Living With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Tips From Top Therapists

There are a number of conditions and health disorders that can impact your life in many ways, with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) being one of them. There are lots of different symptoms of CFS that range in severity and that affect different parts of the body, making it hard for people with the condition to conduct their daily life in the way they might be used to or want to.

As a non-curable condition, a CFS diagnosis can be extremely challenging to come to terms with. That being said, there are some treatment options available, and there are also a number of tips and tricks that can help you to better manage your CFS diagnosis and live your life to the best of your potential.

In this article, we’re going to explore chronic fatigue syndrome in more detail and explain some top tips from our expert therapists that can help you with living with CFS.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a chronic neurological condition. It primarily affects the nervous system and the immune system, causing a range of symptoms, which we’ll explain more about soon. The overarching symptom is extreme tiredness and chronic fatigue, but the condition can be much more varied than that.

There is no defined cause of CFS, but there are a number of common theories that indicate that it could be triggered by viral and bacterial infections such as glandular fever or pneumonia. It’s also thought those with compromised immune systems and hormonal imbalances may also be impacted. On top of this, it appears like ME runs in families, suggesting there could be a genetic predisposition to the condition, too.

CFS can affect anyone at any point in their life; however, it is more common in women and is most commonly diagnosed between mid-20s and mid-40s. It is a lifelong condition which means, unfortunately, there is no cure. This means treatment is focused around symptom control and management rather than eradication.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome

As mentioned, chronic fatigue syndrome affects both the nervous system and the immune system, causing a wide range of symptoms that can cause severe disruption to your daily life. Some of the most prevalent symptoms include:

  • Feeling very tired and fatigued constantly, to the point where doing everyday activities is difficult
  • Feeling tired even after sleeping or resting
  • Taking a longer time to recover from exercise or physical exertion
  • Sleep issues, e.g., waking up frequently throughout the night
  • Cognitive impairment and memory problems
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Nausea
  • Persistent headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Flu symptoms, e.g., sore throat
  • Chronic pain in the joints and muscles

 

Symptoms of ME vary greatly between people, and you might even experience a fluctuation of symptoms within a day. Due to the nature of CFS, it can be hard to diagnose the condition because it has the same symptoms as many other chronic illnesses and conditions. Based on this, a diagnosis is made via a process of elimination, along with blood and urine tests.

If your GP or medical practitioner determines that your individual symptoms are lasting longer than they would expect, a chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosis may be given. This can be devastating, particularly for those who lead active lifestyles. It’s thought that nearly half of people with chronic fatigue syndrome develop depression. If you feel like your mental health is being impacted by your physical health, make sure you contact your GP or a mental health professional.

Treatments to improve living with chronic fatigue syndrome

As mentioned, there isn’t yet a cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, but there are some treatments that can provide effective relief. These include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – Many people with CFS may develop a fear or avoidance of exercise because of the impact it has on their health and wellbeing afterwards; however, this avoidance is unhealthy as it can cause more issues. CBT can help to address this unhealthy thought pattern if present and help to strengthen the relationship between a person with CFS and exercise. It can also help with health and pain related anxiety.
  • Medication – There are certain medications that can be taken to mitigate some of the physical symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, such as sleep issues or joint and muscle pain.
  • Energy management – A medical professional can help you devise an energy management plan to determine your limits and how you can use your energy without overexerting yourself and causing more problems later on.

 

Many people find that their symptoms improve for a while and then flare up again, but on the whole, those who undergo treatment for their ME tend to find it’s more manageable and their symptoms improve over time. That being said, it’s a lifelong condition and does usually mean that some adaptations in life are necessary.

5 Tips for living with chronic fatigue syndrome

Living with chronic fatigue syndrome can be hard. It will undoubtedly take a toll on your everyday life, and at times, it might seem impossible to cope with. However, there are ways you can try to manage your condition better and live a fulfilled, active, and happy life. We’ve put together some of the main tips a lot of people with ME find useful.

1. Develop an individual exercise plan

Exercise is important for everyone and goes a long way to promoting good health, but for people with chronic fatigue syndrome, exercise can be difficult. This is because physical activity leads to prolonged exhaustion for many people with ME, and this can have a detrimental effect on your overall health and wellbeing.

When exhausted, people with chronic fatigue syndrome might be unable to do everyday tasks – even getting out of bed can be a struggle. This is due to something called post-exertional malaise (PEM). With this in mind, going to the gym and doing a mixture of exercises or trying to keep up with others physically isn’t the best course of action for someone with ME.

Instead, a personalised exercise plan should be developed. You can work with your GP or a physical therapist to develop one that is unique to you and your capabilities. With the right support, you can devise a structured exercise plan that allows you to correctly pace yourself and rest adequately in line with your attainable level of exertion.

Implementing a personalised exercise plan will allow you to be physically active, but in a way that isn’t detrimental to your wellbeing or that will mean you’re unable to do a lot afterwards. By staying within your personal boundaries, you can effectively pace yourself without the knock-on effect.

2. Use a planner and to-do lists

Chronic fatigue syndrome can cause issues with memory and concentration, making it hard to remember things like shopping lists or paying bills on time. To prevent the risk of missing something, getting into the habit of making to-do lists and using a planner to schedule your day could prove to be useful.

Whether you stick a note to the fridge to remind yourself to get milk, set reminders a few hours before appointments so you don’t forget, or write down important details such as medications you take in case of a medical emergency – little things can make a big difference to your general executive functioning.

3. Manage your diet

A good diet is imperative to overall good health, and this stands true for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. You might have an instinct to gravitate towards things like caffeine or sugar for an added energy boost, but this can have the opposite effect when the stimulant wears off, so it’s best to avoid products like this.

Some people with ME find that they get nauseous. If this applies to you, consider eating smaller meals more often as this may help. It’s important that you eat enough and a good amount of high energy foods throughout the day to try and keep your energy levels up. This means eating three meals and three substantial snacks where possible.

As well as eating regularly, you need to ensure that what you eat is healthy. Although there’s no official research, many people with chronic fatigue syndrome have reported that eating a Mediterranean diet, or a diet that is full of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, has a positive impact overall.

4. Ask your employer for reasonable accommodations

There are a number of jobs where working with ME and without accommodations can be hard or near impossible. Due to being a medical condition, your employer has a duty to ensure you are provided with reasonable adjustments in the workplace that can help you do your job whilst accommodating your condition.

The adjustments that may be necessary will depend on your symptoms and the severity of them. For example, if you struggle with pain and movement, flexible working or the ability to work from home could be beneficial to you. However, if you find you battle fatigue the most, having somewhere quiet to rest could be the best route for you. For those with memory issues, having colleagues implement clear, written instructions could help.

It’s possible that you might qualify for some benefit entitlements and support if you have a chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosis and struggle to work, so make sure you investigate this avenue if you find it’s becoming too difficult to work as you normally would.

5. Find and join a support group

Living with a chronic condition can undoubtedly be hard. You might have a strong network of friends and family around you who try their best to support you, but you might still feel alone because they don’t really understand how it feels to be you. It’s also not uncommon for people with CFS to find that some people simply don’t believe them or take their condition seriously.

Even if you do have support around you, it’s worth trying to join a support group of people who also have the condition. Doing so could give you a better insight into how you might be able to manage day to day with your diagnosis based on what others find useful, and you can share your own tips and tricks, too. This can help you feel more understood, accepted, and less alone.

Where some people might not understand how ME affects your ability to socialise, those with the condition do, and may be more willing to socialise and interact in a way that doesn’t overexert you or exclude you. You can also learn more about your condition and develop some great, long-lasting connections.

Chronic fatigue syndrome therapy at Psymplicity Healthcare

At Psymplicity Healthcare, we specialise in providing mental support to those who are struggling, as well as therapy to those living with chronic fatigue syndrome. If you have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and think that talking therapy might be useful for you, please get in touch with us to find out more about how we can help you.

Mavish Sikander

Mavish Sikander

Mavish is a BABCP Accredited CBT and EMDR Therapist and CBT Clinical Lead at Psymplicity.

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