A list of articles involving FM

Why do we need to avoid stress?

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Feeling stressed is never a pleasant state to be in. Our bodies react by releasing adrenalin Stress Articleinto the bloodstream to increase the heart rate, raise the blood pressure, speed up the breathing and heighten blood sugar levels; we get those butterflies in the stomach and our palms start to feel sweaty as our body prepares us to fight or flee.

In a situation of acute danger this reaction can save our lives enabling us to perform tasks possibly beyond our normal strength: to run faster than we have ever run before or to strike out at an opponent with more force than we believed possible as we ride the adrenalin surge. However, if this state becomes chronic it can become damaging rather than life-saving.

Chronic stress suppresses the appetite and the immune system, heightens sensitivity to pain, disturbs sleep patterns and leaves us feeling exhausted and anxious. Muscles become permanently tensed ready for action which they are not needed for and energy is burned at such a rate that fatigue becomes a regular companion.

Stress has a negative impact on any illness and fibromyalgia is no exception. Our muscles already feel tight and sore and we certainly don't want to waste any of our precious energy stores. Heightening our sensitivity to pain even further and giving ourselves even less chance of falling asleep is also not on our agenda of goals for the day. But, how can stress be avoided? It is all very well for people to say relax, take it easy and don't worry, when we know we have a list of tasks that need to be done and the pain and fatigue are constantly nagging at us reducing our ability to handle further demands. When you live in constant pain things can become overwhelming quite quickly; I know that towards the end of the day when I am feeling tired and my muscles are sore I snap much more easily. Those close to me know not to ask me to make decisions or to do lots of tasks in the evening as my reaction is not always amicable!


People with fibromyalgia are often labelled as "type A" people who are generally not renowned for their laidback approach to life; but is there any underlying physiological reason for this? Interestingly, research suggests that there is a disturbance in the stress hormone system. Basically, there are three main hormones involved in the stress response which work in a feedback loop where the last hormone in the chain acts to stop the release of the first hormone.

This makes sure that the stress response is switched off and not left on continuously once stimulated. Researchers have observed that the first hormone in the chain called CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone) and the second hormone called ACTH (adrenal cortical stimulating hormone) tend to be released at elevated levels in response to stress in individuals with fibromyalgia compared to controls. The third hormone, cortisol, appears to be released in significantly lower amounts in response to stress, whereas its level at rest seems to be higher in individuals with fibromyalgia compared to controls.

These findings could indicate high chronic stress levels meaning that the levels of cortisol stay at a higher level when at rest making you more responsive to stress; in addition diminished amount of cortisol released in response to ACTH means that there is less of the third hormone to shut the stress system down. It is not clear whether these disturbances result from having longstanding fibromyalgia or are part of the underlying cause.


Whatever the reason, we need to learn how to cope effectively in stressful situations to insure that we do not aggravate our symptoms further. We all react to stress in different ways and are stressed by different things. To some people a messy dusty house will have them climbing the walls whereas others, like myself, will have the inbred ability to simply not see it and walk calmly by. The key is to identify your own particular stressors and to develop a strategy to cope with them before they become overwhelming. Obviously it is not possible to prepare for every situation as we are not in control of what happens in the world around us, but we can learn to control our response to stress.

There are various techniques which we can learn to use to combat stress and to alter our response to it, have a look at the list below and see what most appeals to you.

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy: a helpful technique  in tackling negative ways of thinking to enable you to respond more positively to stressful situations.

  • Meditation: very useful to slow you down, clear the mind and help you to relax when things start to become overwhelming. 

  • Exercise: a great way to get rid of all the stressful emotions; also during exercise the body releases endorphins, the body's natural painkillers.

  • Rest: taking a rest before you become exhausted can prevent you from becoming over fatigued, a state in which you are more likely to become stressed.

  • Relaxation: learning to relax each muscle group can make your rest periods much more productive allowing you to release the tension from your body.

  • Distraction: distracting your mind with perhaps a movie or your favourite music can help to calm you down and give you a break from thinking about the stressful situation.

  • Getting away: if the situation does become overwhelming it can be helpful to get away for a few days and have a change of scenery to help you relax and come up with a solution if one is needed. 

  • Laughter: this can be one of the best stress releases as it can instantly relax you and cause the release of endorphins. 


I often find an evening with one of my best friends when we can laugh and chat to be one of the best stress busters, it tends to put things into perspective and calm me down. My other favourite technique is spending some time outside in the countryside, I find that fresh air and beautiful surroundings always work their magic making me breathe more slowly as I stop to admire the views. I try to go for a walk each day somewhere green to allow me to clear my mind and enjoy the exercise. If I am struggling to walk I will take my wheelchair out for a spin to ensure I am not stuck indoors all day. Finding what works best for you is well worth the effort, stress can affect all the symptoms of fibromyalgia so it is imperative to find healthy responses to keep stress at bay when ever possible.

© Kathy Longley 2007

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