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Living with a chronic illness can make you feel angry, frustrated, down and even depressed. You will probably need some time to adjust to living with fibromyalgia. Know that you are not alone: fibromyalgia affects up to six percent of the population. Know too that many people with fibromyalgia lead rich and fulfilling lives.

Be patient. As you learn what goals are realistic for you and as you experiment with different treatment strategies, you will likely start to feel better.

Coping strategies are critical for people with fibromyalgia, as they usually feel as if their lives have been turned upside down. If you have fibromyalgia, you may have lost your ability to work, participate in physical activities and socialize, as you did in the past. Some people with fibromyalgia start to berate themselves for "not doing enough," which can lead to over-activity and "crashing." Developing coping skills and getting emotional support are, therefore, a crucial part of healing.

In addition to medications and physical therapies, relaxing regularly and limiting or weeding out your stress can help relieve your pain, as our minds and bodies are intricately connected.

You may want to try different relaxation techniques: deep breathing exercises, meditation, visualization techniques, progressive relaxation and biofeedback. As little as 20 minutes of relaxation a day can have health benefits, including reduced anxiety and an increased sense of well-being. Relaxation is particularly important after a period of activity (physical or mental), when you are feeling stressed, and before bedtime, to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Choose a place in your house that will be your “relaxation space,” preferably a place where you can be alone, uninterrupted, for at least 10 minutes at a time. You may need to let your family know that this is a time when you want to be left alone.

Lie down on your bed or a comfortable couch and close your eyes. Take a few slow, deep breaths to settle in. Tell yourself that this is your time. When you feel settled, as you breathe in through your nose, say “re” silently to yourself, and then say "lax" as you exhale through your mouth.

An option is to also count to four as you inhale through your nose, pause, and then breathe out through your mouth for a count of four. It doesn’t matter how high you count, as long as you don’t force your breath. Try to do this for 10 minutes twice a day.

This breathing exercise can also be done at any time of day, for a few minutes, when you start to feel stressed. For example, if you are working and start to feel anxious, feel a headache coming on or a stiff neck, take a couple of minutes to do this relaxation exercise before you continue with your work. Do this as soon as you recognize your particular symptoms of stress. The earlier that you can break the stress-fatigue cycle with a relaxation technique, the better.

You can also do this simple exercise after you get into bed to help you fall asleep. It will help reduce worries that are interfering with your sleep. If you wake during the night with your mind racing, this exercise is also useful. As soon as you notice your thoughts returning to the "problem," go back to your "re-lax" phrase and try to simply focus on your breath and the present moment, to still your mind and feel calmer.

Some people with fibromyalgia feel depressed as a result of their illness and the many lifestyle changes and restrictions that they may have had to cope with, such as being unable to participate in the activities they once enjoyed, as well as possible job, financial or relationship problems. If you have fibromyalgia and think that you may be depressed, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to refer you to a counsellor or support group.

Many people with fibromyalgia experience anxiety. Relaxation techniques, pacing yourself and developing an attitude that can accommodate your situation will help. However, some individuals require medication to alleviate their anxiety or panic attacks.

Stress management tools may also help you deal with the depression and anxiety that can accompany chronic illness.

Social Support

Isolation can be one of the most difficult aspects of having fibromyalgia. Your friends, family and colleagues may not understand your pain and other symptoms, or what you are going through. Your sense of isolation may be compounded by health professionals who do not see your illness as “real” and may not be supportive.

The first step in helping others to understand your condition is to educate yourself, and then educate them. Explain how you’re feeling and be clear about what your limits are – what you can and cannot do at this time.

Many women find that joining a support group, to connect with others who have fibromyalgia, is helpful. Belonging to a community of people who understand and care can provide you with emotional support as well as useful information. You may want to include family and friends in the process and encourage them to air their feelings in a support group setting or with a counsellor. Network with others who support you, through brief telephone calls or emails.

Spiritual Support

Anyone experiencing a chronic illness needs time to grieve the loss of their former life.

Some women find that engaging in activities that cultivate their spiritual growth, such as prayer, yoga, religious services or meditation, is helpful.

Learning More About Your Condition

The more you learn about your condition and the more active you are in your own treatment, the more of a sense of control you will have.

Organizations such as the Arthritis Society and the National ME/FM Action Network offer a wealth of information and information about local support groups where you can learn more and share with others who are living with fibromyalgia.

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