Over the next few weeks I’m going to focus on the topic of fatigue which is really important to me as it’s something I live with and try to deal with every single day. I’m always looking for ideas and suggestions for ways to better manage and help reduce my fatigue and in the two years since my MS diagnosis (wow has it been that long already) I’ve found loads of strategies which work well for me, which will hopefully help you guys out a bit too!
I understand fatigue, I really do (but I wish I didn’t)!
Having MS, I understand fatigue more than most. I understand how powerful and unrelenting it can be and how it can control every aspect of our lives. I also understand how it can frustrate and anger and feel like an invisible, isolating torture which the majority of people will never experience or can fully relate to.
So, as fatigue has impacted on my life so thoroughly finding ways to manage it has quickly became a priority for me. I’ve tried so many things to make life easier for myself (because dealing with high levels of fatigue is tough, especially when combined with other MS symptoms too) and it’s still a work-in-progress.
Speaking to others with chronic illnesses has certainly given me plenty of ideas to try, along with a six week fatigue management course I completed last year (FACETS). There isn’t much information available about the course online but this news item by the MS Society does provide a brief overview of the course and how to get a place on one yourself. The course really helped to improve my understanding of fatigue and I learnt a lot, although making these strategies work for me was very much trial and error. I think managing fatigue is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn and I’m still learning!
How to manage your fatigue
Rest and pace yourself
Resting and pacing yourself is the cornerstone of fatigue management. If you don’t get this right then your fatigue levels will quickly go from bad to worse. But it’s difficult to manage, especially as one day could leave you needing more rest than the next.
This is why it’s so important to start listening to your body needs over what your mind wants! I’ve been so guilty of listening to my unhelpful thoughts which are always telling me ‘what I’m doing is too important for me to stop and rest’ or ‘I don’t really need the rest so I can keep going a bit longer’. Even ‘if I don’t do this now then I won’t be able to do it later’ and ignoring the fact that if I don’t rest enough I won’t be able to do anything later as my body simply won’t let me!
So please, start listening to your body more and ignore the rest (you will thank yourself later). A couple of tricks I tried to help reduce my fatigue were to track my fatigue and make sure I planned my rests when I noticed my fatigue levels started to increase (shorter and spaced out throughout the day is also better than one long rest for me).
I also try to pace myself, where possible, with 10 minutes of activity (such as housework) followed by 10 minutes sitting and relaxing before 10 more minutes of activity and so on.
Focus your energy
One of the best (and most revealing) aspects of the fatigue management course I attended was when we were asked to keep an energy diary. We kept an hourly activity log over a few days and jotted down the amount of fatigue, value and satisfaction we experienced for each activity.
Before completing the diary, I already thought I was managing my energy levels the best I could, however, I soon realised there were still a few low-value activities I was wasting time on which were sapping my precious energy!
Make the time to monitor your own energy levels. Once you’ve identified what you need to prioritise (and what you don’t) see which activities you can reduce, get help with or even drop completely. Try to think creatively and be open to change. What worked for you in the past may not work for you now. Being able to silence any unhelpful thoughts and adapt will help you to focus your energy better too.
Organise and prioritise your time
Now you are (hopefully) taking the time to rest and have streamlined your activities you need to be making the most of your precious time and energy by finding a way of being organised which works for you.
Please don’t fall into the same trap I have before and think being organised means writing a big long list of everything you need/want to do and then set yourself up to fail, increasing your anxiety levels in the process. What I mean is, try to to find a manageable and realistic system which is fully fit for purpose.
Break down your tasks into small blocks and don’t overload your day. Arrange a clear and consistent system for any details you need to remember. For any goals you are working towards, include a few (small and manageable) activities which are going to help you meet them too.
I have a few organising strategies I use; I have a daily diary/bullet journal tracker where I record what I’ve done each day (this helps to inform what I plan next). I also have a (short) daily to-do list of reminders to help structure my day. In addition to this I jot down a weekly overview and my longer term goals/tasks which helps me a lot. However, I also stay flexible as if I’m having a bad spell I have to reassess what I can manage and when!
Stay flexible and be ready to adapt
Some days, frustratingly, our fatigue decides to ramp things up a notch and as much as we hate it we have to kiss goodbye to our plans and just rest, rest, rest! Ugh, just the thought of how I’m forced to completely put my life on hold when this happens makes me angry! But the reality is there’s nothing we can do but be kind to ourselves, let go of our (definitely undeserved) guilt and accept our situation. It is a hard storm to ride but you’ve endured it before and you have the inner strength to do so again!
I know there are always going to be bad days so I try to be as prepared as possible for them. I’ve started batch cooking and freezing healthy food which I can quickly reheat on a high-fatigue day when there is no chance I’ll be able to cook from scratch.
My most recent idea is to put together a self care box (with lovely pampering goodies, quick and healthy snacks, entertainment ideas etc) for those really rubbish days so I can treat myself and look after me when I need to the most too.
If you are anything like me, going through bad spells of fatigue really ensures you to appreciate the better days more. Although, when you’re lucky enough to have a lower-fatigue day, still know your limits and try not to overdo things as you’ll only end up regretting it later! Personally, when I have a good day I feel like I’m a hungry child let loose in a sweet shop and I have to work hard at reining myself in instead of throwing myself full-force into a frenzy of activity!
More ways to help manage your fatigue
So far I’ve listed just 4 ways to help manage your fatigue I seem to have included loads of suggestions already, so to avoid a mega-long article I’m creating a separate post for the rest! Please join me again next week for 5 more ways to help manage your fatigue…
Between now and then, if you find the opportunity to give some of my suggestions a try I’d love to know how you get on! All the best with managing your fatigue.