I talk to a lot of people living with chronic fatigue conditions such as M.E, CFS and Fibromyalgia and one common issue that the majority of sufferers have is a high level of stress. Relaxation is a real challenge.
The causes of the stress are unique to each person but themes keep coming up.
- Difficult relationships
- Challenging work situations
- Primary care for a family member or loved one
- Difficult childhood/teenage years or sense of not belonging
- Financial insecurity
- Worry over complex health issues
These sorts of stresses pray on our minds, consciously and subconsciously. The constant worry and anxiety associated with these issues activates our central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of two elements, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The role of these two systems is to keep our body in balance and functioning appropriately for the circumstances we are in.
The impact of stress within our body
Stress triggers a response within the Sympathetic Nervous System (flight or fight system) that is like dominoes toppling over. A chemical chain reaction results in the release of adrenaline into our bloodstream. The adrenaline immediately puts our body on red alert, with all non necessary systems shut down. Our body is primed and ready for fight or flight action.
Except, we rarely actually do either of these things. Instead we carry on with life as best we can, largely unaware that there is a chemical frenzy going in on inside of us. We might be aware of our heart beating faster, or a change to our breathing or perhaps a fidgety, restless feeling but we rarely link these to some form of stress.
Spending all day, and sometimes all night, in this pent-up fight or flight state is exhausting – it’s no wonder poor sleep and fatigue so often occur together!
It’s all about balance.
The balancing action of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest and digest system) is missing. This system is supposed to kick in and calm our bodies down after the Sympathetic Nervous System has done its job. It reactivates all the body functions that the adrenaline has switched off. It’s like hitting the re-boot button!
The problem is modern day living means that we seldom come down out of the stress high to allow the body to return to equilibrium.
As a result, the two systems get out of balance, with the Sympathetic Nervous System becoming dominant. Being out of balance for prolonged periods of time puts the chemical functioning of our body out of alignment. We start to exhibit a range of physical symptoms. This is our body desperately trying to signal to us but all is not well. If we continue to ignore the signals, eventually our bodies will shut down and we end up in bed.
Ok, so what’s all that got to do with relaxation?
Well, there are actually a number of things we can do to help rebalance and come out of Sympathetic Nervous System dominance. Relaxation is a powerful tool that help can help to put the Parasympathetic Nervous System back in charge. This will allow our body to return to normal service.
There are a range of different techniques we can use to relax, such as:
Developing a relaxation response – training our mind & body to become calm using established techniques that include
- Deep abdominal breathing
- Focusing on a soothing word
- Visualising calm seems
- Repetitive prayer
- Tai chi
Undertaking physical activity – exercise drives deep breathing, relieves muscle tension and provides a mental focus.
The exercise has to be appropriate to energy levels. Very gentle breathing exercises or a walk around the bedroom may be suitable for someone who is bedbound. For someone with more energy, this might mean a short walk outside.
Taking up a hobby – links back to mental focus and works well with something that we love to do, or perhaps used to do. It engages our “logical” brain, putting it back in charge over our more basic, survival mode brain. It’s another way of taking back control.
Seeking social support – the connection, one person to another, can be hugely supportive in times of crisis.
Depending on energy levels, this may mean that connections are established over social media, Skype and Zoom in the first instance rather than face to face. There is the old adage that “A problem shared, is a problem halved”. Chronic fatigue conditions sometimes leave people feeling very isolated and not wanting to share their experience.
Finding a supportive community of like minded people, who just get what going on for you can be truly transformative. I would urge anyone who is feeling lost, isolated and fed up to contact The Chrysalis Effect immediately – they have a fabulous recoverers facebook group as part of their online recovery programme, which comes with a free 30 day trial.
Relaxation can make a difference
Now, I’m not saying that relaxation on its own will resolve chronic fatigue but it can make a huge difference.
By understanding of what is happening in our body when we are stressed, and being aware of how our body reacts, means we will be able to spot when our stress response is being triggered. We can then take steps to counteract the stress. We are in a powerful position to take conscious control and make a positive impact on our health. This is a much better position than being a victim of something we haven’t been consciously aware of.
It’s a huge step towards getting your life back!
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised, or would like support working towards your recovery, get in touch with Suzanne at Reconnecting You