If you have Fibromyalgia, like I do, you know that the wide array of symptoms you experience can really be difficult to manage, both physically and emotionally. Chronic pain, fatigue and brain fog can be some of the worst experiences to deal with. When you have fibromyalgia, these symptoms come and go in a very unpredictable way, so you may not feel prepared for managing these symptoms. Even celebrities like Lady Gaga, who openly shared her struggle with fibromyalgia recently, have difficulty coping with these symptoms.
I want you to know that even though these symptoms are unpredictable and difficult, they CAN be managed effectively and even reduced through therapy. Surprised?
DOES THAT MEAN ITS ALL IN MY HEAD?
I know we’ve all been told at one point or another ‘There’s nothing physically wrong with you, its psychological’. I want to be clear that by seeing a therapist, it does NOT mean that your pain and diagnosis aren’t real. As a person living with Fibromyagia and several other chronic conditions, and as a woman, I know all too well how dismissive doctors can be at pain. Seeing a therapist doesn’t mean your illness doesn’t exist, it simply means you need emotional support. As surprising as it seems, there are many ways a therapist can help you manage your Fibromyalgia.
What HaPPENS IF I DON’T DEAL WITH THE EMOTIONS THAT COME WITH FIBRO?
If you don’t ever take the initiative to learn how to effectively manage your illness, including the emotions that come with it, the cycle of symptoms can actually cause you more pain and suffering. Your symptoms will control you, instead of you controlling your symptoms. Depression, anxiety and fatigue can actually worsen with poor coping strategies and in turn, other symptoms like pain, can become more frequent and more intense. Maybe you don’t actively cope with your fibromyalgia because it’s incurable and therefore you think nothing you try will work. Maybe you have tried some techniques but they didn’t work for you so you just gave up. In either case, it’s worth it to keep trying because your quality of life is important! When you decide to become an active manager of your illness, big changes can happen.
Taking Control of Your Symptoms
When you don’t process your emotions or avoid coping with your illness at all, you are allowing your disease to take control of your happiness. About 30% of people with fibromyalgia will experience depression, anxiety or some form of mood disturbance and depression is the #1 co-diagnosed condition with any chronic illness. When you start to take necessary steps to manage your symptoms, you start to prioritize your quality of life. Prioritizing your own self care and wellness doesn’t make you selfish, it forces you to make decisions that allow you to live life on your terms. In turn, you are communicating your needs to those around you which helps them feel more useful. It also helps you find ways to do more of the things you love.
5 surprising ways seeing a therapist can be a game changer
Managing Fibromyalgia can mean using a multi disciplinary approach – or using several different treatments – in order to take control of your symptoms. This could include medications, physical therapy/ personal fitness specialists, nutritionists, neurologists and mental health therapists/ psychiatrists. Mental & emotional support is one part of your treatment plan and it is a very important part! In order to do this, we have to face our emotional and mental health challenges head on. Keep reading for my 5 Surprising Ways A Therapist Can Unlock Promising Results For Fibromyalgia.
- Roadblock Inventory – The first thing we do in therapy is take a good look at what might be getting in the way of your wellness. Is it your relationships? Is it your inability to function during symptom presentation? Is it pain management? Is it your thoughts about what you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing? There are many changes that can always be made in order to prioritize wellness and happiness and a therapist can help you identify what those might be. Sometimes we make changes and they aren’t as effective as we would like, and in therapy we can explore and analyze strategies that might work or don’t work. These explorations can lead to more awareness of what strategies will help and can even bring up new ideas you never thought of before!
- Stress Management– The next thing therapy can help with is identifying stressors and brainstorming ways you can eliminate or reduce stressors or limiting harm they cause to your mind & body by changing how you respond to it. Stress is related to pain and can trigger a flare of symptoms or even make your worst symptoms more intense & frequent. There are many ways to reduce stress, starting with increasing self-care activities.
- Thought & Belief Challenging and Restructuring– In my creative business, I often say, ‘It doesn’t matter what is real, it only matters what people THINK is real.’ Your perception is your reality, so having negative, irrational or unhelpful thoughts & beliefs can also lead to more intense & frequent symptoms and poor coping. Restructuring those thoughts and beliefs can help you create a habit of more rational, helpful and positive thinking patterns which can result in less stress. Less stress can result in reduced severity of symptoms and increased ability to cope with difficult symptoms.
- Self-Care Exploration – I am a BIG advocate of self -care being your number 1 priority when you have a chronic illness. Not only can self-care activities lessen stress reactions and promote a general feeling of wellness, but it can improve your body’s ability to handle stress in general. I stress to my clients that self care should happen every day, twice a day for 15-30 minutes. Focus on activities you enjoy like painting or dancing to music. For more on self care, check out my blog post explaining what it is and what it isn’t HERE. You can also sign up for my email list below and download a FREE list of over 100 self care activity ideas!
- Emotional Support & Processing – Did you know that just identifying a feeling and stating it out loud, ‘I feel frustrated and angry that I’m sick!’ can actually make us feel better! Stifling feelings can result in a greater intensity of that feeling, once ‘released’ or expressed, that intensity goes down. We don’t always have people in our lives that we can share our feelings with, however, so therapy is always a safe place to do this. Taking this one step further, in therapy we can also explore and process why we experience ‘negative’ or ‘difficult’ feelings like shame, guilt, fear.. so we can reduce their ability to overcome us. When we are in the driver’s seat of our emotional experience, it really helps us cope and respond more effectively with everything in our lives.
Remember, Fibromyalgia, or any chronic illness, is a stressor that we (yes, I have it too!) have to live with every single day. The best way to manage symptoms is to make sure we have all the tools we need to fight them head – on. If you are in need of additional support, seeing a therapist or counselor who specializes in chronic illness or chronic pain & is trained to break this down into manageable steps is a great place to start. You can find one in your state by visiting PsychologyToday.com & searching ‘Chronic illness’.
If you are in the state of Florida, I may be able to help! Send me a quick message to tell me how I can help you manage your illness below.
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Amanda Pratt, LCSW
Amanda is a licensed clinical social worker & therapist specializing in helping people with chronic illness manage the ups & downs of their disease. She is a speaker, teacher & contributing writer for The Mighty (www.themighty.com). Her office is based out of St. Petersburg, FL and she sees clients anywhere in the state of florida both in person and online.