Dealing with Chronic Fatigue

6 minute read

By Jordana Weiss

Chronic fatigue affects daily life profoundly. The varied symptoms make it challenging to address effectively. Given how the symptoms of chronic fatigue can be misdiagnosed, it’s helpful to research this information online before consulting a doctor.

Understanding and managing chronic fatigue (CFS) requires a comprehensive approach. It involves recognizing the symptoms, identifying potential triggers, and exploring various coping strategies to improve quality of life.

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition that causes the patient to feel exhausted and tired no matter how much sleep they’ve gotten.

Just being exhausted for a few days doesn’t mean that you have CFS — you have to have had the symptoms for at least six months, and your exhaustion needs to be something that cannot be cured with bed rest. You also need to have at least four other symptoms from a list that includes: loss of memory, inability to concentrate, chronic insomnia, muscle pain, headaches, joint pain, sore throat, or swollen lymph nodes in your neck and armpits.

You may start noticing your first symptoms of CFS after physical activities as a disproportionate feeling of exhaustion after an activity that used to feel easier.

How do I know if I have CFS?

If you think you have CFS, talk to your doctor. There isn’t a test specifically for CFS, so your doctor will probably do several different kinds of tests to rule out other factors first. Getting a solid diagnosis can sometimes be difficult as some people with CFS find that their condition comes in waves, which makes it hard to keep track of. They’ll experience several months of intense exhaustion, followed by a period where everyday activities are more manageable, and they don’t feel as tired. Remission is possible with CFS, but there is always a possibility of a relapse.

What causes it?

There are tons of factors that affect a person with CFS, but it’s unknown whether any of these mitigating factors are the cause of the syndrome. Women are more likely than men to develop CFS, and it’s most common among women aged 40-50. Some researchers think that a weakened immune system could be the culprit, but there are lots of things that can weaken your immune system, such as stress, hormonal imbalances, or a virus. Unusual hormone levels are common in people who have been diagnosed with CFS, but doctors are still unsure if this is significant.

How to Manage your CFS

1. Rule out all the options

When you first talk to a doctor about your ongoing exhaustion and fatigue, they’ll want to rule out all the other probable causes before diagnosing you with chronic fatigue syndrome. While it’s not a good idea to try and contradict your doctor’s diagnosis, it can be helpful to rule out all the options.

There are several different conditions that have similar symptoms to CFS, including lupus, hypothyroidism, and depression. Encourage your doctor to check out all the other potential causes of the symptoms, and talk to a therapist who can help you make sure that there are no underlying mental health issues causing your physical symptoms.

2. Stay away from stress

One of the things that exacerbates CFS is stress. Many people find that their symptoms develop or worsen during periods that are particularly stressful. Chronic fatigue can also add stress into your life as you work out how to cope with your new level of energy.

The worst thing you can do is get stressed out about a CFS diagnosis because the stress will only make you more tired. It’s incredibly important to learn how to manage stress in your daily life. You can either avoid it entirely by staying away from potentially stressful situations and experiences, or you can learn how to consciously reduce your stress level. Both are important keys to managing stress in your life.

3. Don’t give up exercise entirely

It’s important to keep up some physical activity, even if you’ve been diagnosed with CFS and feel exhausted after physical exertion. Exercise can help reduce stiffness and pain, and helps elevate our mood.

If you feel daunted by the idea of physical activity, a physical therapist can help tailor a program of activity specific to your needs. This is known as graded exercise therapy (GET), and can help you work your way back to physical health at a pace that works for your life. You’ll probably start off with some light, easy aerobic exercise, then work your way up to a consistent program of more rigorous physical activity.

4. Manage your symptoms

There are tons of ways that CFS can impact your life — exhaustion and fatigue are just the major symptoms. People with CFS often suffer from increased headaches, problems sleeping, or mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

The best thing you can do when confronted with a CFS diagnosis is manage your symptoms. Your doctor can help by prescribing medication, or they may suggest taking up meditation or yoga as a way to cope. Either way, placing your focus on managing symptoms instead of treating CFS can help focus your attention in a constructive way.

5. Manage your expectations

Another way that you can deal with your chronic fatigue syndrome is to manage your expectations of both your physical capabilities and your energy level. Don’t push yourself to maintain the same lifestyle that you had before you were diagnosed as that will only lead to a cycle of ever-increasing exhaustion.

Let your daily energy level guide your expectations. Don’t be frustrated when you can’t complete a task, or find that you’re too tired to socialize. Instead of being frustrated by all the things that you can’t do, focus on the positive aspects of your life like your family, career, and hobbies.

6. Don’t isolate yourself

If you’re diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, it’s tempting to isolate yourself. After all, you’re probably tired and exhausted all the time, and socializing can be a burden. However, maintaining relationships with friends and family members is incredibly important.

We get a lot of strength from our loved ones, and we need to give them a chance to help us, rather than pushing them away because we just don’t have the energy. If you don’t have loved ones who understand what you’re going through, think about joining a support group for people with CFS.

7. Investigate alternative medicine

When it comes to chronic fatigue syndrome, many people have found that their symptoms can be managed using alternative medicine. Researchers have found that CFS often responds positively to placebos — things that we think are working on a medical or scientific level, but it’s really our hope and belief in the process causing the improvement.

Whether you truly believe in the scientific effectiveness of alternative medicines or not, regular sessions of acupuncture, yoga, or homeopathy can really help manage your symptoms.

8. Make changes to your diet

When you’re first diagnosed with CFS, your doctor may recommend cutting out heavily processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, and saturated fats from your diet. Eating a high-protein diet packed with fresh vegetables, and whole grains can help you maximize the amount of energy that your food is giving you. Foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates don’t give our bodies energy long-term.

Make sure to ask your doctor if they have any recommendations of foods that can help give you more energy and manage your symptoms.

9. Talk to a professional

One of the best things that you can do for yourself when you’re first diagnosed with CFS is to talk to a professional therapist. They can help you come up with a plan of how to manage your mood when you’re feeling frustrated and exhausted.

Your therapist will help you learn how to manage the uncertain reality of your condition, and can also help you process the changes in your life, in order to move forward with a positive mindset. This diagnosis doesn’t mean the end of your life, but you will have to learn to live with chronic fatigue syndrome as long as your symptoms are present.

Jordana Weiss