How to Help Yourself with Our Top 8 Fibromyalgia Self-care Tips
How to Help Yourself with Our Top 8 Fibromyalgia Self-care Tips
Undertaking helpful self-care strategies is a brilliant way to manage fibromyalgia in your everyday life.
Sometimes it may feel like things are rampaging out of control. Self-care strategies are a way to take charge and help yourself with a holistic approach – integrating mind, body and spirit. Because fibromyalgia is such a complex condition, affecting all parts of your life, these strategies take a whole-person approach to managing your fibromyalgia.
Here are our top 8 fibromyalgia self-care strategies for nourishing and soothing yourself and managing your symptoms.
#1 Managing stress
Stress and pain are intrinsically linked in fibromyalgia due to the way stress hormones, such as cortisol, can amplify the body's pain response.
The first step is to recognize and acknowledge stress and its causes. You can then try to mitigate stress with evidence-based techniques such as:
- Recognizing unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that may maintain or exacerbate problems, for example through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
- Mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises.
- Relaxation techniques, such as journaling, gardening, singing, and creative pursuits – anything that helps you feel a sense of calm.
- Harnessing the power of the tribe – a good vent to a supportive friend can help.
- Understanding and managing the causes of your flare-ups.
Pain can be a cause of suffering. But often our reaction to it – self-critical thinking, resisting and worrying – can make the experience much worse. Vidymala Burch, founder of Breathworks, refers to this very common reaction as secondary suffering – and it can be avoided with a self-care mindset.
This was huge for my pain-management journey. It took a while for me to realize that I was contributing to my suffering. Now, I have learned to decrease the distress that accompanies my pain by becoming aware of my reactions and practicing self-care. Changing your mindset and focusing on gratitude, joy and connection has been shown to help people engage more fully in daily activities, regardless of their pain levels1.
Some ways to boost your fibromyalgia self-care mindset include:
- Practicing acceptance, and focusing on positive and adaptive coping approaches.
- Turning towards your pain with curiosity (not ignoring it or resisting!), knowing that you are safe.
- Being kind to yourself and understanding that changes take time. Phrases such as “this will pass”, “taking a break is okay”, and “you are doing your best and that's enough” can help.
- Addressing any obstacles that might be getting in the way of your fibromyalgia recovery.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” - Dr. Wayne Dyer.
In her book, Real Self-care, Dr Pooja Lakshmin says “Boundaries are the cornerstone, without them, none of the rest of the work can happen.”
Firm boundaries can help you manage your stress, energy and sleep. Because we cannot control the behavior of others, setting and maintaining boundaries takes some practice and possibly even a few difficult conversations.
Some tips for setting and maintaining boundaries:
- Listen to your body and assess your needs. What is the most nourishing thing you need, and what boundaries do you need to set in order to make them happen?
- Be very clear, stating exactly what you want or need to have or prevent. Don't be afraid to say no if you need to.
- Get support from someone you trust to practice setting boundaries and debrief with afterwards.
#4 Rest and sleep
Fibromyalgia symptoms may impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep and your sleep quality affects the severity of your fibromyalgia symptoms – talk about an annoying double-edged sword! Any activities you can do to ease your fibromyalgia symptoms are likely to help you get more rest.
Here are some tips for getting a restful sleep:
- Set a regular sleep routine (aim for eight hours with set sleep and wake times).
- Only take short daytime naps (we get it, during a flare, naps are needed so use a timer and they can be power naps).
- Keep moving, because exercise can tire the body and help you fall asleep faster.
- Cut down on screen time before bed.
- Keep your bedroom dark and quiet.
- Avoid alcohol and larger meals later in the day.
- Reduce or cut your caffeine intake. Caffeine stays in the body for a long time. It has a ‘half-life’ of 4 hours. This means if you have a coffee (or tea or cola!) at 10am, 50% is still there at 2pm, 25% at 6pm, 12.5% at 10pm, 6.25% at 2am. So if you think your morning coffee isn’t contributing to your sleep problems, think again.
And when it comes to rest – don’t forget there are many ways to take a break – incorporate rests for your heart, body and mind.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott, author and writing teacher
Knowledge is power
#5 Keeping active
Exercise can help to reduce pain and increase overall wellbeing – by boosting mood, energy levels, and sleep quality – in people living with fibromyalgia2. Everyone is different and finding a way to move within your limits and around your symptoms is personal, but know that you are doing this for really good reasons!
Our top tips for getting started with movement include:
- Starting small and beginning with low-impact, gentle exercises. It’s important not to overexert yourself. Gradually increase the intensity and duration as your body adapts.
- Finding activities that you enjoy and that align with your values – it's more likely you will keep it up and build a strong habit. Movement doesn’t have to be formal exercise, tai chi, yoga, pilates, pickle ball, dancing and even gardening count.
- Being kind to yourself and remembering that starting something new can be tricky. There will be some bumps in the road so be gentle with yourself as you build strength and confidence.
#6 Pacing yourself
Managing your energy levels is crucial to avoid energy crashes and fatigue. Pain can be exacerbated by pushing beyond your limits and overextending yourself to near burnout.
Pacing is a key self-care strategy for managing fibromyalgia, focusing on using energy wisely and conserving it. Instead of working at maximum capacity, switch to an energy-saving mode and gradually increase your activity without exacerbating your pain or fatigue. Think of your energy levels as a battery – a good self-care strategy, like we would employ for our phones, is to plug in and recharge before your battery runs out.
Some ideas to get effective pacing going for yourself:
- Half-done is okay and you can leave an activity before it’s complete in order to take a break or to ask for help.
- Set a timer to remind you when to stop and take a break.
- Take a slow and steady approach. While it takes longer overall, the goal is to avoid a flare-up.
- Think of the end game and know that pacing means showing yourself kindness and care – knowing that you are conserving limited energy to show up as your best self next time.
#7 Eating well
Proper nutrition management, tailored to your individual needs and lifestyle, can significantly impact fibromyalgia symptom management and overall wellbeing.
Foods like gluten, sugar, and MSG may worsen symptoms by affecting the immune system. In contrast, a diet low in calories but rich in healthy fats, like the Mediterranean diet, can help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms.
Check out our nutrition program for more information about the impact of food on pain, and specifics such as elimination and low FODMAP diets. For more information, download the MoreGoodDays app for more information.
#8 Engaging in meaningful activities
Engaging in meaningful activities can help both as a form of distraction from pain, and to build a sense of purpose and cultivate a broader, compassionate perspective.
When someone has a negative perception of life satisfaction it can affect their overall wellbeing and impact their intimate relationships. Research suggests that higher levels of life satisfaction have been linked to better adaptation to living with fibromyalgia3. Finding meaning and purpose in activities may also help process some of the grief that can come with changes to your identity.
So how can I boost feelings of satisfaction? Maybe try these ideas:
- Understand your values and passions – what lights you up? Then maybe try a new hobby or pursuits – singing, drawing, gardening…whatever works for you.
- Undertake meaningful work (if possible) such as exploring participating in community groups, becoming a peer mentor, or getting involved in research. These roles not only offer a way to stay active and connected but also enable individuals to use their experiences constructively, potentially easing the psychological and emotional impact of living with fibromyalgia.
- Connect with your community – this might be in the form of volunteering, finding your tribe in a support group or just reaching out and being more honest with friends and family boosting your personal relationships. Opportunities to share your experiences, find practical support can provide empathy and understanding as well as a sense of purpose and meaning.
Barriers to self-care
If you are reading this and thinking – yeah, but…maybe there are some deeper barriers preventing you from undertaking self-care strategies.
- Worthiness. If you have a history of trauma (and the link between fibromyalgia and trauma is said to exist in around 80% of people) then this may affect your ability to engage in self-care activities4. In addition, people living with fibromyalgia have been shown to experience a higher need to earn self-esteem through competence and others’ approval. So both of these reasons might prevent you from wanting to undertake self care strategies and you may want to seek help from a trained therapist. Remember, you are worthy of self care. Taking the time to do so is likely to improve your symptoms and general quality of life.
- Prioritizing others. All too often we don't take time for self-care because we are too focused on supporting others. Whether it is societal expectations or some long held limiting belief, self care might be something you just fail to prioritize. As Oren Jay Sofer so aptly puts in the book ‘Your heart was made for this’, “We may have swallowed the lie that our value was measured by worldly success or we may have become entranced by the illusory promise of fulfillment after completing a “to-do” list’. Self-care is a necessary and productive use of your time – especially if it helps you have more good days and avoid a flare up of your symptoms.
- Time and cost. “I just don't have time…” – does that sound like a familiar reason for you? Time can be found by prioritizing self-care or asking for help to manage competing priorities. Many of the self-care strategies in this article are things you can do by yourself, for free. No fancy devices, activewear or additional practitioners needed – start small – just a deep breath is a wonderfully effective self care practice. Remember also to bring lightness and curiosity to your self-care strategies – don't make them another thing on your to-do list as this can push you into a fight and flight stress response.
- Support. Living with fibromyalgia can be challenging and isolating. Prioritizing yourself and trying something new can also be hard. Having an accountability buddy or someone waving those pom poms to motivate you can make all the difference. If you need a supportive group of peers who understand what you are going through, you are welcome to join our Living Well with Fibromyalgia Facebook Community.
Self-care is not just a “nice to have”, it's critical and requires taking action. So, what fibromyalgia self-care tip will you start working on today?
Over to you
Self-care has the word ‘self’ in it for a reason – everyone is different and finding the right way to care for yourself is very individual. It will probably involve some trial and error and the flexibility to make changes over time. Our list is certainly not exhaustive and if you want some more ideas, check out our article on how to recover from a fibromyalgia flare-up for more useful tips on strategies for fibromyalgia self-care.
Need a hand getting started? For more support, download our app to try our MoreGoodDays program which includes lots of these self-care strategies for managing your symptoms and getting back to living your life.
If any of the content of this article has raised concerns for you and you need immediate assistance, please contact:
- Lifeline - Free Australia-wide crisis support and suicide prevention service. 13 11 14 (24 hours, every day) or Text 0477 131 114 (24 hours, every day)
- Beyond Blue - Free mental health and wellbeing information and support for all in Australia. 1300 22 4636 (24 hours, every day)
- Blue Knot Foundation Helpline - Information, support or referral for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse. 1300 657 380 (9am to 5pm, every day)
- See here for a full international list of Crisis Support Helplines