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Pacing through the Perils of Fibromyalgia

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By Celeste Cooper

The holiday season is about to provide us a break in our usual routine, but for those of us living with fibromyalgia, the hustle and bustle can make pacing our activities, which is so important to our well-being, difficult.

The very nature of fibromyalgia is its unpredictability. So, how can we use critical thinking and problem solving to meet our goals and pace our activity? What can we do when pacing isn’t possible?

What is critical thinking?

According to the Critical Thinking Community, “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.…”

Critical thinking allows us to identify problem areas and set important goals as we embark on problem solving the logjams that threaten our ability to pace.

Problem solving

Using the principals of critical thinking, we can prioritize problems and formulate a plan. Steps to problem solving include:

  • Identify the problem and why a plan is necessary
  • Set a goal
  • Devise a plan and identify helpful tools
  • Implement the plan
  • Evaluate the plan based on achieving goals

If your plan to do better at pacing doesn’t meet your goal, adjust the goal (maybe it’s too high), change the plan or the tools, and try again.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Albert Einstein

Moral to the story, don’t give up – re-boot.


Each of us has unique life variances, but there are common considerations when we explore our fibro needs. They include:

  • Chronic widespread pain
  • Cognitive disturbances (inability to remember or stay focused—brain fog, or fibro fog—short-term memory problems)
  • Abnormal stress response evidenced by changes in the brain and body chemistry
  • Non-restorative sleep
  • Fatigue

We must recognize our limitations for our plan to work. For instance, graded physical activity helps combat muscle stiffness and pain, and physical movement is necessary for keeping our misdirected immune system somewhat in check. But, it’s up to us to define the priority of the day. Maybe we walked into a wall and hurt our knee, or maybe we didn’t sleep well. All aspects of problem solving and ability to pace must be considered. That’s where critical thinking is most helpful.

When pacing isn’t an option

Recently, I was faced with a situation where my usual pacing was not an option. Maybe, like me, you are moving and you have to have everything out of your house by a certain date. Possibly, you are changing jobs or you have experienced a personal loss. The demands of preparing for holiday celebrations can also interrupt our plan to pace. Many things happen to us that are out of our control making it important to have a backup plan that focuses on things we can do.

  • Pain – manage contributing factors and coexisting health problems.
  • Cognition – know symptoms of impending fibrofog. Ask for a second opinion and avoid making significant life decisions during these times.
  • Abnormal stress response — whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, our already hyper-vigilant brain is not capable of deciphering multiple stimuli at one time. This is when we ASK FOR HELP.
  • Non-restorative sleep and fatigue —throughout the month long, daily necessities of selling a home and everything in it, I knew my sleep hygiene was something I could control. My nightly routine includes turning off my phone at 8 P.M. (my family and friends have come to understand what I have to do to get rest). I get in my recliner, turn on the TV, and vegetate. I go to bed at the same time every night, no fluids 2 hours before bedtime and I complete other aspects of my ritual so if I doze off I can go straight to bed.

In addition to being prepared with a personalized backup plan, we can do other things to help, such as meditating, focusing on positive outcomes, deep breathing, and treating our body and mind with tender care and loving self-talk. And, don’t forget to write a pacing affirmation.

Today, I am prepared to deal with life’s interruptions by maintaining a rhythm, a pace that allows me to do what I can and ask for help when I need it.

Celeste Cooper, RN, is a frequent contributor to ProHealth.  She is an advocate, writer and published author, and a person living with chronic pain. Celeste is lead author of Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and Broken Body, Wounded Spirit, and Balancing the See Saw of Chronic Pain (a four book series). She spends her time enjoying her family and the rewards she receives from interacting with nature through her writing and photography. You can learn more about Celeste’s writing, advocacy work, helpful tips, and social network connections at CelesteCooper.com.

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