warm bath. Soaking in a warm bath, hot tub, or sauna or standing under a warm shower will serve two purposes. First, it will help you to relax tense muscles, reduce pain, and move more easily. Second, some studies show that the warm, moist heat may raise levels of endorphins and decrease levels of stress hormones. There may be an additional benefit as well. Health care professionals that specialize in sleep disorders have found that a warm bath before bedtime can help sleep be more restful.
  • Exercise regularly. According to the Arthritis Foundation, exercising regularly is important to ease symptoms of fibromyalgia. Because of the pain, tender points, ongoing fatigue, and stiffness felt by people with fibromyalgia, many have become physically unfit. Aerobic or conditioning exercises -- such as walking, swimming, and biking -- have analgesic and antidepressant effects. Aerobic exercise can help enhance your sense of well-being and feeling of being in control.
  • Eliminate or reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine is one of the few food products that can induce a stress response. Too much caffeine can greatly increase nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia. As you make plans to de-stress your life, try limiting the amount of caffeine you take in. And remember, coffee is not the only source of caffeine. Tea and chocolate also contain caffeine.
  • Use mind/body tools for relaxation. There are many relaxation techniques you can use to ease daily tension, anxiety, and pain. You might learn to relax with guided imagery, visualization, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep abdominal breathing, self-hypnosis, or biofeedback. When you meditate and experience the relaxation response, your body is allowed permission to switch from the pumping "fight or flight" response into a calmer more peaceful mood. Studies show that when you step back from problems and use mind/body tools to relax, you produce brain waves consistent with serenity and happiness. In addition, talk with a counselor about ways to minimize negative self talk so you can become more optimistic about yourself and your illness.
  • Evaluate your sleep hygiene. Make sure your body is totally prepared for rest. You can't sleep if there is light in your room or if a TV is blaring in another room. Make sure your room is quiet, dark, and cool. Use earplugs if you are sensitive to noise, and wear an eye mask to block light. Eliminate afternoon caffeine from your diet, and exercise regularly -- although not near bedtime. Sometimes a snack that's high in carbohydrates can help induce sleep because it boosts levels of serotonin in your body. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that helps regulate mood, appetite, and sleep.
  • Consider joining a fibromyalgia support group. Support groups are geared toward meeting the needs of people with fibromyalgia. Support groups, which are often educational, are not psychotherapy groups. But they do provide patients and their families with a safe and accepting environment where they can vent their frustrations, share their personal stories, and receive comfort and encouragement from others. Ask your physician for some recommendations or check with the Arthritis Foundation for support groups in your area.
  • Make time for you each day. Work for an overall lifestyle balance. Make time to do the things you "want" to do as well as the things you "have" to do. People with fibromyalgia are faced with special demands that other healthy people do not have. The task of coping with pain and fatigue each day makes it necessary to keep your priorities in order so you have the energy to reach your daily goals.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on June 16, 2013
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