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Coping with Stress Through the Holidays: Tips for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Patients

  [ 752 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Eunice Beck, RN • • December 4, 2002

Dear Friends,

I don’t know how many of you watch the ABC program “ALIAS” but I am a great fan. On a recent program the young star, Jennifer Garner, playing heroine Sydney Bristow, was asked how she had survived a particularly difficult and painful situation. She replied “There’s no drug like adrenaline.” In the world of super spies and double agents, I’m sure that is true. However, at least for me, a good dose of adrenaline is the promise of a flare of major proportions.

For years, as a nurse, I used a handy reference called the Merck Manual. So I went to my copy of McGraw Hill’s CD-ROM version for home use. It gives me a concise description of how adrenaline works:

“Through communication, the body keeps itself in balance - a concept called homeostasis. Through homeostasis, organs neither underproduce nor overproduce, and each organ facilitates the functions of every other organ.”

“Communication to maintain homeostasis can occur through the nervous system or through chemical stimulation. The autonomic nervous system, in large part, controls the complex communication network that regulates bodily functions. This part of the nervous system functions without a person thinking about it and without much noticeable indication that it is working. Chemicals used to communicate are called transmitters. Transmitters that are produced by one organ and travel to other organs through the bloodstream are called hormones. Transmitters that conduct messages between parts of the nervous system are called neurotransmitters.”

“One of the best known transmitters is the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). When a person is suddenly stressed or frightened, the brain instantly sends a message to the adrenal glands, which quickly release epinephrine. Within moments, this chemical has the entire body on alert, a response sometimes called preparation for fight or flight. The heart beats more rapidly and powerfully, the eyes dilate to allow more light in, breathing quickens, and the activity of the digestive system decreases to allow more blood to go to the muscles. The effect is rapid and intense.”

Epinephrine or adrenaline stimulates many organs to prepare the body for stress. This can happen in response to any stressor, be it physical (pain or fatigue) or mental (emotionally stressful situations).

•  As you can imagine, all this “preparation” requires an increase in energy usage.

•  For us, energy conservation is extremely important, considering that our reserves are usually at minimum levels.

•  Because this response to stress is handled by a system which works “automatically,” the only way to prevent this drain on our resources is to attempt to control those situations in our lives which would trigger a “fight or flight” response.

I have said before that stress (especially emotional) is a definite trigger for my fibro symptoms, including increased pain, which adds to the level of reaction. So, I try to arrange my life so there are a minimum of stressors.

There will be situations, for all of us, that will create stressors that are out of our control. Family illness or death must be dealt with. But that type of situation is one in which we must take special care of ourselves. We need to get as much rest as possible, and expect our fatigue and pain needs to be worsened, during, and for a time after the situation is resolved.

The area where we can exert some control is our daily lives.

•  I plan so I will not have to hurry to get ready to go out. Otherwise, because of my reaction to the excess adrenaline my system puts out in response to my haste, I am exhausted, and frequently in pain by the time I am ready to leave.

•  I attempt to avoid conflict in my interactions with others.

•  I try to focus on the important things and let the little things slide.

The story below (which I have read on the Internet many times) is a good example, although I have made some slight modifications to fit our situation:

* * * *

A CFIDS/FM support group leader stood before the group with some items on the table in front of him. When the meeting began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, about 2" in diameter.

He then asked the group if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The leader then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.
He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the group again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

He then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand is the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued "there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks.” The same goes for your life. If you focus on the small stuff, you will never have the energy for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with and hug your children. Take care of your pain. Rest. Spend time with your loved ones. There will be time to go to work, clean the house, do the laundry. Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. The rest is just sand.

...I have another poem to share with you, which also speaks to what is most important:

* * * *


Well, today was my birthday. Everyone asks "How does it feel to be older; what do you want for your B-day, what do you need?"

Well I need a new care. I need a house. I need some new clothes.

Not really, those are all WANTS.

I need love, and my family gathered.

I need warmth, and my friends hugging me.

I need nourishment, and they feed me.

I need compassion, they give me forgiveness.

I need God, the pastor stopped by. He said "Happy B-day Gail, see ya at church."

I need to feel accepted, the [message] board sang me Happy B-Day.

I need to laugh, my hubby made me grin.

I need a family and the Lord has blessed me so.

Needs and wants are two separate things and I did not get what I wanted today, I got what I needed. So I would say I can't wait till next year so I can get the same gifts again. Love, kindness, food, forgiveness, the Lord, friends, family, comfort, smiles. All the things one needs to survive....

Love, Soulwriter
(By Gail Raney)

Although Gail was writing about a birthday, her words are very thought-provoking, as we enter the holiday season, and approach a New Year. I wish each of you peace and comfort at this hectic time of year... Take care and be well.

Yours in health,


Note: My articles are not being offered as those of a health care provider. The information and opinions included are intended to give you some information about your disease. It is very important that you empower yourself with knowledge and participate in your own search for care. Any advice given is not intended to take the place of advice of your physician or mental health care provider. Always follow your physician’s advice, even if contradicted by something written here. You and your physician know your situation far better than I do. Thank you and be well. - Eunice

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