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Fear of activity with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Monday 13 May 2013


From's Adrienne Dellwo:


Man exercisingFear of Activity with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Adrienne Dellwo, Guide
May 9, 2013

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms can get a whole lot worse after physical activity. Because of that, it's pretty natural for us to be afraid of the consequences, and therefore avoid activity.

I've seen a lot of research that mentions these tendencies, and it usually comes off sounding like this is psychologically abnormal behavior and needs to be fixed. That seriously rubs me the wrong way. Avoiding the milieu of pain, fatigue, brain fog, and other nasty symptoms that exertion can trigger seems like about the most sane thing a person can do!

That's why it was refreshing to see a new study that acknowledged, right off the bat, that it's not so strange:

"These exacerbations make it understandable for people with CFS and FM to develop fear of performing body movement or physical activity and consequently avoidance behaviour toward physical activity."

Researchers went on to say that their goals were to look at ways to measure fear of movement and avoidance behavior, how common they are, and, yes, what treatment options are available for it.

So they are saying it's something that needs to be treated, but I have to admit that - to a degree - they're right. (But only as long as it's approached correctly!)

As someone who's been fortunate enough to make big improvements in functionality, I've wrestled with fear and avoidance of exertion. At times, I've held back more than necessary, and at times, I've opted out of things I would have enjoyed because of fear. The health consequences have been that my stamina remains horrible some three years into remission; I haven't managed to lose weight or improve my strength (which isn't much better than my stamina;) and my arthritis pain is worse because I'm too sedentary.

Even though we know that exertion is bad for us, in terms of symptoms, we also can't deny that the human body requires it. Being sedentary is bad for our muscles and joints, and our hearts and lungs. So how are we to protect (what's left of) our health?

You'll find a lot of different answers to that question, and there's certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution. To me, the only thing we can do is remain as active as possible without triggering a symptom flare. And we can't do that if we're too scared to try.

Which condition you have plays a role in determining how to approach activity. In fibromyalgia, too much activity makes us crash, but the right amount can be therapeutic. It improves brain chemistry and blood flow, and for many of us, gradually increasing the amount and intensity of movement can help alleviate our symptoms and improve our quality of life.

With chronic fatigue syndrome, some people will have good luck with the above approach. Others will just keep crashing. For those in the second group, you may need to find effective treatments and get healthier before you can attempt to increase your activity level.

The question we need to ask ourselves is:

  • Am I avoiding exertion because I need to, or because I'm afraid?

If you decide it's because you're afraid, and you can't get over that on your own (believe me, it's not easy,) you might want to ask your doctor about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT.) That's a type of treatment that can help you identify bad habits and incorrect thought patterns, and then change them.

CBT is controversial because some doctors tout it as a primary treatment, especially for chronic fatigue syndrome, in spite of weak outcomes in research and a wealth of real-life horror stories from people who've been pushed too far and have wound up sicker for years afterward. It's no wonder, when you understand that this condition is based on problem physiology, and not bad thoughts and behaviors! When it's used properly, though, it can be effective.

Learn more about this treatment:

Learn more about exercising:

Do you fear exertion more than you need to? Have you overcome fear and avoidance? How much activity can you handle before crashing? Leave your comments here!

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo © Michael Greenberg/Getty Images


The above originally appeared here.


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