My Secret Weapon: Pre-Emptive Rest
By Bruce Campbell, Ph.D.
The following is an excerpt, reprinted with permission, from Bruce Campbell's "Recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: One Person’s Story" which can be found in its entirety at http://www.recoveryfromcfs.org/.
Bruce Campbell is the creator and director of the CFIDS/Fibromyalgia Self-Help Program (http://www.cfidsselfhelp.org/), an Internet course that helps patients take control of their illness by learning practical strategies for living well with CFS and fibromyalgia.
If there was a secret to my recovery, it was my use of planned rests. As I mentioned in the last chapter, when I was first ill, I often experienced the cycle of push and crash, swinging back and forth from too much activity to periods of rest. I would be more active than my body could tolerate, experience intense symptoms and then use rest to recover. Spending a few hours or a whole day in bed was an effective strategy for recovering from periods of doing too much, but my life felt out of control.
About nine months after becoming ill, I learned that I could use rest for another reason besides recuperation. I found that rest could actually prevent symptoms. This idea was one of the strategies recommended by CFS researchers in England who counseled patients to live their lives according to a plan, one which included similar amounts of activity each day and also scheduled rest periods taken no matter how you felt. The goal was to shift away from living in response to symptoms (the cycle of push and crash) toward a consistent, planned life.
I was attracted to the idea of gaining control over the swings in my symptoms and I could accept the idea that a similar amount of activity each day could help me achieve greater predictability. But I resisted the idea of resting each day regardless of how I felt. I couldn’t understand why I would lie down voluntarily if I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. Also, I thought of resting as giving in to the illness, so that rest meant a victory for the illness.
Because other parts of the program from England made sense, I decided to try resting every afternoon, but I wasn’t sure what “rest” meant. Was I resting if I was reading or watching television? Or did rest mean lying down? I did some experiments and found that the most restorative rest resulted from lying down in a quiet place with my eyes closed.
I was surprised at the results from a 15 minute rest. Even that short rest seemed to help, reducing my symptoms, increasing my stamina and making my life more stable. After a while I added a morning rest as well. Over time, I came to believe that my scheduled rest was the most important thing I did to aid my recovery.
Resting everyday according to a fixed schedule, not just when I felt sick or tired, was part of a shift from living in response to symptoms to living a planned life. The experience showed me that rest could be used for more than recovering from doing too much; it could be employed as a preventive measure as well. In the terms suggested by one of the students in our self-help program, I learned the difference between recuperative rest and pre-emptive rest.
Taking pre-emptive rests enabled me to reduce the time I spent in recuperative rest. The result was that my total rest time was reduced. Resting on a planned schedule greatly stabilized my life, enabling me to get off the roller coaster and giving me a much greater sense of control.
I found that my rests were even more effective after I started doing a relaxation practice at the same time. Without the mental relaxation, my mind often raced from worry to worry, so I experimented with various meditation procedures during my rest time.
I learned that techniques using imagery, such as imagining myself lying on the beach or sitting beside a stream, were not effective for me, however helpful they may be to some people. But focusing my attention on my breathing worked. By lying down and keeping my awareness on my breath, I could relax both physically and mentally.
I applied the idea of planned rests in other parts of my recovery. As mentioned earlier, I used it to expand my envelope for travel. I found that if I stopped during driving trips for a ten to 15 minute rest every two hours, I arrived fresher at my destination and had a lower symptom level throughout my trip.
Also, as I will explain in more detail in the chapter on exercise [see http://www.recoveryfromcfs.org/], I used rests to expand the length of my walks. If I alternated walking with an equal amount of time sitting, I could walk farther and not affect my symptoms.
The principle I learned from all these experiments was that rest could have a dramatic effect on the energy available to me and on my symptom level. Taking a short rest break to re-charge batteries expanded the number of productive hours in my day. Also, I found that I could avoid a long period of bed rest by taking a brief rest as soon I felt my symptoms beginning to get worse.
As I improved, I experimented with the number of rests, eventually replacing planned rests with brief rests in response to symptoms. But this was only after I had recovered back to about 90% of normal. For most of the time I was recovering, pre-emptive rests were crucial. For four years, my planned rests both reduced my total rest time and helped bring stability back into my life, a big payoff for two brief breaks in my day.
(c) Bruce Campbell, Ph.D. All rights reserved. For more information, please visit http://www.cfidsselfhelp.org/