Pacing with chronic illness is very important, but perhaps one of the things that we struggle with the most. Pacing simply means getting the balance of activity and rest right, but it is easier to say than actually do. Many of us fall into one of two categories: The ‘boom and busters’ and the ‘I can’t do that-ers’.
You know how it works. You wake up and you think, actually today I feel quite good. So you start on a long list of things you have been wanting to do. By lunchtime you are exhausted and in pain, your symptoms are flaring, and you need to spend the rest of the day resting.
You gradually do less and less because you think the activities are unachievable, and it seems to take longer to recover the less you do. You may become increasingly housebound, and feel isolated and miserable.
Pacing is really all about timing. You need to work out how long you can do an activity before you start to feel pain or your symptoms flare. You need to find the tipping point and stop then. Take an activity that you want to do, and decide how long you think it will take. For example, a trip to the shops. You work out that you can manage fifteen minutes of activity before you need to rest. When that fifteen minutes is up, sit down and rest, even if you are not in pain. Don’t be tempted to push yourself a little more as you will go into the pain/flare zone, and your shopping trip will be at an end. By listening to your body like this, you will be surprised by how much more you can do and achieve during the day.
Spread your activity out over the course of the day, with planned rest between each activity. Don’t think to yourself that you can do everything in the morning and then rest in the afternoon. Pushing too hard may lead you into a ‘boom and bust’ situation. Perhaps write up a detailed timetable for the day and reward yourself if your pacing has worked. If you do this, you will find that you are gradually able to do more things as you would have preserved a lot more energy.
If you are in the ‘I can’t do that’ group, work out how long you can do an activity in the same way. Perhaps you have wanted to do a craft but haven’t felt able to because of worry that you may not be able to achieve or finish it. Trying starting with just a few minutes of the craft and then rest. The next day, see if you can manage a little longer, and so on until you know exactly where the ‘tipping point’ is. You will be surprised to find that you can do more than you think you can. Believe in yourself.
Some days we have more energy than others, but don’t be tempted to push yourself on those days. Stick to your planned activity schedule, but maybe allow a few more minutes of activity before rest. If you know that you have something big coming up, for instance a family wedding or a night out with friends, plan in advance so that you can factor in rest time. You want the event to be enjoyable, not tiring and painful.
Doing your best is a million times better than pushing yourself to breaking point.