Pacing – The Secret Key to Recovery?
Updated: Jun 16
Having lived in the CFS/ME/Fibro/Lyme world for over a decade when I was unwell, pacing was just part of my everyday vocabulary and I thought everyone knew what it meant and that not everyone did it, but I assumed everyone at least knew what it was. This definitely is not the case because since I went on to study nutrition and now can happily say treat clients, time and time again I ask my clients, “Are you pacing as part of your every day routine?” Most of the time I’m met with blank stares. This is a BIG problem because I believe pacing is a HUGE part of recovering from not all but most chronic illnesses. And the best news, wait for it… it’s FREE!!!!! (We love free stuff when healing because the rest is so blinking expensive).
You’re a battery pack:
Okay so basic idea of pacing… imagine the average ‘healthy’ person has 100% of a battery, they get up in the morning, off they go to work all day, come home from work, make tea etc you get the gist! Then even when they go to bed at night they still have maybe 30% of their battery left. They sleep, next morning the battery has recharged and they are back to 100% and off they go again.
However, those with a chronic illness don’t have 100% of a battery, they might have 60% (maybe they are able to work part time), they might have 30% or they might have 5-10%.
For example, lets take someone who has 30% of a battery. They can only manage to potter around the house, they need help making food, they can take a quick shower but can’t stand for long, chatting can be exhausting, brain fog is an issue. If this person takes a trip in their wheelchair one day and it’s too much their battery has been used from 30 to 15%, then a friend comes over and stays too long, 5%… the battery is nearly flat. And with chronic illness our batteries don’t recharge overnight as well as the next person. Once the battery is empty that person can’t do anything, they simply lie in bed until that battery recharges which may take days, weeks or months, it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. That is why when you have a chronic illness you need to make sure you pace so your battery level doesn’t reach 0%.
How to use pacing as a technique to manage chronic illness:
Work out what battery power you have, are you 50%, 40% etc.
You need to work out your BASELINE. This is what you can sustain on a daily basis without making yourself more sick (if people push too hard / use up too much energy than this can happen). Can you have a shower and get dressed and not feel worse? Can you go for a walk and feel worse? Can you work part time and not feel worse? Whatever this is, is your baseline – when you can do an activity and feel the same afterwards. Remember everyone has a different baseline, so try not to compare yourselves to others, it won’t help. If you go and meet a friend and come back and your back in bed then you have just burnt out your battery, and pushed your adrenal glands to the max. We call this boom and bust. Something which is SO important to avoid!
Boom and Bust:
This is when we push push push when we feel we have a little more energy and capability and then afterwards we crash, hard. Many of my clients do this before coming to see me and it doesn’t work, it won’t help you get better. You may be able to do it for a certain amount of time but I have seen too often that eventually your body says no and then it will crash harder than ever before. The body can’t heal if its constantly being pushed all the time to maximum level.
I do believe one of the main contributing factors people become ill in the first place is often chronic stress and chronic pushing themselves for a long period of time until the body gives up and says no more! And most people relapse in their illness when they push too hard for example, return to work too soon or are under chronic stress with no tools to be able to cope. It’s a massive issue we need more education on and this is why I feel it is absolutely KEY to recovery!
What’s important to know is that this goes for everyone, not just those with chronic illness. I know my baseline but it’s taken me years of tweaking it to figure it out. My husband recently pushed his baseline (because he didn’t understand pacing) – he had a full time stressful job with exams alongside, a newborn baby, a new house, family, friends, exercising, church, cooking, marriage and his body crashed because he couldn’t listen and he was never resting. I’m grateful that now he has learnt about pacing and he knows his BASELINE so hopefully this won’t happen again (handy being married to a Nutritionist sometimes).
My personal mistakes when it comes to pacing:
18 years old – I went off to university, I lived in halls, new people, new uni, new course, never lived alone before but so desperately wanted to be “normal” after five years of being seriously ill. I wouldn’t listen to anyone which looking back, now seems a tad silly. I lasted three weeks. Then I returned home with what I hoped was just a weekend to recover and I never went back. I didn’t pace, I pushed and pushed and pushed and I ended up back at square one, in bed with my parents caring for me. Not long after that the deepest darkest depression of my life also kicked in because I felt like a huge failure. In simple terms I pushed too hard and I didn’t listen to my body or anyone’s advice.
21 years old – My second big relapse. I moved in with my boyfriend at the time. It was beyond stressful because we were going in different directions in life. I moved into a moldy house (stress on my immune system). I started studying at CNM two weekends a month which was too much for me. My granny died suddenly. So can you guess what happened? I ended up back in with my parents again and my relationship ended. Again, I didn’t listen to any advice, I was foolish in hindsight. I didn’t have any stress management techniques in place to help me to deal with grief or stressful situations at the time. Life happens which we can’t avoid this but we can control how we deal with them.
Root cause – I always tried to prove I was “normal”, to fit in, to live a normal life. But really I was still poorly needing support and focusing on my health. When I started to do that in my 20’s it’s meant that my life has turned out in a much happier way! Happily married with a beautiful baby boy Noah and on top of that living a full and healthy life.
Top Tips on Pacing:
Look at your week… does it feel overwhelming? Change things! You are in control. You may think well I NEED to see that friend for coffee because that is the only time they can do it, or I NEED to do the shopping that day because it’s my only window to do so. You also NEED to control your diary because eventually your body will say not be able to cope anymore.
Get an online shop delivered, ask friends if they can reschedule (because 9/10 they can), does that job need to be done this week or can it be moved to a less busy week, and most importantly ask for help.
If you think every Monday morning – “If I can just get through this week it will be ok”. But the problem is when that happens every single Monday morning, there is no time to rest.
Be aware of adrenaline – this is “false energy” and you’ll probably pay for it later.
Don’t overdo things on the days you feel ok – bank that energy for healing.
Stop people pleasing because you can’t sustain it. So often I’ve gone to birthdays or parties so I don’t let people down but it’s unsustainable if you really can’t manage it. You need to rest, get well and then you can go to all the parties and all the weddings in the world!
Or maybe you can go to an event or go for a walk but take a break. Maybe a wheelchair or a scooter would be helpful to save energy but would make it easier to get out the house.
Schedule ‘me time’ – our modern world is crazy, fast paced. Get some headspace, do your nails whatever it is which helps you to switch off.
Please hear me correctly, I’m not saying don’t do anything! I’m saying if it’s too much and you know it will set you backwards thats your body saying it’s not right to do that today and we need to get better. This is something I speak to clients about all day everyday, it’s a common mistake we are all making. It takes time to learn to adjust but boy it’s a powerful tool once you have cracked it!
Nobody can live a million miles per hour and avoid it catching up with them in some way eventually. Human bodies are not designed to live like that.
I will be doing a ‘Stress Management’ blog to follow on from this where I’ll discuss stressors you maybe didn’t realise – TV, music, people, EMFs etc. so stay tuned! Any questions about the above just ask – on Instagram or Facebook at @hellohealing – would love to hear your thoughts and opinions!
A poem to finish by Sylvia Waites a lady with CFS “The 10 Commandments”.
Thou shalt not be perfect nor try to be.
Thou shalt not try to be all things to all people.
Thou shalt leave things undone that ought to be done.
Thou shalt not spread thyself too thin.
Thou shalt learn to say “no”
Thou shalt schedule time for thyself, and for thy supporting network.
Thou shalt switch off and do nothing regularly.
Thou shalt be boring, untidy, inelegant and unattractive at times.
Thou shalt not even feel guilty.
Thou shalt not be thine own worst enemy, but thine own best friend.