I have a disease with no cure. Well, no medically-approved cure. As many people with chronic health issues will tell you: that doesn’t mean you can’t get better. Or at least feel better.
I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome about three years ago, and I’ve spent countless hours trying to get well. Here, I’d like to share what’s helped me, and what might help you if you also struggle with fatigue or burnout.
Swap Coffee for Tea
The very first thing I did—and one of the most helpful—was cut down on caffeine. I know it sounds crazy. Feeling tired? Just cut back on the one thing keeping you going! But it really is important. Caffeine is a double-whammy to your burnt-out system. It masks your body’s natural signals, which tell you to do important things like rest or sleep. On top of that, it floods your body with adrenaline and cortisol—the same hormones that respond to stress. Chronically elevated levels of these hormones can lead to energy crashes, blood sugar imbalance, weight gain, immune disfunction, high blood pressure, damage to the digestive system, depression, and insomnia.
I loved coffee with all of my heart, but I knew I had to give it up if I wanted to heal my fatigue. So I switched to green tea. Green tea has about 1/3 the caffeine of a cup of coffee, but it also contains L-theanine (a concentration booster) and tannins (which prevent the usual spike-and-crash of caffeine). I drink one cup of Earl Green in the morning, and one cup of Jasmine Green in the afternoon.
If you want to give up caffeine entirely, but still want the taste of coffee, I recommend trying Orzo or Chicory coffee substitutes. They aren’t chemically processed like decaf coffee and are gentler on your whole system. Plus they actually taste really good.
Ditch Extreme Diets
It seems like every time I tell someone I have Chronic Fatigue, they recommend a new diet for me. I have tried it all, guys: gluten-free, Whole 30, paleo, vegan, raw, the candida diet. Unfortunately for me, none of them made a significant different in my health. In fact, the more extreme the diet, the worse I felt. I realized that I was putting a lot of stress on my body and even subconsciously punishing it for being sick. So I decided to rethink my approach to a healthy diet.
Today, I eat a plant-based, whole-foods diet. I don’t eat dairy products, red meat, or foods that are very oily, acidic, or spicy. These restrictions are mostly due to food and stomach sensitivities, although I do lean more vegan in my beliefs about what is most healthy and sustainable. We cook from scratch, and try to center our meals around vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains. It’s simple, and my body seems to like it, which is more important to me than any health-blogger, this-diet-will-fix-you claims.
Take Your Vitamins
For some reason, multivitamins just don’t sit well with me, so I take quite a few individual supplements. Here’s my master list:
Floradix Iron: Completely essential to my energy, and their formula is gentle on the stomach.
Vitamin B 12: For energy. Getting a sublingual variety is important, because it absorbs better.
Vitamin D 3: For immune system health. And because I don’t always get enough sunshine.
Pantothenic Acid (B-Complex): For hormone regulation. Also clears up hormonal acne really well!
Ashwagandha: For stress management, immune support, and hormone regulation.
Probiotics: For a happy, healthy digestive system. I also eat a lot of fermented foods.
D-Hist: I supposedly have “mild” allergies, but my body begs to differ. D-Hist is a natural alternative to allergy medication and a good one at that.
Magnesium Oil: I apply topically for aches, to reduce anxiety, and to help me sleep.
Iodine Tincture: I apply topically as needed for my thyroid health.
Switch to Natural Products
Many of the daily products we use contain chemicals that can put stress on the endocrine system. My body is already really sensitive and can easily be triggered into a “fight, flight, or freeze” response. So I stopped using products that contain parabens, sulfates, aluminum, talc, synthetic fragrance, and other iffy chemicals. Instead, I choose natural, sustainable brands like Meow Meow Tweet, Acure, and Dr. Bronners. I’ll be doing an entire series on my experience “going natural” in the coming weeks.
Retrain Your Brain
It took me a long time to realize that my Chronic Fatigue, which is a very physical illness, could actually have originated in my brain. I don’t mean this in the “I’m crazy” kind of sense, but rather in the scientific fact that our brains sometimes get cross-wired. There are actually a lot of things that can cause this: viral infection, exposure to certain chemicals or mold, brain injury, emotional trauma, or even prolonged stress. When the brain—and specifically the limbic system (that old flight-fight-freeze alarm)—gets off track, it can produce a variety of very real and intense physical symptoms. Some of the most cutting-edge treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are rooted in healing this system. Right now, I’m using a combination of them.
After reading the fabulously-helpful book The Body Keeps the Score, I found a therapist in my area who specializes in trauma and alternative therapies. We are starting to do Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapy, which focuses on calming the limbic system and reducing traumatic triggers. So far, it’s been an amazing experience, and I’m anticipating a lot of healing through it.
I’m also working my way through the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) program, which uses very specific forms of meditation, mindfulness, and applied neuroscience to reset the limbic system. Many people have done DNRS with very successful results. I personally found it a little overwhelming (after completing the DVD bootcamp) and decided to pursue some more healing with a therapist before trying to do the full program again. However, I did see some immediate and lasting results from what I was able to do.
Rest, Rest, and More Rest
While this may seem like a no-brainer for someone with fatigue, quite a few doctors told me to do the opposite. They thought that increasing my tolerance to exercise would help me feel better. Of course, anyone with Chronic Fatigue will tell you that it only makes things SO. MUCH. WORSE. So I am here to give you permission to rest. It’s what your body wants and needs to do. Healing happens when we rest. Our bodies can only fight infection, digest food, integrate memories and emotions, and repair cells when our parasympathetic nervous system is engaged in “rest mode.”
You’re going to hate me when I say this, but I sleep 9-10 hours every night. Then I slowly wake up by eating breakfast in bed, and proceed to spend about 75% of my day in said bed. I am truly the queen of my chronically-ill castle. I go for little walks around the house (and sometimes outside!) and lay down when I feel tired. I excuse myself to a quiet place when I notice triggers or symptoms flaring up. For the longest time I didn’t even know what I found restful, but I’ve since had a lot of time to discover it. Now, I drink a lot of herbal tea (like lavender and licorice), meditate on positive memories and scriptures, practice limbic breathing, and get acupressure massages. I also play games, paint, read, and make happy boards on Pinterest. I recommend trying a lot of things, and seeing what works best for you. Whatever makes you feel calm and safe is a good place to start.
Through all of these methods, I’ve been able to eliminate brain fog, wean off anti-anxiety medication, and dramatically reduce my downtime after a CFS trigger. I’ve felt my immune system get stronger, my blood sugar levels become more even, and my nervous system become less sensitive. I’ve also gained enough energy to relaunch this blog, which I wouldn’t have thought possible a year ago. Overall, my health and energy are better, and my outlook is way more positive.
I hope you find them helpful too! Let me know in the comments if there’s anything that’s helped you overcome fatigue or chronic illness.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and all suggestions here are based solely on my experience. Find a doctor you trust and consult with them before making any drastic lifestyle changes.
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