This goes without saying... living with a chronic illness is stressful. Fibromyalgia is no exception. You deal with a lot. You deserve more credit for dealing with the neverending fatigue, all sorts of pain, appointments with new providers, appointments with non-supportive providers, difficult conversations with loved ones, lost friendships and careers, and the list goes on.
Living with a chronic illness is stressful, but have you ever considered your stress level is making your symptoms worse?
What You Need To Know About Stress and Fibromyalgia
Stress is a common trigger for fibromyalgia. There’s been a lot of research about how the presence of stress worsens fibromyalgia symptoms. You probably don’t need a research article to tell you that. Still, sometimes that validation is necessary, especially when many people doubt the impact fibromyalgia makes on every aspect of your life.
There are different types of stress. Researchers have found that emotional stress (ex: conflict with a loved one, grieving a loss, feelings of loneliness) and interpersonal stress are particularly impactful and result in worsened pain and other symptoms.
It is suspected that individuals with fibromyalgia are more vulnerable to stress and its effects. Those with fibromyalgia report higher levels of psychological stress than healthy people and those with other chronic pain conditions, including osteoarthritis.
Those are the facts, but there's a silver lining...
Stress-Reducing Strategies That Work
Fibromyalgia symptoms, sleep, and the ability to cope with stressful events can be improved by reducing stress. Learning to cope is essential for living (like really LIVING) with fibromyalgia.
But how can you reduce stress?
The most important thing to remember when talking about pain management strategies of any kind: consistency is key. It's not fair to expect strategies to work when you only do them during flares. Pick one or two strategies to consistently try out for a few weeks before deciding if it's one to include or exclude from your pain toolkit.
Here are some stress-reducing strategies:
Relaxation and mindfulness techniques (examples include body scan, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation)
Laugh (you could watch a familiar comedy!)
Listen to classical music
Listen to a "pump-up" playlist
Spend time with your pet
Set boundaries and stick to them
Ask for help or delegate
Focus on one change at a time
Pick one or two strategies to consistently try out for a few weeks before deciding if it's one to include or exclude from your pain toolkit.
How to Figure Out Your Triggers
When a fibro fighter has had fibromyalgia for a few years, it's typical that they have a sense of what causes their flares. It can take time, energy, and a decent memory to figure out what your triggers are. Fibro fog can make it difficult to remember what led to a flare, so we've created the Weekly Strategies and Triggers Tracking Sheet for you! You can access the tracking sheet within our free e-book.
Davis, M., Zautra, C., & Reich, A. (2001). Vulnerability to stress among women in chronic pain from fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 23(3), 215-226.
Dennis, N. L., Larkin, M., & Derbyshire, S. W. (2013). 'A giant mess'--making sense of complexity in the accounts of people with fibromyalgia. British journal of health psychology, 18(4), 763–781. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12020
Fischer, S., Doerr, J.M., Strahler J., Mewes, R., Thieme, K., Nater, U.M. (2016). Stress exacerbates pain in the everyday lives of women with fibromyalgia syndrome—The role of cortisol and alpha-amylase. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 63, 68-77.
Homann, D., Stefanello, J., Góes, S., Breda, C., Paiva, E., & Leite, N. (2012). Stress perception and depressive symptoms: Functionality and impact on the quality of life of women with fibromyalgia. Revista Brasileira De Reumatologia, 52(3), 319-30.
Murray, T.L., Harry Daniels, M., & Murray, C.E. (2006). Differentiation of self, perceived stress, and symptom severity among patients with fibromyalgia syndrome. Families, Systems, & Health, 24(2), 147-159.
Smith, B., Papp, Z., Tooley, E., Montague, E., Robinson, A., & Cosper, C. (2010). Traumatic events, perceived stress and health in women with fibromyalgia and healthy controls. Stress and Health, 26(1), 83-93.
Fibromyalgia is not a "one size fits all" diagnosis. What works for some doesn't work for others. The information provided is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Should you have any health-related questions, please consult your physician or other health care provider promptly.
Teresa & Hannah are fellow fibromyalgia warriors. Teresa is a certified dietary manager and wellness coach. Hannah is an occupational therapist. Together, we're a mother-daughter duo on a mission to empower others to fight against fibro.