Tips for Living With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome will change your life in many ways. But you can adopt some strategies to make it easier. 

You may go through bad phases, or relapses, followed by better ones (remission). Knowing to expect this pattern will help you understand how to manage your energy.

Daily Activities

When you’re in a relapse, it might be hard to get through even simple morning routines, like a shower. Plan to allow extra time for tasks that are hard for you.

When you feel well again, you may want to try to do as much as you can while you’ve got the energy. Don’t try it. If you push yourself, you may crash later. Repeating this cycle can drive you right back into a relapse.

You’ll need to learn to balance daily activities with rest, even when you’re in remission.

Exercise

It’s important to exercise -- it will keep you active and strong. Just remember to pace yourself.

When you add exercise to your routine, start out slow. Try several short bouts of low-impact activity each day. Start with stretching and strengthening exercises using only your own body weight. Shoot for one minute of activity followed by 3 minutes of rest. Break exercise into several brief sessions a day.

Try these types of exercises:

  • Hand stretches
  • Sitting and standing
  • Wall push-ups
  • Picking up and grasping objects

Start with two to four repetitions and work your way up to eight at the most.

As the exercise becomes manageable, gradually increase the time you do it. Aim for an increase of about 1 to 5 minutes per week. But continue to get 3 minutes of rest for every minute of exercise. If you reach a point where your exercise routine causes your symptoms to get worse, drop back down to the last level of exercise you could tolerate.

A physical therapist can introduce you to the “GET” method of exercise. The letters stand for “Graded Exercise Therapy,” a type of physical therapy that slowly increases your exercise load over time without making your symptoms worse.

A physical therapist can modify your exercise plan if you can’t leave home or get out of bed.

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Nutrition

Watching what you eat can help you manage your symptoms. Avoid any foods or chemicals you are sensitive to.

Eat several small meals throughout the day. For example, three meals and three snacks might help keep energy levels up.

Smaller meals might also help control nausea, which sometimes happens with chronic fatigue syndrome. To help control energy levels, it’s also a good idea to avoid these things:

  • Sugar
  • Sweeteners
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine

Help Your Memory

Some people with chronic fatigue syndrome have memory loss. Use a day-planner (a paper one or a smart phone app) to keep up with your schedule and remember the things you need to do.

Set reminders on your smartphone when it’s time to go somewhere or do something. Keep lists. Use “sticky notes.”

Puzzles, word games, and card games – also available on your smartphone – can keep your mind active and might help your memory improve. 

Work

About half of those with chronic fatigue syndrome work. If you have problems, you might qualify for coverage under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law requires some employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to help people with disabilities do their jobs.

You might need a flexible schedule, a place to rest at work, and written job instructions for people with memory problems. The accommodations depend on your job, your symptoms, and how they affect your ability to do your job.

If you can’t work because of your condition, you might qualify for Social Security benefits.

Relationships

It can be hard for co-workers, friends, family, and loved ones to understand chronic fatigue syndrome. They might not realize how much it affects your daily life. Or they might not believe that it’s real. Some people with chronic fatigue syndrome highly recommend that loved ones get educated about the condition.

Chronic fatigue can take a toll on your personal relationships, too. Loss of energy, pain, and potential side effects of medications can keep you from enjoying a healthy sex life.

Some couples manage to work through these issues when the talk openly about how the condition affects interest in sex. Some couples maintain a sex life by planning for sex, so that the partner with the condition can be well-rested.

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Get Help

You may find you feel better when you talk to other people with your condition. Your doctor can give you information about support groups in your area.

About half of those with chronic fatigue syndrome develop depression at some point. Some symptoms of depression are similar to your condition, so it can be hard to tell the difference. “Red flags” for depression could include feelings of hopelessness, sadness, guilt or worthlessness, or thoughts of suicide and death.

If you think you are depressed, tell your doctor.  Medications and talk therapy for depression can help with physical and emotional symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on August 12, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Chronic fatigue syndrome.”

The Association of UK Dietitians: “Food Fact Sheet: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

National Health Service (U.K.): “Chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Disability.gov: “Accommodation ideas for employees with chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Social Security Administration: “Providing Medical Evidence to The Social Security Administration for Individuals with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Fact Sheet.”

Office on Women’s Health: “An Interview with a Woman Living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Lindsey McGrath.”

CDC: “Depression.”

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