Know your triggers

The same should apply to us all really; if you get to know your triggers in life you can smartly side-step them or at least minimise the impact they have on you.

If fibromyalgia is part of your picture, you very likely have multiple triggers that can set off a flare-up of symptoms. So my best advice is, on the route to recovery, get to know them! Without cringing or apologising for the fact that something programmed in you tells you not to make such a study yourself, or to focus on the “negative”, or to behave like a hypochondriac by keeping a pain diary and clocking every symptom, allow yourself to at least recognise the patterns, the coincidences, the trends because this knowledge is your friend.

Here are some of my familiar triggers and they may well be some of yours.

Tiredness, emotional overwhelm, anger, stress…such obvious triggers that I have long known to avoid them like the plague, or situations (and certain people-contact) where they are likely to occur. Doing too much and over-scheduling life so there are not enough gaps can be a huge pitfall to avoid so learn to be more laid back, to say “no” and to put yourself and your own personal pace first.

Carbs (especially sugar, so that includes alcohol)…even just a little bit…can send me toppling off the cliff with hypoglycemia, brain fog and a massive pain episode. To avoid this, I have altered my life to stick to complex carbs and home-made bread (see recent post), cutting out all the sugary stuff, and have learned (the hard way) that one glass, very occasionally, is quite enough for me. Alcohol was the toughest one for me to “get the message” about here; my stubborn insistence that I should be able to share a bottle of wine like anyone else kept me ignoring all the signs long after it had stopped being helpful to my steady recovery progress. Nuts can be precarious territory (they seem to overload the histamine response if they coincide with any other stressors) and have been associated with numerous bouts of IBS or sudden pain episodes; the same with gluten and lactose, so learning to gauge these responses and to minimise these food-types to very occasional consumption has been essential to trigger-avoidance on my journey towards a more manageable lifestyle. The plus point is that all these diet tweaks are in the direction of a far healthier diet, with “all things in moderation” as its core concept.

Changes in the weather, especially new weather fronts coming in or extremes of temperature, damp, humidity or wind, can have a powerful effect on fibromyalgia symptoms. Also solar activity: this is one that very few people take into consideration (yet) but, when the sun is active, and particularly when geomagnetic storms get underway, it minutely affects our biology and can have a huge impact on people with fibromyalgia, acting a lot like the hypoglycemia episodes related to sugar-intake, triggering massive highs and crashing lows (often in quick succession). Space weather can also trigger-off episodes of pain and chronic fatigue so be aware of this because, while you can’t change the weather, you can avoid doubling up with other triggers when weather conditions are unsettled.

prick_v1-2One final trigger that I’m going to slip in because its been so significant for me is considering how you wake up and how you relax down before bed as doing it the wrong way can leave you feeling spiky and triggered for hours or even days.

Hard experience taught me that avoiding all stressors before bed is so important when you have fibromyalgia and that includes no watching or reading news, no email-checking and also training family members what topics to avoid in the couple of hours before bedtime, which amounts to anything that will get the adrenalin pumping (this could include discussion of finances, your child’s problems at school or even sudden announcements such as they need their sports kit washing by morning). Basically, if anything like that needs to be brought up, get them to catch you much earlier in the day – literally, train them to do that, as a kindness to you and in support of your recovery process!

The same with waking up as the way your body gets brought round to its conscious state and then flooded with the kind of chemicals that set the pace and processing of all your other organs is soo important to someone with fibromyalgia and can determine the way your whole day goes, pain and energy wise. So, if you can, lose the sound of an alarm going off altogether and find gentler ways to awake. Keep curtains closed until you are ready to handle the bright light, keep early-morning noise to a minimum, ask family members not to dive on you with high excitement, noise or stress including big bouncy cuddles (particularly hard to impart to young kids but do-able with patience) and, again, ask them not to launch into heavy or complex topics with you when you first wake up, which includes using you as an audience for all their “stuff”. Loud noise and potent (especially chemical) smells can trigger a flare so ask that deodorants and perfumes be sprayed in another room and kept well away from your nostrils. In short, let the waking-up process be a cocoon of gentleness that keeps your senses steady while you bring them back online. If you need to wake up to a schedule, allow the extra time to do this the right way and you will start to enjoy a much better day, every day.

The consistent trick that I keep referring to here is not only to know your triggers but to avoid having two trigger go off at once; so if you know you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t drink or eat loads of carbs or any other food triggers; if the weather is up to something, don’t push your luck by doing too much that day…its simple really and can totally transform how smoothly you are managing a ‘normal’ life. These few tweaks can transform your experience of fibromyalgia and, so, your life; and keeping the practice consistent will allow you to feel your way back towards a recovered state of health where “good days”  are far more common than the challenging ones. Looking back, you will realise you have made the kind of adjustments to your life that anyone could benefit from (fibromyalgia or not) and that you now have a far more gentle, balanced, healthy, heart-centred, paced, stress-free and, really, quite transformed lifestyle to be proud of and enjoy.

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