6 Ways to Cope with Stress when you Have a Chronic Illness

Chronic stress can cause extreme duress on the fibro body and your adrenal system.

Managing my fibromyalgia is a careful balancing act of self-care. This involves eating healthy, getting adequate sleep, working out, and taking time for me. Living with fibromyalgia means that normal, every day stressors can place an additional hardship on the fibro body. So when you are faced with an extended period of stress – bad flare or other health crisis, work deadlines, family emergencies, or simply just getting through the holidays – you can place an extreme amount of duress on your body and your adrenal system.

“Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, especially in conditions of stress, increasing rates of blood circulation, breathing, and carbohydrate metabolism and preparing muscles for exertion.”

You can feel this when your heart starts to race or your hands or body sweats. Adrenaline is also responsible for that fight-or-flight mechanism that can give people extraordinary strength in times of crisis. And an over-exposure to the stress hormones can tamper with your overall well-being.

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Fight Fibromyalgia with Your Diet

If you could change your diet to ease your symptoms, would you?

The symptoms of fibromyalgia include chronic, debilitating widespread pain and fatigue. So if you could change your diet to ease up the symptoms of fibromyalgia, would you? I have found changing my diet to be the number one thing that has helped stave off flares and the pain from fibromyalgia.

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What to Eat with Fibromyalgia

If I eat crap, I feel like crap. So I eat to stay healthy and energized, and to help me keep the fibroflares at bay. 

As with most chronic conditions, fibromyalgia symptoms and treatments are not a one-stop shop. No two people are alike in how their bodies react to the condition or to treatment. The thought of using food to heal oneself has been around for centuries, yet many people still reach for the over-processed, low nutritional value, fast foods – either from the grocery stores or eating out. I, myself, am hypersensitive to medications, so I have chosen to manage my condition through lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ~ Hippocrates

But just as no two treatments are alike, neither are the foods one should eat. A simple search for books on Amazon of “fibromyalgia diet” yielded 655 results, with this one being the most popular! But there are common foods that are more likely to trigger a reaction or flare and others that are good for reducing inflammation in the body. I offer some suggestions on finding what’s right for  you.

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It Begins with Sleep

If “cotton is the fabric of our lives”, sleep should be considered the fabric of bodies and minds..

I have taken a very deliberate break from blogging and social media lately, as the demands of my day job have been consuming my time and energy. And much like others at the beginning of every new year, I have been trying to lose a few stubborn pounds that have crept on. I already have a pretty healthy diet and exercise program, so I decided reducing stress and getting some extra sleep might just be the two missing factors. And when your schedule is already overflowing and you need some extra Zzzzs, something has to give – for me that was writing and browsing social media.

But, with Sleep Awareness Week around the corner it was time to write a new post….

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When Everything Hurts

In addition to nutrition and medicine, you need other strategies for coping with the daily pain and major flares that occur.

You have probably experienced something like this before: You go to bed feeling fine….maybe just OK….no worse than usual… And when you wake up in the morning you have some new pain. You roll out of bed. You’re stiff and moving slow. Every step hurts. You think you are never going to straighten up again. And then it hits you that there is some new ache that wasn’t there when you went to bed last night. For some of us, that may just be the aging process. For others, welcome to life with fibromyalgia. 

“To hurt is as human as to breathe.” ~ J. K. Rowling

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia seventeen years ago, in September, 2000. In 2001, September was designated as Pain Awareness Month.  Pain covers a lot of different conditions and ailments – everything from arthritis or back problems to Fibromyalgia Syndrome or Multiple Sclerosis to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) or Ulcerative Colitis. Often when you have one of these conditions, you have multiple, so the pain is compounded. I suffered with endometriosis for years, then came fibro, TMJ, and now I also have TOS, chronic neck, back, and hip pain/bursitis. Pain – and coping with pain – is a way of life.

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How to Sleep Better

“Sleep is the Golden Chain that binds health and our bodies together.”

I have struggled for years with getting good quality sleep. There are nights where I just cannot fall asleep, and others where I just can’t stay asleep. While the ideal amount is between 7-9 hours for most, I still average about 6 hours a night. More than 7 hours of sleep, and I feel out of sorts. Lately I have been much better about sleeping through the night, since incorporating some simple strategies.

Those who suffer with fibromyalgia syndrome know how difficult it can be to get a good night’s sleep. In fact, sleep disturbances are one of the common symptoms associated with the condition, which then compounds the daytime fatigue. But allowing the body to rest and recharge at night is so critical to everyone’s physical and mental health, not just those with fibromyalgia.counting-sheep-1

“Sleep is the Golden Chain that binds health and our bodies together.” ~ Thomas Dekker

Health Benefits

That old saying “early to bed, early to rise makes your body healthy, wealthy, and wise” is more than just an old wives’ tale. Here’s a list of health benefits from getting adequate sleep:

  • It can help you fight off diseases
  • It can help improve your mood
  • It can lower your risk for obesity and help you lose weight
  • It can decrease inflammation
  • It allows the body to repair itself from stress and ultraviolet exposure

“By helping us keep the world in perspective, sleep gives us a chance to refocus on the essence of who we are. And in that place of connection, it is easier for the fears and concerns of the world to drop away.” ~ Arianna Huffington

Getting those Zzzz’s

While you sleep, your body is working to heal itself, build up your immune system, and recharge your brain cells. Now the struggle is that people with fibromyalgia have trouble falling and staying asleep. We often don’t reach that deep sleep stage required for all of the restorative health benefits. There are a myriad of underlining conditions that could be preventing you from getting a good night’s rest:

  • Health Issues such as allergies, sleep apnea, asthma, narcolepsy, or hormone imbalance
  • Physical Issues such as chronic or acute pain, or certain prescription drugs
  • Mental Issues such as depression, stress, or anxiety
  • Environmental Issues such as too much light in your room, drinking alcohol or caffeine, or performing shift work

So assuming you don’t need to have a medical condition checked out, how do you improve your sleep, to reap those benefits? Getting into a routine helps. Here are some simple strategies that might help you establish that routine:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
  • Set a regular bedtime routine.
  • Curb the electronics in the bedroom, that is no TV, iPad, etc. before bed.
  • Keep your bedroom comfortable, quiet, dark and cool.
  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime, and don’t eat 3 hours before bed.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Do not use tobacco.

“Golden Slumbers fill your eyes. Smiles await when you rise.” ~ The Beatles

Bedtime Routines

As we age we need less sleep, but we still need good quality sleep. Uninterrupted sleep. One of the best habits is to take a warm bath or shower before bed. This raises the body temperature, and then allows it to cool down faster, which helps you reach that deep sleep. Couple that with some aromatherapy, and you should feel relaxed and calm for bedtime. I developed my routine after reading Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive that discussed redefining success and details her wake-up call. She has another book called The Sleep Revolution that undoubtedly has more information on the subject of sleep as well.

Here are some of my favorite bedtime and bath aids:

So go draw a bath, sip some tea, rub some lavender oil between your toes and get a good night’s sleep. These are my tried and true methods. You’ll thank me in the morning!

For more sleep strategies, visit the National Sleep Foundation,”The F Word” blog and Sarah’s Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles series, or listen to JJ Virgin’s podcast with Arianna Huffington – two big proponents of sleep!  Do you have other sleep strategies you use?

Cheers!

Cynthia