More than 850,000 Americans suffer with diagnosed CFS or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as ME. Many more struggle without an official diagnosis – up to 90%, according to the CDC.
But fatigue in general is a prevalent concern – over 2 million American women report constant feelings of tiredness even with adequate rest. Whether you’ve been diagnosed medically, or are simply tired of being tired, here we’ll explain the East-West approach to CFS and share a simple five-step approach to help bring relief without side-effects.
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a long-term condition which can affect anyone – although it is more common in women than men. Symptoms tend to develop between the late 20s and early 40s and include:
*Feelings of extreme tiredness after normal daily activities
*Feeling tired even after a restful sleep
*Struggling to recover after physical activity
*Sleep disruption such as waking during the night or struggling to get to sleep
*Cognitive issues, such as struggling to think clearly, memory loss and difficulty concentrating (also known as ‘brain fog’)
Are you just tired, or is it CFS?
Chronic fatigue, a symptom of many chronic conditions, is not to be confused with CFS and is becoming more and more commonplace as fast-paced lifestyles collide with mounting societal expectations, achieving a suitable work/life balance, the burden of ever-present lines of communication and busy work schedules.
Both are not normal and both should be treated seriously and with empathy – as dealing with critically low energy reserves day in day out can have a significant impact on our quality of life and emotional wellbeing.
Treatment for Chronic Fatigue
According to Western medicine there is no cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – and treatments can include physical and psychological therapy as well as prescription drugs. Whilst many of these treatments can be effective, there are many equally effective treatments hailing from Eastern medical systems such as Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda we can harness to support those with CFS, alongside simple and inexpensive lifestyle changes.
Whether or not you’re officially diagnosed, these five simple tips can help to ease the symptoms of chronic fatigue and improve quality of life. Holistic and lifestyle-based, there are no side effects or contra-indications, so you can incorporate any of these steps into your daily routine to find relief.
A personalized approach is always best when considering treatment, especially for chronic illness. If you aren’t doing so under the guidance of a physician, you might want to start with one or two things on this list and work through to see what works best for you.
Practice pacing yourself
Pacing is a medically approved treatment for CFS, but it’s non-medical and actually involves adapting your mindset and habits to help preserve energy. Pacing involves practicing mindfulness around how much you’re doing on each day, even on good days, and where you may be pushing yourself too hard leading to burnout. It also involves practicing empathy and kindness towards yourself – rejecting the idea that you are ‘lazy’ or ‘haven’t done enough’, and instead embracing the fact that you are doing your best with the resources you have at any given moment.
Examples of pacing include:
*Taking regular breaks and resting when you feel you need to
*Planning activities carefully in advance to avoid overwhelm
*Modifying tasks which may take up a lot of energy, such as standing whilst cooking
Accessing physical activities can be especially hard for those with CFS – often energy levels are so low that any kind of activity, even walking, feels out of reach. A condition known as post-exertional malaise is also a concern for those who feel able to exercise, but struggle with feeling worse in the hours or days afterwards.
If you feel able to do so, introducing gentle movement each day can help you to feel better. Go at your own pace, trying different activities to find one that really works for you. Yoga, Pilates, walking and Tai Chi are all examples of low-impact activities to help keep your body moving.
A good diet can support with many types of chronic illness, including CFS. Eating a balanced, wholefoods diet rich in protein, good fats and slow-release carbohydrates can really help to reduce energy slumps and improve sleep quality and anxiety levels, two key concerns for those with CFS. You should also be mindful to eat enough – as not eating sufficient amounts at regular intervals throughout the day can make the impact of fatigue feel much worse.
In addition to this, be sure to drink plenty of water – as dehydration can contribute significantly to feelings of mental and physical fatigue.
Although fatigue is characterized by feelings of exhaustion despite adequate rest, good sleep hygiene is still important. Many people with CFS tend to believe that nothing they do, even the best night’s sleep, can alleviate symptoms – but this isn’t true. In fact, sleep still plays a vital role in how severe symptoms of CFS can be.
Tips to improve sleep quality include:
*Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day
*Eliminating caffeine (or avoiding at least 3-4 hours before bed)
*Scrap screen-time for at least an hour before you plan to sleep
*Address the temperature and light in your bedroom, ensuring it is not too hot or cold and is completely dark during night hours
Address your stress
Stress in itself is exhausting – and chronic stress can significantly worsen symptoms of CFS. Many people with CFS become entangled in a vicious cycle as their symptoms cause them anxiety and stress, leading to a constant state of fight or flight. Feeling frazzled due to stress is exhausting in itself – so you can work to reduce anxiety and worry through mindfulness techniques such as meditation and conscious breathing. By introducing just a few minutes per day you can really help to support your nervous system and conserve vital energy that may be lost to stress, anxiety and worry on a regular basis.
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