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Blake Medical Center

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

CFS can make you feel helpless, guilty, confused, angry, sad, or worthless. As your symptoms linger, you may find that your family, friends, and employer are getting impatient. You may have to deal with people who do not understand that the symptoms are not all in your head. Although there are many things that you need to do, you may feel that you don’t have the mental or physical strength required to do them. But remember, prolonged rest may only make thinks worse.

During this time, you need to take good care of yourself and make some adjustments in your lifestyle. Here are some tips:

  • Pace yourself.
  • Choose moderate activities.
  • Make necessary adjustments with work and school.
  • Enlist the support of others.
  • Make changes to alleviate conditions associated with CFS.

Some days you will feel better than others. On good days, you may try to make up for all the things you can’t do on the days when you have less energy. By the end of the day, you are exhausted, and then you spend the next 2 days in bed. When you have another good day, the pattern repeats itself.

Rather than pushing yourself and ending up exhausted, try to pace yourself. Listen to your body. At the first warning sign of fatigue, pain, or discomfort, stop what you are doing and rest. Lie down in a quiet place with your eyes closed. Alternate your activities with periods of rest. If you are very ill, your periods of activity will be short (possibly as short as 5 minutes) and your rest periods much longer. As you get better, your activity periods will get longer and your rest periods shorter.

If you were very active before your illness and engaged in competitive sports, it may be difficult for you to choose activities that don’t require as much energy. So choose a few activities that you enjoy, but use moderation. Some exercise is good, even if it is only stretching. When you're sick is not the best time to engage in competitive sports. Rather than lots of physical activities, this is probably a good time to concentrate on some old or new hobbies requiring less physical exertion.

You may or may not be able to continue working full time, or even part time, depending on the severity of your illness. Discuss this situation with your employer and see if you can decrease your work hours. Lost work hours can have a significant financial impact. Try to be prepared to scale back or compensate for the lost income. You may be able to receive partial or total disability income benefits through your employer, a private plan, or the Social Security Administration. You should be aware that this is a lengthy process and that disability earnings could be significantly less than your salary.

If you are in school, see if it is possible to have home tutoring or home schooling, to attend school part time, or to do remote or online courses. It is better to go slow and let your body heal gradually, rather than take on more work than you can successfully complete and, in the process, worsen your medical condition.

Your partner, family, friends, and even your employer and coworkers will likely have to make adjustments. It’s important that they know the name and nature of your illness so that they can provide support and help you to cope.

You may need to make changes in your diet to alleviate certain problems such as food allergies and gastrointestinal problems. A well-balanced diet can help you to feel better. If getting adequate sleep is a problem, talk to your doctor about treatment options such as lifestyle changes and the use of medications. If you have problems with pain and mobility, consult your provider about a referral to a physical or occupational therapist.

Revision Information

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 10, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome: treatment. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: Updated November 2010. Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Management of CFS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated May 14, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Craig T, Kakumanu S. Chronic fatigue syndrome: evaluation and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(6):1083-1090.

  • Prins JB, van der Meer JW, Bleijenberg G. Chronic fatigue syndrome. Lancet. 2006;367(9507):346-355.