In response to a question by a reader of this blog, I looked into natural methods of healing for those of us living with chronic illness. In particular, I incorporated that approach towards fibromyalgia but it can also apply to rheumatoid arthritis, other autoimmune diseases and various chronic illnesses. These approaches can be in conjunction with a medicinal regime or as an alternative.
While I am for a non-medicinal approach for fibromyalgia, I am not sure I am for rheumatoid arthritis. A natural approach has worked for others with RA, but I am hesitant to take that route. For one, I was delayed on my Humira injections as result of errors at my doctor’s office. I only today was able to pick up a new prescription and since I am not home to receive it, I probably will not be able to get my injection until Saturday which means, I will be three weeks behind and I am already in a lot of physical pain. I have made a lot of healthy choices including supplements to further my health, but no matter how many changes I incorporate, in addition to medication, the pain free days are probably two days in one month. What I do know, however, is that I feel better than I did a year ago with my conditions and I know a lot of that has to do with the lifestyle changes I have made including diet, supplements and exercise.
In part 1 of Natural Healing- How I can I minimize my symptoms, I wrote about educating our selves about our conditions, having a desire to make change happen, and taking in consideration what it is we need to heal and how. In part 2, we discussed nutrition, supplements, and exercise and how their combination is important to over all success towards good health.
Now, I am going to discuss stress reduction and adequate sleep. My goal was to also include positive thinking and taking control of your health in this post but it turned out to be lengthier than I thought so there will have to be a part 4 on positive thinking and taking control of your health.
Stress Reduction – A Stress Induced Coma?
By no means is my life easy. I often refer to my life as a stressed induced coma where I sleepwalk through my chaotic life. I know the effect of stress on my conditions and my pain levels. I try to be aware of that and I work to remind myself what triggers flare ups and increased pain.
Stress is linked to fibromyalgia pain. It is also linked to other chronic pain illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis. For many people, it is believed that a stressful event triggers fibromyalgia. The same may be true for any of the 100 autoimmune diseases out there. Often FMS and autoimmune diseases show up after a serious illness or a traumatic event. Some people believe that FMS is linked to genetics and it is often misdiagnosed because of its correlation with stress.
New research has found that FMS is a disorder of the central nervous system wherein the pain sensing nerves are extremely sensitive or the brain itself is sensitive to pain. Further, FMS sufferers have poor functioning of pituitary and adrenal glands, and because of that, the body’s response to stress is overexerted. Researchers have not been able to determine how pain sensitivities and abnormal response to stress are related but they do know that people with FMS experience more pain when they are stressed.
I believe that just having FMS is stressful as is with any other chronic pain condition. You are dealing on ongoing pain, fatigue and mental disturbances and you are not able to live your life as you would if you were not sick. This, in itself, is stressful. Moreover, people in you life don’t actually understand how stressful living chronic illness is and how stressful lifestyle changes can be. Therefore, stress reduction has to be an important part of pain and life management.
What I do now is that when I am less stressed, I experience less pain and fatigue from both my conditions. Here are some suggestions that I have come across in my research.
• Stress management includes self care by eating a nutritious diet and getting the right type and amount of exercise, sleeping well and taking relaxation time.
• You should also be aware of you body and learn to cope with pain, rather than to ignore it. If you learn how your body works, you can be aware of the triggers of your flares and respond appropriately whether through exercise, therapy or relaxation.
• You have to change your perceptions on your illness, your life and response to all these things. This takes time but it is not impossible to learn to not sweat the small stuff.
• You can also keep a stress journal as a tool to help you indentify what triggers your stress and how to avoid these triggers. The journal also gives you an opportunity to reflect on how you can better respond to situations in the future.
• You can also practice some stress management techniques, such as mediation, visualization and deep breathing when you feel stressed because this can decrease the neurochemicals circulating in your body. In turn, stress and pain is reduced.
• Physical therapy is also a great stress reducer because it helps to decrease muscle tension and stress and minimizes pain.
• You can talk to a counselor who specializes in stress and pain management. That person can teach you additional ways to manage stressful events in your life.
Adequate Sleep – One more hour please
My husband loves to sleep and nothing in the world takes him away from his sleep. I tell him that this is the reason he is healthier than I am. I believe that one more hour of sleep would greatly benefit me, but because of the person I am, I am constantly running in multiple directions. My husband says I am going to run into a brick wall if I don’t slow down and he is probably right. I often tease him and tell him if I only could get one hour of the sleep he gets, I am would be less grouchy and easier to put up with.
Sleep is something that I have the most difficulty adhering to when it comes to my health and as I write this section of the post, I feel like a hypocrite because sleep and I aren’t actually the best of friends. Before my diagnoses, I was living on six hours of sleep at night. If I was lucky, I would get seven or eight and that worked when because I was focusing on school, my career and my family. But then, I got pregnant and shortly after delivering, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Then, a good night’s sleep became difficult with so much happening in my life and the pain and stress were in addition to being a new mother. Most people with fibromyalgia complain that they have trouble sleeping and no matter how much sleep they get, they feel restless.
Sleep problems that are associated with fibromyalgia include insomnia, difficulty failing asleep and frequent awakening throughout the night. Restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea are also associated with fibromyalgia. People with FMS say that they wake up day after day feeling exhausted and having no energy. Usually, they are more tired in the morning and try to nap during the day to ease fatigue. In addition, it is not usual for those with FMS to have trouble concentrating because of a condition called “fibro fog.” Some research shows that the constant pain of FMS causes sleep interruption. Other research shows that there evidence that FMS is related to abnormality of deep sleep.
To get better quality sleep, a FMS or chronic pain suffer should consider how sleep affects their symptoms. These recommendations come from WebMD.
• Sleep only as much as needed to feel refreshed and healthy the following day, not more. Curtailing the time in bed seems to solidify sleep. Excessively long times in bed seem related to fragmented and shallow sleep.
• Keep a sleep diary. Write down how you slept each night and triggers that may have interfered with your sleep. Reviewing your notes over several weeks may give you insight into your sleep problems.
• Have a regular time to wake up each morning. A regular arousal time helps strengthen circadian cycling and leads to regular times of sleep onset.
• Use relaxation therapies. A gentle massage, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques are all generally considered beneficial to managing fibromyalgia and boosting restful sleep.
• Exercise regularly (but avoid exercising three hours before bedtime). Exercise may exert its beneficial effect by promoting a deep level of sleep (non-REM sleep).
• Sound-attenuated bedrooms may help those who must sleep close to noise. Occasional loud noises — for example, aircraft flyovers — disturb sleep even in people who are not awakened and cannot remember them in the morning.
• Avoid daytime naps. Napping in the afternoon interferes with nighttime sleep.
• Keep the temperature in your room cool. An excessively warm room disturbs sleep.
• Hunger may disturb sleep; a light snack of carbohydrates may help sleep.
• Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the evening. They both disturb sleep.
A doctor can prescribe a prescription for sleep medication but since we are discussing natural methods, we can talk about natural supplements to help with falling sleep at night and getting better quality sleep. There are several herbal sleep aids that can help.
Chamomile comes from nature and is probably one of the oldest and gentlest herbal sleep aids out there. You can drink it as tea because it has a mild and pleasant taste. In addition to promoting restfulness, it can also be used for stomach irritations. The good thing about chamomile is that it can be taken often and is mild enough to be used daily. There is no addiction factor and it has no side effects. Allergies, however, can be a concern if a person is allergic to daises. Experts do not know how chamomile works to induce sleep but they believe that apigenin, a flavonoid in chamomile, may be the chemical that promotes sleep, but there is a possibility that other components are involved.
Valerian is root that also been long used but it smells like old socks. It can be used to help with occasional sleeplessness but it’s helpful for long turn use. Many studies have shown that is safe and an effective method of promoting sleep and patients report less anxious and nervous behavior and that they get a better night’s sleep. The only concern may be that high doses can cause nausea, dizziness and headaches.
Melatonin is a chemical that our bodies produces at night and is often called the “sleep hormone” because its role in healthy sleep. As a supplement, it can be taken as a short term sleep solution and it is helpful to patients trying to wean themselves of sleep medications.
SAMe (S-adenosyl-methionine) is an amino acid derivative that is normally found in the body. It is typically used as an antidepressant but can be used to treat chronic fatigue syndrome or as an herbal sleep aid. It helps the body to promote healthy sleep cycles, and can be taken daily for several weeks.
There are many other natural and herbal sleep aids out there and the choices can be quite overwhelming. When deciding on which works for you, you must understand that some supplements are meant for occasional use while others can be taken long term. Further, many supplements offer additional benefits so you can take one supplement to meet several needs. You can also check with a naturopathic physician, a dietician, or a herbalist to help figure out what natural sleep aid works best for you.
To be continued…stay tuned for part 4 where I will be discussing positive thinking and taking control of your health. I was also asked to discuss personal relationships and intimacy as it relates to chronic illness so look for that post in a week or so.
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