It seems like every chronic illness comes with a few of the same components, including debilitating fatigue. For some people, it’s not that bad and a short nap each day takes care of their needs. But others find they literally cannot get out of bed because their energy is so zapped.

To fight back against fatigue, you need a plan. Below are five ways to overcome fatigue, or at least make it easier to handle.

  1. Accept that fatigue is now a part of your life. It won’t go away. You can fight it, but chronic means all the time. You aren’t going to wake up one day bouncing with energy and be able to sustain that. Once you accept that you aren’t the person you once were and need to let go of old expectations without guilt, you’ll be able to really tackle the fatigue factor of your illness.
  2. Although insomnia is common amongst people with chronic illnesses/pain, try to get some decent sleep at night. Whether that means going to bed earlier, using meds to help you get to sleep, or taking a bath with magnesium (which helps you feel sleepy), is up to you. Even four or five hours of sleep at night helps.
    I bought a ridiculously expensive bed that I’m paying off over something like three years because it’s more comfortable and my quality of sleep has improved with it. Not everyone can afford that, but you can put down the book, turn off the TV, put the phone on the charger, lower the lights, and other things that signal your body that it’s time to sleep.
  3. Schedule at least one nap into your day. Don’t wait until the fatigue catches up with you and your body starts going into self-shutoff mode. Even if you work outside the home, even if you have children to care for, you’re setting yourself up for a crash/flare if you try to push beyond your limitations. Take a nap in your car during lunch, find a quiet conference room you can commandeer for a little while – do whatever it takes to give your body a chance to get through the rest of your day.
    If you’re home, figure out when you can nap. Nap when your small children do. If you have older kids, tell them not to disturb you when the bedroom door is closed unless it’s an emergency. Ask your spouse to run interference for you or take the kids out for lunch and a few errands.
  4. Be aware of your weekly calendar. For instance, if you have a wedding to attend on a Saturday, you know you’re going to be tired. In that case, try to take a nap that day if you can. If you are unable to, do the best you can. Borrow some spoons from the next day (if you don’t understand the concept of spoons in chronic illness, go here for an explanation), when hopefully you won’t be as busy and you can recharge your energy stores.
  5. Remember that rest doesn’t always equal sleep. Lying in bed reading, binge-watching Netflix, or simply closing your eyes on the couch while your favorite music plays softly counts as rest. Being in a horizontal position and not expending energy are the keys here.
    You aren’t resting if you’re cleaning your house or making dinner or shuttling kids to soccer practice or running errands. Your family must accept that you’re doing the best you can and that they may have to lower their expectations for what a “clean” house looks like or learn to like frozen pizza for dinner.
    Use friends – perhaps you drive to soccer practice one week and they drive the next, or they can bring you a meal every now and then when they know you’re flaring. Friends and family sometimes just need to be asked. Many of them won’t understand what you’re going through or what they can do to make your life easier, but if you can swallow your pride and your guilt, oftentimes they’re more than happy to help.

Obviously this is not a comprehensive list, and as fatigue IS such a huge part of chronic pain and illness, I’ll be revisiting this topic in future posts. If you have a strategy for combating fatigue, let me know down in the comments. Conversely, if you’re at your wit’s end and don’t know how to get the rest you need, comment. The community of chronic illness warriors is very supportive and we’ll try to help you find a solution.