Fighting the Fatigue of Chronic Illness

Chronic illness may cause severe fatigue,  leaving little energy for work, exercise, or just getting out of the house to enjoy a pleasant day. And fatigue deteriorates posture, predisposing to neck, shoulder and upper back pain.  How to fight fatigue?   Here are some tips (modified from Ellen Greenlaw’s article, Fighting Lupus Fatigue and Boosting Energy,  at

1. Treat Underlying Conditions that may be causing the fatigue.  These might include anemia, nutrient deficiency, depression, hypothyroid,  kidney disorders or one of a myriad of possible conditions.  Side effects of medication are a special case.   A change in dose or medication may help.(this is what helped me)  See a doctor for help finding an underlying condition.

2. Exercise Regularly to Boost Energy.  Start slow. Exercise during the time of day you have the most energy. Choose an exercise you like doing. Maybe a 5 minute walk in the park, exercise-cycling to a movie, cleaning the house to your favorite music and adding a few dance steps while your’re at it. Of course don’t overdo it.

3. Get Enough Good Quality Sleep.  Night-time sleep is important for healing.  Go to bed early, even if you have to drag yourself away from TV or the computer (something I have to do all the time). Avoid alcohol (which makes you sleepy but later disturbs sleep) caffeinated drinks, and overeating or eating a late dinner.
Try using a white noise machine at night. I have a Marpac. But there are several brands, many of which feature sounds like rain or waterfalls or heart beats. I found that the rain sound was okay (radio static is okay too) but couldn’t get to sleep with the other sounds. (For me with mast cell activation disorder, I discovered that the white noise machine lessened  my mast cell reactions to bad dreams. This may be so for  people with normal mast cells as well, thus lessening inflammatory mediator release at night and allowing for better sleep.)
If night-time sleep isn’t enough, then rest during the day. An afternoon nap or siesta can be refreshing. More frequent naps may help, but not too close to evening, which may interfere with night-time sleep.

4. Prioritize Activities.  Make an activity schedule for daily basics so you can plan rest periods and still get done what needs doing. Keeping to a schedule also helps avoid the stress of hurrying to get important things done on time.  Try to do the most strenuous things first when you have the most energy.  It may help to  break bigger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then get done what you can, and what’s left, leave for a better time. Don’t stress over what you can’t do. You’ll get to it, as your energy allows.

5. Learn to Say No.  Your first priority is healing. After that are the activities that mean the most to you. If you know an activity will leave you exhausted, find another way, or say NO. Also avoid activities that increase your stress level.  Along with that, avoid people who add more stress to your life.  (Some people are just plain toxic.)

6. Keep a diary (or simply a daily graph) of your symptoms and  how you feel.  This little “research project” can help you figure out what activities or meds or time of day etc. make you feel better, and which make you feel worse. If you want to track your health online (some neat tools)  and want to join a social health network, you might consider www.patientslike (This site has a research staff (PhDs), who mine the data for research purposes and publish research articles in well regarded medical journals.