Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes muscle, bone, and joint pain all over the body. Often this pain goes along with:
- poor sleep
- mental illnesses
- digestive issues
- tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- memory lapses
- mood problems
About 2 percent of Americans experience fibromyalgia at some point in their lives. Adults and children can develop the disease. However, middle-aged women are the most likely to develop it.
Doctors don’t know the exact causes of fibromyalgia, but several factors may play a role in the condition. These include:
- past infections
- physical disorder
- emotional trauma
- changes in brain chemicals
Often fibromyalgia symptoms appear after a person experiences:
- physical trauma
- intense psychological stress
In some people, fibromyalgia symptoms may develop gradually over time without a single trigger.
There isn’t a cure for fibromyalgia. Medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle modifications such as exercise and relaxation techniques can help alleviate symptoms. But even with treatment, fibromyalgia can be difficult to cope with. The symptoms can be debilitating, so it can be very helpful to find support.
Where to get support
Family members and friends can serve as the base of a strong fibromyalgia support system. Some support they can give is practical, such as driving you to a doctor’s appointment or picking up groceries when you’re not feeling well. Other support can be emotional, such as offering an attentive ear when you need to talk, or sometimes just a welcome distraction from your aches and pains.
When choosing family members and friends to be part of your support system, it’s important to make sure the people you choose are prepared to help. Talk to them about your symptoms and what kind of support you’re looking for.
Don’t be disappointed if a family member or friend isn’t ready to offer their support. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you — they just may not be ready to help. Keep asking different family members and friends until you find a few that can support you.
How your supporters can help you
One of the most helpful things your supporters can do is to help you pace your days. Depending on how severe your symptoms are, you may need to reduce your activity level by 50 to 80 percent to alleviate your symptoms. Talk to your supporters about your daily schedule and ask them for help if you have trouble finding the right balance of activities.
Sleep problems are common in people with fibromyalgia. These include trouble falling to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and oversleeping. These issues are usually remedied with a combination of strategies such as changing sleeping environment and habits, taking medications, and addressing any underlying sleep disorders.
Often, sleep problems worsen fibromyalgia symptoms. But your supporters may be able to help you improve your sleep by encouraging you to stick to your treatment plan and relax before bed. This can make it easier to fall asleep.
Often fibromyalgia can lead to stress, and in some cases even anxiety and depression. Stress and mental illnesses can worsen your fibromyalgia aches and pains. So it’s helpful if your supporters can offer you a listening ear or some reassurance when you need it most.
Your supporters may also help you keep your stress levels to a minimum by encouraging you to take part in stress-reducing activities, such as meditation and yoga. Consider signing up for a weekly yoga class or massage with a family member or friend.
Other ways your supporters can help you
Managing activity, sleep, and stress are most important to keeping fibromyalgia symptoms at bay. Yet your supporters can also help you deal with other challenges associated with fibromyalgia, including:
- coping with cognition problems
- being comfortable at long events
- managing your emotions
- sticking to dietary changes
Members of your fibromyalgia support network should have the names and contact information of your primary doctor and any other healthcare providers that you see. This is important in the case of an emergency, if they have a question, or if they need to help arrange an appointment for you. They should also have a list of any medications and treatments you’re on so they can help keep you healthy.
Support for caregivers
Those who do agree to help may need their own resources and support. Most importantly, supporters should educate themselves about fibromyalgia so they can become more aware of the details of the condition. One good place to turn for more information about the condition is fibromyalgia research organizations, such as the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association.
Support groups are another great place to turn if you have questions or need help coping with your fibromyalgia. It can be helpful to hear about others’ experiences with fibromyalgia. You can find support groups near you by asking your doctor or doing a quick online search.
If you haven’t already found a therapist, it can be helpful to do so. Sometimes it can be hard to talk to even your closest family members and friends about your fibromyalgia. Talking to a therapist may be easier. Plus, your therapist can offer you advice on how to work through any challenges you may be going through, which can keep your stress levels down.
By getting support and sticking to your treatment plan, you may be able to slowly increase your activity levels. No matter how many challenges fibromyalgia throws at you, know that there are many ways for you to cope. Coping is usually easier with a strong support system. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.