Many people see a new year as a time to for new beginnings. People plan to lose weight, get active, and get healthier to enjoy more of what life has to offer.
If you have fibromyalgia, you probably want very much to make pain, stress, and fatigue a much smaller part of your life. But you worry about how to reach these goals. You want to eat better, sleep better, and feel happier – with less pain. But you know that making changes your diet or your activity can lead to painful flare-ups. Making lifestyle changes seems almost impossible when your muscles hurt, and you’re tired all the time, especially when you try something new.
Let’s pause right now and take an approach to fibromyalgia treatment that’s not based on big promises, but on smaller things you can do to feel a whole lot better despite fibromyalgia.
Instead of resolutions, let’s look at
5 keys to building a better life with fibromyalgia
- Setting specific goals
- Making small changes
- Learning what works
- Combining therapies and self- care that make you feel better
- Getting support to keep going
1) Setting specific goals
Since there are a number of therapies to try, we set a clear target, such as sleeping better, improving fitness, or reducing pain. First, every patient I see has a detailed, comprehensive set of medical tests and a physical exam. This helps us see where best to start. We may focus one or a few these areas to begin to make changes:
- Sleep Quality
- Emotional Health and State of Mind
Next, we look at how to start moving toward the health goals you’ve set in these areas.
2) Making small changes
What you eat has a lot to do with how you feel. This is especially true for people with fibromyalgia. Eating a healthy anti-inflammatory diet is a great place to start making modest changes.
Kale, for example, is one of the most nutrition-dense foods known. Kale’s natural defenses against diseases, insects, and even sun damage also help our bodies heal when we eat it. You can learn to choose similar healthy foods regularly by remembering they tend to be darker in color, such as grapes, red cabbage, strawberries and blueberries, green tea, walnuts, and tomatoes.
This approach isn’t about cutting out all carbs, eating just protein, or anything drastic. Finding out about anti-inflammatory foods, and planning meals with these – and eating less sugar, refined foods and meats – is one small but powerful change toward forming new eating habits that leave you feeling less pain, and more healthy.
3) Learning what works
Exercise, for example, has a lot to do with health, but you may feel like you’re in too much pain to work out. If going to the gym doesn’t work for you – then let’s go somewhere else. It helps to think of exercise as simply things you enjoy that get you moving. Some patients find that a few 10-minute sessions a day work best. The most helpful activities include smooth, no-impact or low-impact movements, and have a mind-calming element, like yoga, tai chi, or walking.
- Acupuncture might not be a treatment you would have thought to try. But studies and patient experience reveal several healing responses to this painless treatment. Endorphins increase, and stress hormones decrease. While it deserves its own discussion, the overall effects of acupuncture help improve sleep, reduce stress, and even relieve anxiety and depression.
- Your state of mind has a lot to do with how you feel physically, with fibromyalgia. Mental stress, physical tension and pain tend to trigger each other and can start a whole downward spiral. A positive frame of mind helps all of us choose better foods, activities and rest periods especially when we have old negative habits to overcome.
4) Combining fibromyalgia treatments and self-care that make you feel better
Your doctor may prescribe pain medication and over-the-counter nutritional supplements. By themselves, they may provide some relief, but not much, or not for long. But when you start taking care of your diet, get moving, and get better sleep, your body’s own healing processes and your medications gain more power over your fibromyalgia symptoms, and you feel well for longer and longer periods.
5) Getting support to keep going
Finding the right doctor is an important part of finding the right blend of therapies for long-term relief. You need someone who understands the pain you describe is real, and who has experience observing the effects of different therapies, and can help you find a number of safe treatments you can use in combination.
Understanding friends, and support from others with fibromyalgia can help a lot too. Good friends can challenge the negative thoughts that we may jump to automatically. Being around positive people can help us find more joy, peace and gratitude in every day life.
Fibromyalgia can be difficult to treat because doctors are not always familiar with how to diagnose it and treat it — and no one single treatment works.
Each person responds differently to therapies. Some medications work better than others. Specific foods, forms of exercise, and techniques for getting better sleep work better for some people than others. A successful treatment plans combines a number of approaches from different disciplines.
An integrative approach – which I practice at the Optimal Wellness Center – combines traditional medicine with complementary therapies – such as diet, nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, acupuncture, exercise and stress management. It also combines the doctor’s efforts with your self-care efforts to find the most effective treatment for you.
About Dr. Keller
Dr. Betty Keller practices integrative medicine at the Optimal Wellness Center in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. She is a board certified doctor specializing in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, weight loss, medical acupuncture and disease prevention, serving Franklin Lakes, Wyckoff, NJ, and nearby areas.