Living With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

Living with chronic fatigue syndrome can feel very overwhelming, particularly for those who have recently been diagnosed and are still finding the best methods for coping with their individual set of symptoms. Although there is currently no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, there are ways to manage the condition which can make it easier to cope with.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also often referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a complex chronic disease that affects somewhere between 1 to 2.4 million people in the US.

chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms

There are lots of different symptoms associated with CFS, the most prevalent one being extreme exhaustion, no matter how much sleep is achieved. However, the following are all also very common and they are typically made worse by standing upright:

  • Cognitive impairment, typically known as brain fog
  • Joint and muscle pain and weakness
  • Severe headaches
  • Chronic sore throat and nasal or sinus problems
  • Swollen lymph nodes and swollen glands
  • Abdominal problems such as bloating, stomach pain and nausea
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds, smells, medications, chemicals and foods
  • Mood swings, depression and irritability

Helpful techniques for living with chronic fatigue syndrome

Since CFS is such a complex condition with lots of symptoms, it affects each patient in a different way and potential treatments or coping strategies may work better for some more than others. It might be helpful to try some of the strategies below to see what works for you.

Gentle, paced exercise for CFS

Typically, people with chronic fatigue syndrome have good days, where their symptoms lift to a certain extent and they feel they have more energy, and bad days when symptoms become incredibly debilitating. It can be very tempting to attempt to do as much as possible on the good days, but this can make symptoms worse over the next few days.

However, a study from Oxford University found that graded exercise therapy (GET) could be helpful in improving symptoms in the long term. GET is physical activity which begins slowly and gradually increases in intensity over time. Although much research is still needed to be done, for some chronic fatigue syndrome patients it may help them to alleviate some of their symptoms. Do note that it's usually advisable to seek professional support for GET from a doctor or physical therapist to ensure that you don't push yourself too much and are gradually increasing the amount of activity you do.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

The same Oxford University study also established that CBT helped to alleviate CFS symptoms. CBT is a talking therapy which helps individuals to change their way of thinking and their behaviors, and is most commonly used to treat mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Since chronic fatigue syndrome is often linked with depression, CBT could help patients to overcome negative thought processes and better cope with the psychological symptoms of the condition.

Manage your sleeping pattern

People living with chronic fatigue syndrome often report having un-refreshing sleep. They could sleep far longer than normal and still feel fatigued and exhausted when they wake up. However, establishing a good sleeping pattern may help them to achieve better quality sleep which could reduce the severity of fatigue.

Good sleep hygiene techniques include:

  • Scheduling regular sleep and wake times
  • Establishing a regular bedtime routine to help prepare the mind for sleep each night
  • Using the bedroom for sleep only
  • Controlling light, noise and temperature in the bedroom
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco which are all stimulants
  • Avoiding daytime naps

Alternative therapies

Pain and weakness in the joints and muscles are common afflictions of CFS. It may be possible to help manage this with gentle alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, massage and yoga. Although there is still lots of research to be done on the efficacy of alternative therapies, some studies have demonstrated at least a temporary improvement of symptoms after acupuncture and related therapies.

Group support

Since chronic fatigue syndrome can have such a huge impact on daily life and often leaves patients unable to continue with normal activities, it's not uncommon to avoid socializing and feel isolated, which can only make the psychological symptoms of the condition worse. It is vital that CFS sufferers find emotional support in friends or family members, but many feel that those around them struggle to understand and relate to the condition.

Support groups can be helpful in this respect because they give patients the opportunity to socialize, share experiences, coping mechanisms and emotional support with others going through the same. However, for some they can be stressful because their symptoms may make it difficult to get to the group, so it's important to remember to pace yourself and not risk flaring up symptoms.

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Last Reviewed:
June 11, 2017
Last Updated:
June 11, 2017