There is an inevitable vicious cycle that comes with chronic illness.
You feel better so you overdo it so you feel worse again.
And no matter how many times you tell yourself to stop, you never really do. And that cycle of feeling somewhat human to feeling like recycled dog food continues to take over your life.
So what can you do about it?
After all, you have to work, take care of business and/or family, and continue to live.
The simple answer is, pace yourself.
And coming from the queen of failing at pacing, I know how hard it is.
So here’s what I’ve learned about pacing in my 8 years of illness – ways it works best and how to definitely fail at pacing.
What is pacing and why does it matter for chronic illness?
Strictly speaking, the definition of pacing is the “rate of progress.”
But as it relates to chronic health issues, we’re talking about knowing how much your body can handle without a set back and making sure you don’t exceed that.
It also means knowing what your day and week will bring and prioritizing to make sure you can make the necessities happen.
In practice, it looks like deciding to make a simple dinner one night because you have a busy day the next day – or heck, even going for the fast food or a bowl of cereal.
Or maybe it’s starting clean a week in advance so you don’t get overwhelmed before the company comes. Or not cleaning at all and knowing they will understand.
The sad and annoying truth is, we have a certain amount of physical and emotional energy that is much less than our healthier counterparts.
We have to be sure to use it appropriately.
Take frequent breaks
When I say frequent, I mean A. LOT.
If you’re working, walking, sitting or standing, take a few minutes to change it up and give your body a break from whatever it is your doing.
Also, a break is not just sitting down for 2 minutes if you’re exerting yourself. Make sure you’re actually taking enough of a break to provide rest for yourself.
Make to-do lists and prioritize
To be effective in pacing, you need to know what your priorities are, what you would like to do, and how long it will take.
Be hyper-realistic on these lists. It would pretty much waste your time to make a list and say something will take you 30 minutes when you know good and well it will take 2 hours. Remember, you’re trying to make realistic plans so you can still get stuff done without overdoing it.
Build-in rest hours (days)
If you have a big activity or responsibility coming up, plan ahead to rest in advance. If you can save some of your energy for when you know you need it, it’s likely you won’t crash as hard afterward.
In fact, be sure to put this on your to-do list! That will hopefully hold you more accountable to making it happen.
Give yourself some grace
We are our own worst critics. And it’s particularly bad for those of us who USED to be able to do things we can no longer do.
But the fact remains, survival and happiness is more important than accomplishing every item on our to-do lists. It’s okay if you’re not the super-human you used to be. Your chronic illness is real and you have to learn to manage it, and that means pacing yourself.
Importantly, know that you’re going to mess up. A lot. It takes trial and error to get this ‘pacing’ thing down so don’t assume that just because you haven’t been able to so far that you won’t ever be able to!
Don’t act like it’s a race
As a matter of fact, if you can act like the slowest tortoise is the winner, you might be better off. Take your time with your tasks. If it doesn’t all need to be done, then maybe spread it out over a few hours or days.
Try to keep your heart rate and movement at a measured rate.
Invest in an activity tracker
My Fitbit is amaing for this purpose.
On days when you’re feeling better, you can have a physical number of how many steps you’ve taken and how your heart rate has been. This is an excellent reminder to take it easy on those days when you’re moving and thinking a bit better.
It also helps remind you to get up and move at any interval you set it to. For me, I’ve set it to once an hour.
Ask for help
Ok, this may not have anything directly to do with pacing yourself. But sitting around worrying about everything you have to do is going to add to your stress level which is going to make you feel worse.
So if you have something that needs done and someone else can do it, let them! The worst that will happen is they tell you ‘no’ and you move on with your life.
Bringing it all together
It’s not easy managing a life and a chronic illness. There have been times when I thought the two just aren’t compatible.
But that’s not the truth.
It is possible to escape the teeter-totter of “feeling good / feeling bad.” You just have to be willing to put in the thought and effort to make better decisions and make necessary sacrifices.
There’s a quote about not failing but figuring out another way something doesn’t work. Ok, I heard it on a movie and I have no idea if Thomas Edison really said it.
But the point it made is 100% valid…
You’re not failing at pacing yourself. You’re just learning what your boundaries and limitations are. And you need to know what those limits are so you can avoid them going forward.
I won’t lie and say it’s easy. I still fail regularly and spectacularly (I am currently, at the time of writing, FAILING).
But it is possible. I’ve experienced more ‘good days’ in the last year, since getting rid of a huge source of stress and pacing failure, than I have in 8 years.
Let me know what your favorite pacing method is in the comments below!
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