pacing-fibromyalgia

Yesterday I talked about what pacing was and today I am going to share my tips on how I pace and prevent myself from over doing it; something I was very guilty of doing previously. When it feels as though you have a million and one things to do it is easy to end up doing too much. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two things that you need to address in order to pace yourself successfully.

The first is that feeling of needing to do everything. You know, that little voice in your head that tells you that have all these things that you need to do? The one that won’t give up and will make you stress out and feel guilty until you tick everything off your to-do list?

I have learned to shut that little voice up and have changed my priorities and expectations. Nothing and I mean nothing, is more important than your own health. Things can wait. I’ve realised it’s not the end of the world if I don’t do things immediately and sometimes it doesn’t matter if they don’t get done at all.

Secondly, I needed to find a way to stop myself from getting carried away. I’d start a task and would have to keep on going until it was finished. Again, a lot of this has to do with changing my expectations but I also had to find a way to remind myself to stop before I pushed myself towards (and past) breaking point.

I’ve learned a few useful tips for successful pacing and today I will share them in the hope they help you too. Here are my 10 top tips for successful pacing:

01. Write Down Everything That You Need To Do

Part of the reason I felt the need to do everything immediately was because I worried that I would forget to do it. I would also stress myself out thinking about “all the things I needed to do”. Writing down a to-do list not only helps me to remember everything but it also makes me feel more in control and this, in turn, helps to alleviate stress.

02. Prioritise Your To-Do List

Once I have my to-do list in writing (usually on my iPhone), it is easy to see everything that I need to do and it instantly feels more manageable. I can then prioritise what needs to be done first and what can wait.

03. Ask For Help

Before I do anything myself, I will see if there is anything on my list that I can ask for help with. I used to try and be superwoman and do absolutely everything by myself. Though I did it all, I also felt terrible for doing so and my fibromyalgia would flare as a result.

I no longer do this to myself and I ask for help. I am incredibly lucky that I receive a lot of help from my husband and my mum. I am so appreciative because their help means I am able to feel as well as I possibly can. Asking for help can be daunting and embarrassing but trust me when I say people want to help you when they can.

04. Choose One Task Per Day

I will decide what task on my to-do list is a priority and will choose only the top one to work on completing each day. I will even have a think about whether I can achieve it in one day and if not, I’ll break it up over two or more.

Take my mum’s birthday present for example. I made her an iPad sleeve, which you can see here. On day one I ironed and cut out all my fabric. On day two I quilted the fabric. On day three I sewed it all together. On day four I pressed it and sewed on the finishing details.

I could have done it all in one day but I would have felt exhausted and very sore from doing so because my body can’t handle that much sewing at one time. Even splitting it up as I did, I only did 10 minutes of sewing at a time before taking a break.

pacing-fibromyalgia-02

05. Question If You Need To Forgo Doing Something Else

If a task is particularly tiring, even when you limit yourself to doing it for a short duration, you may need to ask yourself if there is something else you can forgo doing. We only have limited energy resources each day after all. For example, I might decide not to do my usual daily walk so that I have more energy to invest in another task.

06. Set A Timer During Tasks

Limit yourself to only doing something for a set period of time and stick to it. This will be individual (some will be able to do more than others) and task-dependent but 10 minutes is a good place to start. Using a timer stops you from getting carried away and is an auditory reminder to take a break. If you simply use a clock or watch, it is easy for time to run on without you realising.

07. Time Rest Too

At the moment I will do 10 minutes work and then set my timer for 20 minutes of rest. I err towards doing more rest than work because of where I am health-wise at the moment. Setting a timer ensures that I rest for that amount of time because another wise I will get up after a few minutes and go back to what I was doing.

08. Listen To Your Body & Stop At The First Sign You Need To

Becoming attuned to your body is so important. You will begin to learn and pick up on little signs that are your cue to stop what you are doing. I can physically feel myself becoming heavier and I begin to lose concentration. This is when I need to stop.

If I don’t, I will progressively become more exhausted, achy, nauseous, my head feels ‘full and foggy’ and starts to throb and I also become restless and irritable. If I reach this point I have done too much and will ‘pay for it’.

09. Appreciate The Small Achievements

Instead of thinking about what you still need to do, think about how amazing it is that you have managed to achieve a small step towards reaching your overall goal. It’s all about changing and managing expectations and you will be much happier by looking at the positives than putting yourself down because of unattainable high standards.

This becomes easier to do when you start to achieve your goals and fell well doing so. When you feel the benefits of pacing it makes it all the more worth it.

10. Build Up Slowly

The huge benefit of pacing is that when you get it right you will begin to feel better. It is important to resist the temptation to do too much. You need to have discipline and keep on using all of the above techniques, even when you suddenly have a day where you feel better.

When you start to have more good days than bad, that’s the point when you can start to do a little more. Make anything extra that you do quantifiable though. For example, do an extra 5 minutes only. It might feel frustrating when you want to do more than this but it will prevent you crashing and undoing all of your hard work.

What If I Don’t Feel Better From Doing All Of This

The unfortunate answer is that you are probably still doing too much. Your life is unbalanced and needs to include more rest and you may benefit from doing even less until your body is stronger. I can’t tell you how to specifically go about that. You are the only person who knows that answer.

It’s down to you as to whether you think it is worth slowing down even more. What I do know is that it is possible to live with minimal symptoms and for me, anything that helps me to achieve this is worth doing.

What are your pacing tips? Please share in the comments below.

Author

Hello, I'm Donna. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2013 and started this blog shortly after. After my health declined significantly the following year, I decided to become my own advocate and searched for answers. It took two years but, in 2016, I finally discovered I had Lyme Disease. On February Stars, I share my personal journey back to better health; discussing what has helped me and the mistakes I've made along the way. I also cover topics on self-improvement, managing symptoms and living life to the fullest with chronic illness.

35 Comments

  1. fairycakepixie Reply

    Thank you once again Donna. This is going on my Pocket so that I can read it over and over!

  2. Everything you put there is exactly the same as what I have learned to do. I tried so many times over the years to keep going thinking if I just get this finished…but spend the next three days in bed. So after so many numerous times of doing way too much I finally resigned myself to doing ten minutes at a time. Although I have to be honest, sometimes I can’t even stay up on my feet for ten minutes. Another thing I wanted to say, I have had fibromyalgia for 18 years now. But, last December I found out I had gained 40 pounds in 6 weeks. I couldn’t get myself back up the stairs to my apartment and breathe at the same time. After going to the Doctor and telling him what had happened he ordered blood tests and of course I thought it must be my thyroid. Wrong..my Doctor called me the next morning and told me to get straight to the hospital and he was sending my file there. Turns out my kidneys are not functioning and have been diagnosed with Auto Immune Disease. For anyone that doesn’t know, that is where the body starts attacking itself. First to go was the kidneys. They did a biopsy of the kidneys while I was in hospital thinking it was something new that was going on and the biopsy would tell them. Wrong again. All the biopsy told them was that the kidneys were completely finished and there is no chance of them getting any better. So I get an implant done in two weeks so they can start dialysis. After the specialists trying every test they could do to find out where this Auto Immune had started with no results, it has just been reported by the clinics and testing centres in the States that Fibromyalgia is now recognized as an Auto Immune Disease. Now we know why we couldn’t get any positive results for anything else. So please everyone, if you have fibromyalgia and you still continue to push yourself, believe me, it is not worth it. I only stopped doing it a few years ago and it was too late for me so don’t continue to push believing that Fibromyalgia will not get any worse. I am living proof that worse things can happen from trying to push yourself too far.

    • That is very scary and sorry to hear you went through all of this. I do think it is important to keep on raising any concerns with doctors, even after a diagnosis. Sometimes it feels as though we are always back and forward and saying the same things but it is really worth pushing for an answer. We do have to be our own health advocates sometimes don’t we? That’s really difficult to deal with, knowing you have an auto-immune condition but not knowing what. If you have any information about fibro being recognized as auto immune I would love to read it so please share. I have not heard of anyone considering it as that before but it wouldn’t necessarily surprise me! You are so true when you say pushing yourself is not worth it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I really wish I hadn’t done this. Speaking to many others (and I include myself in this), like you say, it is true that symptoms can become progressively worse. I just wish I had stopped myself before I crashed and my body gave me no option but to.

  3. Great post. It’s hard to retrain ourselves to NOT do everything we need to do. I like the timer idea, too.

    • Thank you Lisa. It is really hard, especially when you are having a good day but I am learning it’s best not to suddenly do more to avoid the boom and bust that would otherwise happen

  4. I just had an attack of migraines that laid me up for 2 weeks. It elevated my pain level so much more too. I am just getting back to work, 2 whole hours today. At least my boss is a friend and cool with it. Doesn’t understand but knows when I feel good I will work my 5 hours a day. It is hard for disability to understand that this disease gets worse, but I am showing them that I have might have RA now, kidney failure, and I’ve had a DVT and PE. I’m in my early 40’s and I dot see myself in my 70’s doing this same crazy-ness.

    • Oh that sounds awful Erin. That’s good that you have an understanding boss. It’s hard to deal with and I try to not think too much about the future and rather choose to live in the moment. Yes, it is true that symptoms can get progressively worse- I am also living proof of that. However, I am also learning that it is possible to slowly improve too. Though I doubt I will get back to the fitness level I was at before, I am hopeful for a more normal life.

  5. DaLynn McCoy Reply

    Great tips! Probably timing my rest is going to be the most helpful to me. I have a tendency to rest, with the full intention of getting back up in a few minutes, and then just not feeling like it and watching another episode (or reading another blog…). Thank you!

  6. Love your tips! I need to follow them more for sure. I have Fibro and RA along with all that comes with both of those. It’s difficult for others to understand why I can’t do as much as them or that if I do I’ll pay for it for days afterwards. It helps knowing others know what I go through on a daily basis. Thank you for posting this 🙂

    • Thank you Kisa, glad you like them. It is really hard for others to know what we go through, especially given we generally look okay. It can be easy for people to forget when we are managing to get on with things. This blog has been really great for me as it connects me with people like you who, as you say, are going through the same things.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this helpful and thoughtful post with us at the Inspire Me Mondays Link-Up. There are so many people out there who can benefit from this information. I admire that you take the time to help others!

    • I totally agree with that point too 🙂 Thank you Brandi, I appreciate the support

  8. Thank you for this! I originally looked at it for my 23 year old daughter who has fibrous *and * multiple sclerosis. But it works for me, too, as I have multiple sclerosis, too.

    • Hi Martha, glad you found it useful. It’s interesting how similar fibro and ms symptoms can be. I was tested for MS last year as I had problems with reduced sensations and numbness down my left side, however it turns out it’s likely just my fibro.

  9. Donna, Its so nice that you have an understanding and helpful support system in your husband and mother. I have neither. None of my family cares how I feel or understands how disabling fibromyalgia is even tho I have been on disability for 4 years. I have always been the caregiver in my family and they all just expect me to be wonderwoman. So I just push myself to meet their expectations and suffer in silence.

    • Hi Cher, I am so sorry to hear that your family aren’t giving your the support you need. For me, I think seeing me bedridden and witnessing my daily struggles from that point onwards has shaped the support I receive. I appreciate how difficult it is not having that support network in place. I know it can be financially difficult but have you considered working with a health coach? They can be brilliant for helping you to work through blocks like this and it can be immensely helpful talking to someone outside of your own situation. Sending gentle hugs your way.

  10. I have recently committed myself to taking hourly breaks from work to do 5 or 10 minutes of yoga. The effects of doing this has left me just a bit more aware of my body just in general and a bit more in connected to what is happening to me during any given task. I’m not saying I have this figured out but I think I’m on the right track to managing my pain. This was the first time I’ve seen anyone talk about pacing. Thanks for posting.

    • Hi, Kristi. It’s great you are taking time out for this. I think becoming aware of how we feel and how things impact us is really helpful. It sounds like you are headed in the right direction 🙂

  11. Great post! My friend had a wonderful idea to text each other at night with the goal of one achievement a day. The reason for this is that I have been going through I huge fibro flare and was very depressed. It was amazing how great this idea worked! I felt that I was actually accomplishing something during the day. The result: I was able to feel good about myself and pull out of the depression. Now, even though she is on a 3 week vacation, she has asked me to continue with the texting. She is a great friend and support system.

    • What a lovely and supportive friend you have. This is such a great idea. Focusing on the good each day and what we have achieved makes such a difference to our mental health. It’s so nice to hear how it is helping you. Thank you for sharing this tip!

  12. Nicola Lord Reply

    Thank you for this article it is very helpful. I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia for a year and have not been able to work which has depressed me. I am a classic case of need to get all my list done! I will try to follow your tips now. I am in constant pain with no drugs that help. Anything i do i pay for. I feel that my life has been taken away! I am also overweight after the last year and have recently tried 10 minutes of gentle exercise but the pain in my muscles after and for days is awful. Very difficult to lose weight when you are not doing enough to burn off the caleroies. ☹ Will try your tips on pacing though.

    • Hi Nicola! I am sorry to hear you have been unable to work due to your health. I can completely empathise with your situation as I know how upsetting it is to lose that part of your life. It’s difficult not to go into “get it all done” mode but slowing down can be so helpful. I hope you find the tips in this post helpful. Exercise is a tricky one. I try and not think of it as exercise but more in terms of movement. Everything we do each day is a form of exercise. Above and beyond daily living, I find stretching and things that work on core strength, such as gentle yoga is helpful. However, I tend to only be able to do 5-10 minutes at the most. Have you ever worked with your local pain management team? I found them to be very good and helpful. It may be worth asking your GP for a referral?

  13. I have been waiting for an appointment with the pain team since March and with a rheumatologist. My GP has tried quite a few different pain killers that all make me feel zombified and don’t take all the pain away. I am on gabapentin which I realise does something as I left it off for 3 days and was in agony! I am going to try a local class of yoga that personalises it for everyone according to their problems. I just find it so hard to adapt to this life when I was so active and never stopped! Going from that to life in a wheelchair/stick and constant pain is awful. I also have severe IBS and am due to have a hysterectomy in the next few months! Feeling very low at the moment but I refuse to go back on anti depressants as I’m fat enough without that weight gain too!

    • Hey Nicola, I can totally understand the zombified feeling! I found the local pain team here were very realistic about medications and knew their limitations. They offered a lot of info on lifestyle changes etc. I was really impressed with them actually. The physio I saw was very understanding and the pharmacist took a lot of interest in the supplements and herbs I take. It was nice to feel like someone was listening and willing to learn as much as they were willing to help. I hope you get your referrals through soon.

      It can feel very overwhelming and it sounds like you have a lot on your plate. I too used to be the same, including a very active job so it is a huge adjustment. I think acceptance is a constant work in progress for me.

      Good luck with the yoga, I hope it helps and it’s great to hear they will make adaptations for you.

  14. This is such a great article, so well written and so informative. I feel like this is exactly what I needed to see. I’m having one of the worst flare ups and thanks to a new doctor and a new prescription I’m starting to feel better. I’m sure if I hadn’t read this I would have tried to push myself too far too fast.

    • I’m sorry to hear you are going through a bad flare. Take it easy and I hope you get back to your usual self soon. I’m glad you found this post helpful 🙂

  15. Pingback: QUICK GUIDE TO PACING FOR YOUR CRPS & PERSISTENT PAIN

  16. Donda Muse-Cox Reply

    Your post is well written and informative. I recently completed a Chronic Pain Management Program w Kaiser Permanente in Fontana, CA. Though they addressed chronic pain in general, they offered much useful information… pacing being one of the major things which I’ve put into practice. I’m learning to really prioritize my life day to day. I continue to be active within our church community in the area of ministry. And I’m also actively involved in a community Philanthropic Educational Organization for Women. So I’m still on the go?But I’ve actually have slowed ! Rest is scheduled. Meetings are cancelled if pain is too much,. House no longer is perfect.

    • Hey, Donda. Thank you for your kind comment. It’s great to hear you got a lot of help via chronic pain management. Scheduled rest is a brilliant coping tool and one I use too. It’s about learning to let go of the stuff that’s not so important and pacing the things we want to do, isn’t it? It sounds like you are living the slow life well 🙂

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