Last week I talked about the sorts of things that can get in the way of listening to your body’s healing messages. This week I want to explore the messages that aren’t that clear and how to interpret them.
Reading all the signs
Regularly using the assessment scalesin the morning and the evening can help you get into the habit of checking your body’s messages before you plan your day’s activity and then assessing how that activity has impacted on your health. I think it’s important to listen to all the messages as the one that screams the loudest doesn’t always give the full picture.
For example my muscles often feel a bit stiff and sore 24 hours after my weekly yoga class, however if everything else on the scales hasn’t changed I don’t worry about this symptom as I’ve learned that I’ll be ok again the next day, in fact my normal gentle activity helps work this stiffness out of my system. However If my energy is also low, and my mental alertness seems to have taken a knock too, or I’ve got a bit of a sore throat, I know that I really overdid it, that I really need to rest, and that I need to pay more attention to not overdoing it next week!
Other signs I try to be alert for all the time, such as intense focus or effort, or racing thoughts. These often mean that my body has gone into what I call ‘inefficient overdrive’. This happens at times of stress or when there just isn’t enough energy to meet demand so my body just tries even harder. In this case the message that I need to relax and slowdown is obscured by my body responding as though to a threat. Another tell-tale sign is my posture. Am I open and relaxed or scrunched up and tense? What do I need to change so that I can relax again? Have I got cold? Is it too bright or noisy? Are the demands on my system just too much at the moment?
The more I can pay attention to these little signals, the more I can optimise the conditions for self-healing.
The most common symptom of this condition, fatigue, is often the most difficult to interpret. Our most intuitive response and the most appropriate most of the time, is to rest and give the body a chance to recharge. However with this condition often rest doesn’t seem to recharge us and the obvious formula that FATIGUE needs REST to lead to RECOVERY is a very confused one. Rest is vital for recovery of this illness but it is not enough on its own. Inappropriate rest can even get in the way of other healing functions of our body.
One way that rest can interfere with our health is when our rest patterns contribute to sleep disturbance and upset our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the cycles of our hormones that are released according to our body clock. When our body clock is upset our hormonal systems don’t work effectively adding extra strain to our health. If we rest too much in the day time so that we are just not sleepy at bed time we can mess up our body clock. This is one situation where we need to prioritise another health need over responding to our fatigue. We need to manage our rest needs in a way that won’t disturb our body clock. If you find you’re not getting regular refreshing sleep at night have a look at my posts on sleep disturbance. For more information on circadian rhythms try Dr Myhills website.
Another way in which we can misread the need to rest is when our fatigue has elements of demotivation. As I mentioned last week, when we’re feeling miserable and low we can feel even more tired, but that kind of fatigue needs to be met with things that will help us feel better emotionally, things that will give us a lift. Light activities that feed our soul are really what are called for: Talking to a friend, watering the plants, strolling around the garden looking at and smelling the flowers, tidying up a mess that’s been bugging you, doing something creative, etc.
When I’m feeling particularly tired and am trying to decide on whether I should rest completely or get on with some light activity, I try to assess whether I really am feeling exhausted or whether I’m just feeling lethargic. I try to listen to all the signs of my body to see if there are other signs of me being unwell, do I have a sore throat/ could I be struggling with an infection? Have I been particularly busy in the last couple of days? Could I have overdone things? If none of these things support the fact that I really am exhausted, I am more likely to be feeling lethargic. Sitting quietly and trying to listen to how I feel is also usually quite revealing. It’s normal to feel a little fed up when you feel particularly exhausted. But am I feeling fed up because I’m exhausted or am I feeling exhausted because I’m fed up? It’s not always easy to tell but if in doubt I have a little test. I challenge myself to a very short period of light activity. I tell myself that if I still feel bad or feel worse after 5-10 minutes then I can give into my fatigue and slob, but most of the time I find that doing something makes me feel a bit better so I carry on as effortlessly as possible, taking regular breaks, until I feel the need to rest again.
Sometimes this kind of lethargy hits me as a result of sleeping too long, especially if I fall back to sleep after I’ve naturally woken in the morning, and even more so if I then find myself dreaming vividly. Fortunately my T’ai Chi always relives me of this kind of groggy fatigue. Unfortunately it tends to be a normal occurrence with this condition that we feel rotten when we get up in the morning. Usually this is the real fatigue that we need to pay attention to combined with the fatigue of sleepiness, and/or low motivation. I believe that getting into the routine of doing some gentle activity like T’ai Chi or Yoga first thing in the morning is a really good way of stripping back that extra fuzzy fatigue to the reveal the real level that you need to work with.
P.S. On another subject all together. I’ve realised that alot of the campaign messages for ME/CFS give quite gloomy picture of peoples likelyhood of recovery. I’m interested in finding out how people feel about whether or not they will get better from this illness. Please take part in my quick poll (top right of blog page).