Getting to know your symptoms
Before you can create an effective treatment plan for chronic fatigue, it is important to know and understand what triggers your symptoms and what keeps them going. This could include things like activities or thoughts that work against you. When you are aware of the factors that influence your symptoms, you can take action to change them. However, no two people with chronic fatigue are exactly the same. Getting to know your symptoms requires personal insight and observation. For treatment to be effective, it must be matched specifically to your needs.
Before trying to make changes in your life, it can be helpful to simply monitor your chronic fatigue symptoms. Getting to know your symptoms is an important part of recovering from them. By observing your symptoms, you can start to identify patterns in how they show up. Perhaps they happen more after certain events or activities. Observation also allows you to find out what makes your symptoms worse. For example, you may notice that too much sleep or inactivity actually makes you feel worse or that certain emotions are linked to your physical pain.
Getting to know your symptoms also involves understanding how you respond to them. In other words, what you do to cope. Some people avoid situations and withdraw completely in an attempt to minimise their symptoms, whereas others will try to ignore their symptoms and push on until they crash. Some coping strategies are more helpful than others, and strategies that help one person may make things worse for another. As such, you need to observe your own experience to find what works for you.
Once you know your symptoms, you can identify areas for improvement. These areas will form the basis of your treatment plan and guide your next steps. For example, once Rachel identified that her concentration was consistently worse in the afternoon, she learned to schedule important tasks in the morning and leave her afternoons for rest. To understand your chronic fatigue better and get to know your symptoms, you can do what is called ‘self-monitoring’. Self-monitoring involves observing and recording your symptoms and the events surrounding them on a daily basis.
Once you have enough data (one to two weeks minimum), you can begin to analyse your findings and draw conclusions. It is important to write your self-monitoring information down as soon as you observe it, so that you don’t forget things. We will introduce you to a template for recording your self-monitoring data in the sections below. The types of things you’ll need to monitor include:
- Your symptoms (where, when and how they occur)
- Your activity levels (what and how much you do each day)
- Your thoughts and feelings, including body sensations
Observing the above allows you to collect the necessary information to guide your next steps. It also creates a detailed picture that forms your baseline, or starting point, for recovery. As you progress through this course, and perhaps also explore other treatment options, you can compare your symptoms over time to assess your progress. People are often not great at accurately remembering what their symptoms were like in the past. Therefore, having a record can help you avoid bias and give you the motivation you need to keep going.