Stress of all kinds is known to increase the risk of fibromyalgia flare-ups, but there are strategies for managing this feedback loop.

Approximately 4 million adults in the United States live with fibromyalgia, a chronic health condition that causes pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and emotional symptoms.

Many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia can make it difficult to function from day to day, leading to significant stress and anxiety. But researchers now believe that this increased stress may actually worsen fibromyalgia symptoms.

Ahead, we’ll explore what science says about the relationship between stress and fibromyalgia symptoms. We’ll also share some tips for how to better manage your stress levels when living with fibromyalgia.

Between personal problems, work difficulties, and things outside of our control, there are so many different ways that stress can affect us. But for people living with fibromyalgia, research suggests that stress not only makes symptoms worse but also decreases overall quality of life.

One review from 2019 explored the psychological effect of fibromyalgia. Several studies in the review found that not only does fibromyalgia cause high levels of stress, but this stress can, in turn, cause physical and cognitive symptoms to worsen.

In another smaller study from 2021, researchers studied the effect of mental stress on muscle activity and pain intensity in participants with fibromyalgia. The results of the study found that exposure to cognitive stress appeared to increase overall anxiety and pain levels in study participants.

Recent research also suggests that there may be a relationship between certain mental health conditions related to stress, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and fibromyalgia symptoms.

One article from 2020 explored the relationship between fibromyalgia and PTSD. According to the research, PTSD symptoms are associated with a worsening of fibromyalgia symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, and lowered overall quality of life.

Can emotional stress cause a fibromyalgia flare-up?

Emotional stress appears to be one of the most commonly reported flare-up triggers in people with fibromyalgia.

One study from 2016 surveyed the experience of flare-ups in a small group of participants with fibromyalgia. Stress was the most highly reported flare-up trigger, with more than 63% of participants reporting it as one of their primary triggers.

Severe emotional stress ― as well as work and life stress ― were commonly reported causes of stress-related flare-ups.

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While it’s not always possible to get rid of stress entirely, reducing stress may lead to improvements in symptoms in people living with fibromyalgia.

One review from 2019 explored the effectiveness of various mindfulness- and acceptance-based interventions for female participants with fibromyalgia. According to the research, interventions such as mindfulness-based stress reduction were associated with mild to moderate improvements in fibromyalgia-related symptoms.

Another study from 2022 investigated the effect of magnesium supplementation on stress and pain levels in participants with fibromyalgia. Results of the study found that magnesium supplementation was able to significantly reduce mild to moderate stress levels, as well as pain severity in participants with mild to moderate stress.

For many people living with fibromyalgia, fibromyalgia symptoms and stress go hand in hand. Fibromyalgia symptoms can influence someone’s overall quality of life, which can lead to increased anxiety and stress. In turn, increased stress may lead to a worsening of symptoms.

So, how can you lower your stress levels, and possibly lower the effect that stress can have on your symptoms? Here are a few tips for dealing with stress when you have fibromyalgia.

Move your body

We know that exercise has been shown to help reduce stress and improve mood, but research also suggests that movement can actually help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms. Aerobic exercises, like swimming and dancing, and muscle strengthening exercises are a great way to lower stress and possibly ease fibromyalgia symptoms, as well.

Be more mindful

Mindfulness is the idea of being in the present moment ― existing in the here and now. While mindfulness has many benefits for stress and anxiety, for people living with fibromyalgia, it may also help lower the effect of symptoms. Meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing are just a few examples of common mindfulness practices.

Eat nutritious foods

While there’s no specific diet for fibromyalgia (or stress), eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can make sure that your body and mind are getting the nutrients they need. It can also be helpful to pay attention to any food triggers you have so that you can cut these foods from your diet and lower your chance of flare-ups.

Practice self-compassion

Self-compassion is the idea of being kind, understanding, and compassionate with oneself, much in the same way that we’d treat a friend. While there are many benefits of being self-compassionate, research has shown that one of those benefits is reducing stress, which can improve overall physical health and may help reduce symptoms, as well.

Ask for help

There are many therapists and other mental health professionals that specialize in helping people with chronic pain. Attending regular therapy can not only give you a place to unpack the stress of day-to-day life but also create strategies for dealing with stress in productive ways.

Click here to learn more about finding the right therapist for you.

Living a less stressful life with fibro

If you’re one of the millions of people who live with fibromyalgia, you’re not alone ― and there are resources available to help support you in navigating diagnosis and treatment. Here are a few places to start:

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Research suggests that there’s a relationship between stress and fibromyalgia, with studies showing that life stress, work stress, emotional stress, and even trauma can all have an effect on fibromyalgia symptoms.

But even though there’s no way to eliminate stress completely, there are ways that you can learn to better manage your stress and possibly lower your symptoms and the likelihood of flare-ups. And if you need a little extra support, you can reach out to a mental health professional for more resources.