Pacing and Chronic Fatigue – Finding the right balance of mental and physical activity
When struggling with chronic fatigue, on some days you feel relatively good. You wake with a bit more energy than usual, and encouraged, you try to get some things done. You might go for a walk, or vacuum the house, or go shopping. This is great! You’re doing what normal people do.
Then, unfortunately, comes the “crash”. You felt up to the activity, but pushed it too far. Depending on the severity of your chronic fatigue it could take a few hours or a few days to come good.
Chronic fatigue sufferers know too well that energy comes and goes in seemingly unpredictable and irregular waves; and no doubt you are familiar with the crashes that often follow a period of activity – physical or mental. These crashes can leave you physically and mentally exhausted.
Carefully managing your physical and mental activity load is an important part of your overall management, and ongoing treatment, of chronic fatigue from a Chinese medical perspective.
You may have come across the term ‘pacing’ in the chronic fatigue literature. Pacing, or carefully scheduling activities with adequate periods of rest in between, and working within boundaries that the body is used to, is a mechanism employed by chronic fatigue sufferers to allow activity without creating a subsequent energy crash. Knowing the right balance for your body is important.
These crashes come about because, although at times you’re feeling better, your energy reserves are still low and you just don’t have enough to support the activities that you’re doing. The key is to slowly build a solid base of energy which increases little by little each day and isn’t depleted in large chunks by extended activity.
Taking tiny steps will allow you to test your body without going too far beyond your limits. You need to constantly test where this threshold lies. You want to be mildly challenging yourself without overstepping the mark to produce a big energy crash. This takes time and unfortunately there is no magic formula.
The key is to avoid activity that is drastically outside of what the body is used to. You don’t want any shocks to the system. Using physical activity as an example, if you haven’t been doing much activity at all, start with something light, such as a slow walk for 10 minutes. Even if you feel like you could do more, leave it at that. After a few days at 10min, if you’re up to it, you can increase your walk to 15 minutes, then 20 and so on.
Some days, when you’re feeling particularly low, you won’t want to do anything at all, and although some physical activity is recommended, you don’t want to push yourself beyond your limits, and days off here and there is ok.
The same rules apply to mental activity. As you start to recover and feel better, you may be tempted to attack last year’s tax return, tackle a major assignment, or get some extra work done. It’s important to be aware that mental activity, although you may be inactive, still consumes resources. Like physical activity you can be left depleted if you overdo it. Again, a bit at a time.
Incorporating some physical and mental stimulation into your daily schedule is very important for lifting your physical condition and also your mood. It helps to slowly increase your stamina. You need to remain active, social and engaged with the community in which you live. But don’t take it too far. If you push yourself beyond your limit, it sets you back in your goal of gaining strength and stamina.