Coping With Fibromyalgia
How to live your most effective life
Posted Dec 28, 2020
Written with contributions from Margaret Heaton-Ashby, LMFT
Widespread muscle pain and tenderness is the hallmark symptom of Fibromyalgia. The pain can vary in intensity and at times can be excruciating and unbearable. Besides having pain, there are a number of secondary symptoms or comorbidities associated with the disease such as depression, anxiety, tension headaches, fatigue, loss of sleep, and irritable bowel syndrome. The reality of life with fibromyalgia can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be.
Patient care that involves the biopsychosocial model has proven to be effective for helping patients live with Fibromyalgia. Care providers who use the biopsychosocial model to help Fibromyalgia patients utilize medical treatments, massage therapy, physical therapy, and behavioral health strategies. In this scenario, medications are used to help the pain and symptoms while incorporating massage therapy, physical therapy, and behavioral health modalities to improve physical and mental function.
Massage and physical therapy are utilized to help patients become active again. They can help determine what type of activity is safe to do while helping guide patients what activities they should not do. As the condition improves, they can get patients involved in a light aerobic exercise program which is one of the hallmark treatments for helping Fibromyalgia.
Behavioral health strategies are sometimes neglected in a treatment plan and without it, patients will never be able to close the “pain gate”. To understand why behavioral health counseling is so important, it is crucial to understand how chronic pain perpetuates the pain cycle. Although researchers still don’t know the exact cause or origin of fibromyalgia pain, the onset can often be traced back to a trauma or injury. Living in constant pain can cause poor sleep, relationship strain, inactivity, decreased motivation, and ultimately can cause distress, anxiety and depression which have been proven to worsen pain. This leads to a vicious cycle of chronic pain and the cycle cannot be broken without intervention.
By helping clients recognize and address past traumas and unhelpful thinking patterns, mental health counseling can begin to introduce helpful coping skills. This is crucial to treating the widespread chronic pain associated with Fibromyalgia. Most patients do not understand the importance of these skills which can disrupt the pain cycle. Coping skills such as pacing, appropriate limit setting, and increased communication skills can minimize or eliminate pain. A behavioral health therapist can help you realize ineffective behaviors and thoughts that are perpetuating your own pain cycle and develop strategize to help you live with Fibromyalgia.
Therapy and support groups are a great way to feel connected. Support groups educate patients about Fibromyalgia, integrate skills to help them live more effectively, explore ineffective thinking patterns, and challenging unhelpful behaviors. More than anything, a support group can help Fibromyalgia patients feel less alone. If you are suffering from fibromyalgia, we recommend finding a support group in your area to add to your treatment plan.
6 Healthy Habits to Help Fibromyalgia
Here are 6 recommendations that you can start today to help minimize pain and close the gate on your pain cycle.
1. Master the art of pacing
There is no reason to push yourself to the point of exhaustion. Learn to set realistic expectations and pace yourself throughout the day. Doing these two things will help you make it through the day without feeling defeated.
2. In with the good, out with the bad
Maintain a healthy diet with foods that are packed with vitamins, nutrients, fiber and drink plenty of water. The Mayo Clinic recommends eating the following foods for people who suffer from fibromyalgia; salmon, black beans, nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens and colorful fruits and vegetables. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to cut out the bad toxins like smoking and drinking alcohol. Also consider limiting or cutting out caffeine, high fructose corn syrup, salt, sugar, MSG, dairy, unhealthy fats and aspartame.
3. Tune into your body and listen to what it’s saying
Your body knows more than you think and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t listen to it. If your body is telling you that an activity is making you feel worse, maybe it’s time to stop that activity or ask for help. Keeping a journal can help you realize which activities just aren’t worth the pain in the end.
4. Get moving!
We know being active isn’t your favorite idea when you are in pain. But being stagnant isn’t helping your body and mind. Try doing gentle exercises like going for a walk, getting in a pool, or doing modified yoga. Anything to keep your body moving is going to help circulation, get your heart pumping, loosen joints and ultimately, help you feel better.
5. Don’t be a superhero
You don’t have to do it all. Everyone deserves a break, so give yourself some grace when you do need a rest. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help from friends and family.
6. Ask for help
This one is so important. When everything else isn’t working and you just can’t get your legs under you, it might be time to seek help. Find a support group and get connected to a mental health specialist.