Home Lifestyle 4 Things To Remember When Pacing For Chronic Illness, Fatigue Or Pain

4 Things To Remember When Pacing For Chronic Illness, Fatigue Or Pain

by InvisiblyMe

If you’re living with chronic illness, chronic fatigue and/or chronic pain, you’ve probably come across the term “pacing”. Maybe you’ve got the knack of it, maybe you’re still figuring it out, or maybe you find it a continual work-in-progress, as I do. While it can be vital for keeping us balanced in our day to day lives, it doesn’t mean it’s not super frustrating. Here are 3 things to think about and remember when it comes to pacing. 

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1. It’s Okay To Delegate (If You Can)

If you find it hard to give a task over to someone else because you want to be in control of it, or because you don’t feel you deserve the help, then you may end up taking on more than you can reasonably manage when you don’t have to. Not everyone has someone they can delegate to, for instance with housework or running errands, so they have little choice but to pay for outside help or take it all on themselves.

If you do have someone in your life that cares about you and is willing to help, chances are they’d appreciate the chance to do it and to feel useful. It’s a two way street, because you’ll be there for them whenever you can, too, so it’s not unfair or cheeky to ask for a helping hand.

If help isn’t volunteered, it’s okay to ask for it. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it feels downright impossible, but it is doable. Don’t let shame or pride get in the way of reaching out, whatever the scenario may be. It could be that you want emotional support when you’re exhausted with a lot on your plate to stress about, or you want some hands-on help to tackle your to-do list. 

If a friend was in your shoes, you’d want to help them if you could. You’d likely encourage them to ask for help, so treat yourself as kindly as you would that friend.

2. You May Not Get Everything Done… And That’s Okay

This is a really difficult one for me. When it seems that most things on your to-do list are priorities and everything has to be done, you can’t delay things for too long or cut anything out.

It’s worth asking yourself whether such things really are priorities, and whether they even really have to be done. What will happen if they don’t get done today, or ever? 

If the aforementioned things are necessary, can they wait? If it’s not urgently time-sensitive, try to build in more flexibility to the things you do. 

Feeling as though everything has to be done right now just puts more pressure on yourself and you end up totally frazzled with way too much to do in one day. You likely already have too little time because you lose a lot of your day to not being well enough or functional enough to do anything.

At some point, you may need to admit that it’s not possible to get everything done. Like literally not possible because there’s not enough time, let alone that you’ll totally run yourself into the ground if you continue to push beyond your capacity. 

Acknowledging that not everything you wanted or needed to do will get done can suck, big time. It’s frustrating but it’s not a failure. This is where the flexibility comes in to be able to say “mañana”. There’s always tomorrow, whenever and however you can manage it. 

3. Taking Breaks Is Vital, Not Selfish

“Self-care isn’t selfish” – It sounds cheesy and we’ve probably all heard this expression hundreds of times lately, but it’s true and it’s often not appreciated enough. Looking after ourselves is important, and taking breaks is part of that. It helps prevent burnout, or it least takes the edge off it. It’s self-care when we’re actively doing something to help our health, and if we choose things that are good for us during those breaks then we can likewise help our mental health, too.

Part of pacing is building in regular rest breaks, be they 10 minutes or two hours. It’s totally up to you and your needs as to how you pace your days and it’ll likely vary depending on the circumstances, but getting those breaks is vital. 

A woman with her back to the camera as she looks into the distance, holding both hands up to make the shape of a heart. The sun is setting and she's in a corn field, showing the expanse in front of her and blue sky with clouds above.

Regular breaks can include anything you want, though some people find building in small things they enjoy is most beneficial for mental health. Perhaps it’s 10 minutes of your favourite TV series, half an hour of colouring or taking a nap, or 20 minutes with your pet. 

There are different types of breaks for different purposes, and they’ll use different energy levels. For instance, pacing breaks may be to give you mental calm, physical rest, inspiration or motivation. They may be relaxing breaks, productive breaks or enjoyable breaks. Most things we do use energy, whether we’re aware of it or not, and that drains the battery we’re trying to recharge. Crossword puzzles, reading a good book, or stressing yourself silly over something are all taking up precious energy. Keep that in mind when factoring in rest times.

Try to have some extra low-energy breaks in the day, even if it’s just 5 minutes in a day to start with, where you can just rest, let your thoughts wander without judgement, ease off the stressing, and just relax. Mindfulness or meditation practices are beneficial for some people in this respect. Low energy breaks will hopefully give your body and your brain a brief break to recharge.

Without any of these breaks, a cycle can develop that’s hard to break.

There’s too much to do and you stress yourself mentally and physically trying to get through it. You overdo the activity and your pain increases, your fatigue increases and you start to get increasingly irritable. Healthy eating and self-care might decrease. You don’t get everything done and you get more stressed, then you might get resentful at being so busy and having zero time to do anything you enjoy. Then the cycle continues. 

This is a cycle I seem to have been in pretty much non-stop. 

This is one of those “do as I say and not as I do” posts because I’m a huge hypocrite in this regard. But it would be great if others doing similar could acknowledge this pattern and move away from it because it really does make you utterly miserable, and it doesn’t help our health or our pain at all. 

4. Pacing Takes Time To Warm To 

For those going from a pre-illness life to one that is hindered by pain and other health problems, the change in your capabilities can be stark and depressing. 

It’s easy to let your mind wander to how things used to be and how you’d get so much done in any given day. Then you look at how things are now, when some days getting out of bed or having a shower are monumental achievements. Or perhaps you’re still highly functioning because you’re driven by guilt and extensive to-do lists, and while you still get things done you constantly feel like it’s never, ever enough. 

To come to terms with pacing means to at least begin the process of accepting your health problems and where you are at this point in your life. It’s acknowledging what you can and can’t do, what you need to look after yourself and what works best for you when going about your day to day life. 

To get on with pacing means to accept the need for it in the first place. If you’re struggling with acceptance – something I find insanely difficult and a continual work-in-progress – or you’re often replaying mental movies of the pre-illness days, then accepting the need for pacing and actually doing it will likely be a lot harder.

Pacing also means acknowledging the need to be kinder to yourself. That means feeling like you actually deserve that kindness and realising that’s not something you need to earn.

It can take time and you might need to dig a little deeper if you’re finding yourself resistant to it or getting frustrated continually.

For instance, I’m predominantly powered by guilt and thrive on being busy. Feeling as though I’ve never done enough powers me forward and keeps my mind off the bigger, deeper things I don’t want to think about. Without this busy-ness, I can succumb way more easily to pain and fatigue. Sometimes that might be a good thing, but not always. Getting a balance isn’t easy but it would make for a more level approach to your day to day life. 

A sense of achievement and being useful, as well as being able to enjoy the things you want to do, is great. But when things get to be too much, it’s time to ease off the gas and look at why you’re pushing yourself so much. It’s usually better to aim for long term balance with regular breaks than have your body enforce a break on you, where you’ll pay the price for days thereafter. 

I still find it immensely frustrating to pace, but I do also see the importance of it for my mental health and physical health. Fibromyalgia, migraines, chronic pain, nerve damage, autoimmune disease, lung damage, it all adds up. Nonetheless, it’s easy to berate yourself for not dealing with it “better” or for not doing enough. It’s also easy to compare yourself to others, thinking about how they may have it “worse” than you. But there is no comparison. Our experiences are uniquely our own and there are many issues that impact how we manage things, mentally and physically.

Getting into more of a routine when possible can be comforting and helpful for some people, myself included. It’s not always doable because health problems can be unpredictable at the best of times, but pencilling in regular breaks every so often is a good start. Maybe build in things to look forward to, like a 2.30pm tea break with biscuits, 20 minutes of your favourite TV series, or half an hour napping. Whatever floats your boat.

Breaks, distractions and pacing are all ways to help us better manage illness, stress and pain, so you need to find what works well for you and adjust it to what you need at that moment in time.

A quote image with text against a light blue background, and to the left is a yellow strip with a clock and white flowers as decoration. The text reads: “To come to terms with pacing means: To begin the process of accepting your health problems and where you are at this point in your life. to accept the need for pacing in the first place. Acknowledging the need to be kinder to yourself and feeling deserving of that kindness.”

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It’s a lot of pressure on yourself to get through the basics day to day with chronic illness, pain or fatigue, let alone taking on household chores, decluttering, work, grocery shopping, blogging, or whatever else it may be. Whatever it is you’re doing and whatever health issues you’re dealing with, pacing can be incredibly important both physically and mentally.

Pacing looks different for everyone. It’s okay to struggle with it, but try to remember why it’s helpful and realise that you deserve to be looking out for yourself. 

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Do you struggle with pacing for chronic illness, chronic fatigue or pain? Can you relate to any of these points?

Caz  ♥

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24 comments

Ashley June 13, 2022 - 5:15 pm

Getting to a place of acceptance has been huge for me. I know that I’m totally useless if I don’t pace.

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InvisiblyMe June 16, 2022 - 4:52 pm

Acceptance of your health issue(s) and general situation isn’t easy, is it? I found I had to adjust my understanding of “acceptance” to even broach it at all, because it felt like giving up or having to be happy about it, and that’s not necessarily the case. 💜

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Sandee June 13, 2022 - 5:47 pm

Excellent advice. My sister has issues and you have the same advice she does.

Have a fabulous day and week, Caz. Big hug. ♥

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InvisiblyMe June 16, 2022 - 4:54 pm

I’m sorry about your sister but I’m glad she’s on a similar understanding with pacing, so I hope it helps her 🧡 I hope you’re having a lovely week, Sandee! xx

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George June 13, 2022 - 7:38 pm

Amen to every point here and everything you said. ~ George

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InvisiblyMe June 16, 2022 - 5:03 pm

Thank you, George. Now if only we could take this advice ourselves and run with it, because it’s a lot easier said than done! I hope you both have lovely end to your week 🌻

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Cheryl, gulf Coast Poet June 13, 2022 - 8:20 pm

Good advice, Caz. it’s hard not to overdo it. We still see ourselves as superman or super woman. 🙂

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InvisiblyMe June 16, 2022 - 5:05 pm

What we think, and the reality of how we are, can be very different things, can’t they? It certainly takes practice and a lot of patience to get to grips with pacing. I guess we don’t have to like it, which just have to appreciate it’s needed and that it’ll be better for us in the short and long term 🌷 xx

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Smelly Socks and Garden Peas June 13, 2022 - 10:11 pm

I think the first two should apply to everyone generally. Most of us without chronic conditions are terrible at delegating (but then get cross that no one’s helping) or feeling OK when things aren’t done. Great advice.

Hope you’re doing well Caz. Hugs and hope, always. Smell xx

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InvisiblyMe June 16, 2022 - 5:09 pm

You’re absolutely right, the first three really could and maybe should be applied to all. So many people are too hard on themselves, are getting caught up in the productivity tide and feel they have to take on everything by themselves, with no time to look after themselves properly either. Knowing that it’s okay to not get everything done is really important, and then we need to find a way to actually be okay with that and not stress or feel guilty for it. Not easy to do, but very important for our physical and mental health. Thanks lovely, I’m really glad you like the post. Hope you & the family are keeping well! Get ready for the super heatwave tomorrow 🥳🌞 xx

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c.a. June 13, 2022 - 10:36 pm

This could be a blog about retirement, also, dear girl. Solid advice for most of life, actually. You have been blessed with abundant wisdom.
❤️&🙏, c.a.

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InvisiblyMe June 16, 2022 - 5:14 pm

You’re right, the importance for pacing, less stress, getting help, taking breaks are all important during retirement too, which will help people look after their physical and mental health. It must be a big adjustment to make as well if someone goes from super productive and busy in a high-pressure role, to retirement. I’m really glad you like the post! I’m not sure about my “abundant wisdom” – I’m a bit of a hypocrite as I can’t take my own advice at all! Thanks for your comment – I hope you both are having a great week! 🌻

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BBYCGN June 14, 2022 - 2:04 am

Thank you so much, Caz. I really needed to hear these tips. They comfort me. ♥️

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InvisiblyMe June 16, 2022 - 5:16 pm

I’m really glad you like them and I hope they can give you a little comfort and reassurance. Go easy on yourself lovely. Sending hugs 💛🧡

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Despite Pain June 14, 2022 - 3:29 pm

Great reminder, Caz. Pacing is so important but can also be so difficult. It’s easier said than done, isn’t it? On bad days, I find pacing easy. On better days, I am still a work in progress. Lol, you’d think I’d have it right by now, but no, I don’t. Your points, though, are spot on. Pacing is part of self-care and self-care is necessary. It’s not selfish, it’s doing what’s right for you.

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InvisiblyMe June 18, 2022 - 11:24 pm

Definitely easier to talk about managing pacing than to consistently put it into practice, for sure! I think it’s okay for it to be a work-in-progress rather than to hope we’ll get to a point where it’s always easy and always done perfectly. That’s just more pressure we don’t need. I do wonder whether for some, the difficulties and resistance around pacing could relate to deeper issues, such as those around guilt, self-worth, the need for productivity, etc. Seeing it for what it is – a vital necessity – is important to warm pacing and get to grips with it on a regular basis. xx

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Ellie Thompson June 15, 2022 - 10:32 am

Thank you for some really wise and sensible thoughts on this, Caz. I appreciate you sharing about this topic. I’m absolutely rubbish at asking for help when I’m struggling. I feel I am just too much for people to tolerate – not all of the time, but at times when my mental health isn’t great and motivation and enthusiasm have gone out of the window. But you are quite right, if I asked for help, I’m sure people would be happy to do that. I know, when I’m feeling strong and my pain is less, that I always offer my assistance more than willingly. One of my biggest issues is definitely motivation – when everything feels like too much effort, it’s difficult even to get into the shower in the morning. I live alone, so I don’t have anyone who would know any different, but the point is that I know and then feel that I’m lazy or worthless. I’m definitely going to give your advice a good try and build in some breaks and rest times when I’m finding everything difficult. I used to meditate regularly and this was very beneficial – I haven’t done that for ages, so perhaps this would be a good place to start. I do hope you are well, or as well as you can be, Caz. Take care of yourself as you also suggest we do too. Thank you for such valuable advice. Ellie xx .💖

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InvisiblyMe June 22, 2022 - 4:06 pm

I’m sorry you know all too well what it’s like, Ellie. And asking for help isn’t easier either, even at the best of times. I’d like to think that those who love you would always be willing and keen to help, even though I know it’s not always the case that we get treated the way we treat others. It’s harder when you’re living alone though and can’t really get that help when you need it in daily life at home. Low motivation, whether primarily driven by ill health, pain or mood/mental health, is not about being lazy or worthless. I hate that you feel like that sometimes. It’s so much easier to say this to someone else because it’s not something I can apply to myself either, but I’d see your lack of motivation as a reason to go easier on yourself, to be kind yourself and rest. I hope you find a little meditation beneficial if you do get back into it. I’m really glad you like the post, Ellie, and thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I wish I could do something to help, but please know you’re not alone in how you feel. And also know that you are not lazy or worthless, nor will anyone worth their salt think that either. You’re worth looking after. 💜 xxxx

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The Oceanside Animals June 16, 2022 - 3:43 am

Lulu: “We really like this post! Our Dada says he has had to learn to pace himself a little since The Event a few years ago.”
Chaplin: “Yeah used to be he would just go go go all the time, but now he takes more breaks and stuff.”
Java Bean: “Which is good because I’m a puppy and I need to go outside a lot.”
Charlee: “Dada likes to talk about an old Billy Joel song where he says ‘You’ve got to learn to pace yourself’. Leave it to Dada to go back 40 years to find a song reference he thinks is relevant …”

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James Viscosi June 17, 2022 - 2:38 am

I try not to think about the fact that the songs I listened to in the 80s are now the equivalent of songs people listened to in the 40s in the 80s.

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Lauren June 16, 2022 - 2:38 pm

Learning to pace I found really difficult when I was working with the pain clinic they taught me the importance of it. Going from someone who can do everything and keep going, I am now learning my new normal. Thank you for sharing your tips! This will help a lot of people who have a chronic illness.

Lauren – bournemouthgirl x

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Michele Anderson June 18, 2022 - 12:01 am

Great advice, Caz 🙂

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craig sabin June 22, 2022 - 4:46 pm

“For those going from a pre-illness life to one that is hindered by pain and other health problems, the change in your capabilities can be stark and depressing. ”

Caz, this is a deep truth that was a complete shock to me and took me years to come to grips with. I think that this is wonderfully helpful article and perhaps for some it may ease their transition to understand how normal (and difficult) this is. Like you, I continue to struggle with this because my condition continues to erode and I am forced through the process over and over again.

Anyway, great article and super helpful.
God bless,
Craig

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Sue Jackson June 25, 2022 - 5:50 pm

Great post with some excellent tips! Even after 20 years of living with chronic illnesses, I still sometimes have trouble listening to my body and pacing. Your advice is right on target!

Sue
My Book: Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness

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