Fibromyalgia is a complex and difficult disease that affects approximately five million people in the U.S., most of whom (80-90%) are women. There are many ideas about what causes the disease, including a genetic link or a tie to a traumatic event, such as an accident or certain diseases, but sometimes fibromyalgia can spring up on its own, seemingly coming from nowhere.

Fibromyalgia sufferers experience a complicated mix of symptoms, the most frequent of which are an overwhelming feeling of fatigue and pain, either in tender spots on the neck, arms, shoulders, and legs, or an overall muscle soreness.  Pain symptoms may be worse in the morning, during menstrual periods, and after any mild physical exertion.

One hallmark of fibromyalgia is something known as “fibro fog.”  

Fibro fog is a complete and utter lack of energy, even after a full night of sleep that causes an inability to focus or concentrate. This exhaustion makes it difficult to exert mental or physical energy for anything. People who utilize caffeine to get themselves through the day often find it difficult to sleep well at night or suffer from a high energy/low energy roller coaster.

Fibro fog is a real cognitive impairment that makes simple tasks, such as remembering names or following directions, difficult if not impossible. There are, however, a few ways to help that don’t involve medications.

  • Pace yourself. Don’t pile on too many tasks for each day, and the ones that must get done should be scheduled for your “best” time of day. If the fog lifts more in the morning, schedule important meetings or other tasks early.
  • Develop a routine. This gives a predictable structure to the day so there is less need for remembering what is supposed to happen when.
  • Keep it simple. Write lists, take notes, and utilize a personal planner. Keep your space organized and clutter-free, and deal with any paper (mail, bills, etc.) as soon as you get it to stay organized.
  • Get physical. People with fibromyalgia report that physical activity relieves the painful symptoms, and research shows that moderate daily activity eases symptoms of depression and encourages better sleep.
  • Control your stress. There is a strong link between stress and chronic pain; practice deep breathing, visualization, and other meditative techniques to deal with or plan for stressful situations! 

There are some new online brain-training sites such as Lumosity that have shown some promise in helping people develop concentration, flexibility in thinking, and otherwise increasing the neuroplasticity of the brain. These are free or low-cost, easy to try, and may help lift the fog over time.

For families of fibromyalgia patients, it is important to understand that fibro fog is real. Be supportive and help to keep schedules reasonable and stress to a minimum. Participate in physical activity with your loved one, and help them to remember important events. The more stress you can alleviate, the better off everyone will be!

How do you keep yourself mentally alert and healthy?

Image by Frankzed via Flickr

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