10 Tips for Recovering From a Fibromyalgia Flare-Upby Ginger Vieira Health Writer & Patient Advocate
When a fibromyalgia flare-up hits, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been living with the condition for months, years, or decades — it’s always hard. (And sometimes “hard” barely describes a flare-up’s intensity.)
The worst part is simply not knowing how long it’s going to last. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to speed up the recovery process and get back to your best “normal.” Here are 10 tips for your fibro flare-up recovery plan:
Get as much extra sleep as possible
This tip is number one for a reason: It’s possibly the most important. If you usually stay up until 11 p.m. when you’re feeling well, set a reminder on your phone for 7 or 8 p.m. reminding you to get into bed ASAP. Even if you’re lying awake in a dark room with your eyes closed, the peace and quiet is crucial to helping your whole body and mind get the rest it needs. A few nights of early bedtime will help you get back on track.
Ask your doctor to prescribe a sleep aid
If your flare-ups bring on a full blast of insomnia, you’re not alone. How cruel is it that when we need sleep the most, it feels so out of reach? Taking sleep medications on a regular basis usually leads to a variety of not-so-great side effects, but having something on hand for those excruciating sleepless nights is crucial because too many nights in a row of insomnia will just aggravate your flare-up more. Even an “acetaminophen PM” is better than nothing!
Just say no to stressful commitments
Did you agree to go on a day trip to Boston with your best friend to look at wedding dresses? Is your son’s birthday party this week and you’re supposed to be hosting the whole thing at your house? Whatever the extra commitments are, you need to take care of yourself first. Your friend will understand delaying dress-shopping if you’re in so much pain and so exhausted that you’d rather curl up in a ball in a dark room and cry until you fall asleep. Take care of you.
If you can’t escape the stressor or commitment, try to keep a “zen” mindset
Not all sources of stress and commitments can be rescheduled. Your child’s 9th grade theater debut. Your partner’s holiday party. Your presentation at work. If you can’t delay it, then the next goal is to get as much rest as you can prior to that commitment and “zen” your way to your most relaxed yet powerful mental headspace. Maybe it’s a playlist of songs or a movie or a poem that gets you there. Find whatever recharges you, even if that charge is temporary.
Manage your carb cravings and focus on clean eating
Along with the other mysteries of fibromyalgia, cravings for sugar and processed junk food is an aspect of the condition no one can really explain. But it’s very real, especially when you’re in the midst of a flare-up. Bingeing on junk will only make your exhaustion worse. Try to eat clean, whole foods for at least 75 percent of the day in order to get through that flare-up sooner. Plan a treat if you need to, but focus on the benefits of clean eating.
Document what you suspect triggered the flare-up
Some flare-ups are well beyond our control, but others are triggered when we push our personal limits. Maybe it’s something you did at the gym, or you took on too many extra projects at work. Get yourself a diary or note pad dedicated to flare-up triggers. It could take months or several years to fully understand what your personal fibro limits and triggers are, but the more you document, the less likely you’ll be to accidentally trigger flare-ups in the future.
Make time for self-care
Ice packs, back massagers, saunas, hot showers, the jacuzzi at your gym, spending all weekend watching Breaking Bad, or going to a restorative yoga class — whatever helps your pain and the depressive exhaustion of your flare-up, make time for it. It’s the tiny little things that help us get through both physically and mentally. Sometimes something as simple as giving yourself 30 minutes every night after work to rest your wrists on ice packs while you watch the news can do wonders.
Exercise, but don't overdo it
There are certainly flare-ups that call for doing zero exercise, but if you can get on a treadmill or go for a slow walk outside, that low level of cardio exercise can help both physically and mentally. Researchers don’t understand why, but regular cardio exercise has shown to be an imperative part of keeping fibro patients healthy. Getting low-intensity exercise during a flare-up is crucial. Don’t lie in bed all day. Get your body moving in the gentlest way possible.
Talk to someone you trust
The depression that comes with a flare-up is unpredictable and can be overwhelming. Even if there’s absolutely nothing a friend or partner can do for you besides listen, it’s important that someone besides you knows what you’re going through. Not only does it help get some of the emotions of fibro out of your head, but it also means someone will check in and see how things are going. Just because you’ve managed flare-ups in the past all by yourself doesn’t mean you have to.
Remind yourself that flare-ups don’t last forever
Ask that friend or doctor or partner (whomever it is you plan to check in with during a flare-up) to remind you that flare-ups are temporary. When you’re wrought with pain, brain-fog, depression, more pain, and exhaustion, it’s dangerously easy to forget that you don’t always feel like this. It’s easy to feel like every day of the rest of your life will be this painful. Flare-ups are temporary. Flare-ups are temporary. Flare-ups are temporary. You will get through this!