As fibromyalgia is a complex and poorly understood syndrome, with no defined cause, I have found that doctors are more inclined to just treat symptoms. Years ago I became disillusioned and weary of the medical approach of prescribing medication for symptoms, rather than trying to get to the root cause of various health problems, so I started taking more control of my own health journey (read more: Becoming Your Own Health Advocate). I want to share how I approach my health and fibromyalgia holistically.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying my approach will work for anyone else, let alone everyone else. We are all individuals with different ailments, pain levels and thresholds, environments, and situations. I am just sharing my approach to managing my fibromyalgia to minimize flares and the disruption to daily life. And first, you have to understand what I mean by “holistic.”
“Holistic health is actually an approach to life. Rather than focusing on illness or specific body parts…[it] considers the whole person.”Tweet
Holistic health, as defined by the American Holistic Health Association, “is actually an approach to life. Rather than focusing on illness or specific parts of the body, this ancient approach to health considers the whole person and how he or she interacts with his or her environment. It emphasizes the connection of mind, body, and spirit. The goal is to achieve maximum well-being, where everything is functioning the very best that is possible. With Holistic Health people accept responsibility for their own level of well-being, and everyday choices are used to take charge of one’s own health.”Suzan Walter
To understand my journey you might want to know how I got here. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in September 2000, after spending a week thinking I had the flu. I was unable to get off the couch to even change my daughter’s diaper. I remember that I was so exhausted and hurt everywhere, like I had been run over by a truck. My doctor ran a series of blood tests, and all initial blood tests came back negative. The only test that triggered a positive was for ANA (anti-nuclear antibody), but my doctor didn’t think that was right. He prescribed an anti-inflammatory for my pain and referred me to a Rheumatologist. By the time I saw him, I already suspected fibromyalgia. His exam and more bloodwork confirmed it.
In the early years anti-inflammatories seemed to help me a lot before all the good ones were pulled from the market. But as the years went on and symptoms changed, I developed increased sensitivity to medications. Having tried Lyrica, Savella, Neurontin, anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories, pain pills, and muscle relaxers at various times I experienced a variety of side effects. I was either drugged out or I couldn’t sleep. I gained weight, had the shakes all the time, had constipation, dizziness, etc. So at some point along the way I quit all medication to try a reset.
While I don’t have a holistic or functional medicine doctor treating me, my primary doctor believes in good nutrition and a minimal amount of medication as a first line of defense. And he did refer me to a functional medicine doctor, I just never have gone. What I did do was change my thinking about how I approach treating and beating my fibromyalgia and my health in general. I definitely wouldn’t claim I have cured it, as I just recovered from a nearly month-long flare, but I have fewer flares these days. And the stiffness and pain I do experience on a daily basis are much more tolerable.
Holistic health is about treating the whole person, and looking beyond just a pill or two to cure what ails you. As you can see from the graphic, medical care only impacts the quality of your health by 10% while lifestyle choices have the greatest impact. These are choices within your control. So I started making better choices – some were out of necessity as my body changed and developed sensitivities to medications and intolerances to certain foods.
There is a connection between these three areas and a belief that to achieve maximum health you need a healthy balance between all three. A holistic approach encourages you to:
- Make lifestyle choices that promote wellness
- Participate actively in your health decisions and healing processes
*Stress Management – Knowing how to manage the stress in your life can have a positive effect on your mind and your body. Practicing meditation or breathing exercises, getting regular massages, finding ways to release stress through exercise or hobbies that bring you happiness are all good ways to manage your stress. Did you know that breathing exercises can help reduce stress and swelling, build immunity, and improve circulation and your complexion? Part of a well-rounded yoga practice includes proper breathing techniques.
*Mindfulness – This is about being present, knowing what we are doing, not overreacting or becoming overwhelmed with everything we encounter in life. These days of a worldwide pandemic, mindfulness is extremely important in helping us cope. Being isolated, fearful of the unknown, and feeling a loss of control over our situation can just exacerbate our pain and fuel the negative aspects of our condition. Paying attention, actively listening, and practicing gratitude are all simple ways to help us be more connected and in tune with our surroundings.
*Attitude – Positive thinking. Being grateful. Choosing joy and happiness. All of these ideals feed into your attitude which can have a positive effect on your health. I keep a gratitude journal and choose to spread positivity with my letterboards and painted kindness rocks. I use the mantra “I have fibromyalgia, it does not have me” to get me through the dark, pain-filled days. Your attitude forms the lens through which you see and react, so best make it a positive one!
“I have fibromyalgia, it does not have me!”Tweet
Taking care of the body is more than just medication prescribed. It’s what you eat, how you move, how you treat yourself. We have just one body to last us a lifetime, so we need to show it some love.
*Diet – I have found over the years that certain foods make me feel bad, as I have developed many intolerances. (If I eat crap, I feel like crap.) Eating whole foods with little processing and as few additives or artificial ingredients as possible is the best for me. I don’t look at this as a “diet” to lose weight, but as a lifestyle choice to fuel my body to get it the nutrients it needs to thrive. This also includes limiting those inflammation causing foods. I prefer to prepare my meals at home and incorporate as much fruits and vegetables in my diet as possible. (Read my top viewed/pinned post: Fight Fibromyalgia with your Diet.)
*Exercise – Those with chronic pain or chronic illnesses may balk at the idea of exercising, but it’s vital to move your body every day. Even low impact exercises like Tai Chi, Yoga, and Pilates are great for keeping your muscles limber and in shape. I have written several posts on Yoga for Fibromyalgia and have incorporated yoga and pilates into my exercise routine on a regular basis. And during the months of “staying at home” during the pandemic, my relief has been to get outside for daily walks with our dog to enjoy some fresh air, listen to music, and clear my mind. And to encourage a healthy overlap between mind-body-spirit, you might even try “Laughter Yoga.”
The spirit part of the Mind-Body-Spirit connection comes from a variety of factors. This could be your spiritual beliefs, your relationships and connections with others, those hobbies or things you do that bring you joy and fill your soul. Maintaining positive spirits helps reinforce the other two areas.
“The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter, and the spirit heals with joy.”Proverbs
Hopefully you see that there are more factors to one’s health than just the medical care we receive. These three pillars of our well-being all overlap and interconnect to work together on the whole person to achieve maximum health. I believe that no one thing will work on its own, that you must create balance between the various factors.
Another thing I found helped with my overall well-being was tracking my symptoms, as well as my food, water, and exercise. I use an app called MyFitnessPal for the food and exercise, and just use OneNote for my symptoms. But I came across a lovely website recently called Chronically Chic that shares various free printable downloads for health and symptom tracking, if you prefer paper.
I hope you will look for ways to live with intention, find joy, be grateful, move more, eat right, and evolve. My fibromyalgia may never be “cured” but reframing the way I approach my whole health has certainly reduced my daily misery.
Do you follow a holistic approach to dealing with your fibromyalgia, chronic illness, or health issue? I would ❤ to hear how you are doing and what your best practice is for achieving your best health.
Wishing you the best day and maximum health!
P.S. After posting this, I happened to listen to a podcast from The Betty Rocker called Eating Right for the Long Term with Dr. Terry Wahls. If you have the time, I encourage you to listen to it. This episode wraps up all of my sentiments above, and Dr. Wahls even talks about how doctors are trained to treat illnesses, but learn very little about nutrition and wellness. Enjoy!