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When you have fibromyalgia, stress has a powerful grip on your life. It can cause the disease to flare-up, resulting in shooting pains, extreme fatigue, and cognitive problems like confusion and memory loss, often called "fibro fog." In fact, many people report that a traumatic event brought on their first symptoms of fibromyalgia, leading some researchers to speculate that stress can actually trigger the disease. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases currently is funding research into whether fibromyalgia is caused by a breakdown in the way the body responds to stress.
Stress is known to trigger flare-ups in people with fibromyalgia, so restoring calm to your everyday life can help reduce your symptoms. Here are some coping techniques that can help you have more pain-free days.
Identify Your Stressors
Analyze your day and look for potential stress hot spots. For example, some people don't mind sitting in traffic, but others fume as they creep along during rush hour. If you feel hurried to get out the door on time every morning, consider waking up earlier (and going to bed earlier to compensate). If talking on the phone to a certain family member is stressful, consider changing to an email-only relationship. Figure out which situations you can control and make the necessary adjustments to make your days easier.
Develop Coping Techniques
Much of life's stress is unavoidable, but you can learn to react to it while keeping your calm:
- Schedule time to relax or meditate every day. The more you do it, the better you'll get at relaxing. Then, when you experience a sudden stressful situation, such as a heated discussion with your boss, you'll know how to take a few minutes afterward for deep breathing exercises or a short walk.
- Don't dwell on the past. One component of stress involves regret over things we could have done differently. Live in the moment and focus on what you need to do now to control your illness.
- Request accommodations at work. If your fibromyalgia makes mornings difficult, ask to work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., for example, instead of from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If sitting at your desk all day leaves your body aching, ask for a better chair or for regular breaks so you can walk and stretch.
- Find support. Talk to others who have fibromyalgia to share coping strategies and encouragement during your bad days.
Managing stress will not cure your fibromyalgia, but it can help you gain some control over your symptoms. Allow yourself to relax and your body will thank you.
Reviewed by Steven King, M.D.