Mornings are tough when you live with fibromyalgia. If you’re like me, you wake up stiff and tired, and shuffle out of bed. I usually sit in a stupor, drinking tea, eating breakfast and watching tv. I’ve learned that it’s what I do next that determines how the rest of my day will go. Here are the top three things I do to keep my fibro symptoms under control.
- Eat super seeds for breakfast. (And no, I don’t mean bird food!)
Seeds may be small, but they’re still super! Seeds like chia, flax and hemp hearts (hemp seeds with the hull removed) contain several key fibromyalgia-fighting nutrients. I usually add 2 tablespoons of seeds to my morning oatmeal or smoothie. Of course, it’s still important to have a balanced breakfast, with protein, healthy carbs and fiber. All three seeds are rich in antioxidants, which are critical for people living with fibromyalgia, because we have high rates of oxidative stress caused by tissue-damaging free radicals (read more about the importance of anti-oxidants to fibromyalgia here). Chia and flax both contain a plant based source of omega-3, which is anti-inflammatory (although it’s important to note that omega-3 from fish oil is more potent overall).
Two tablespoons of hemp seeds provide 50% of your daily recommended allowance of magnesium (chia comes in at 18% and flax at 14%). Magnesium has been demonstrated in several studies to reduce fibromyalgia symptoms, and is important for nerve and muscle health. Chia, flax and hemp seeds are also rich in essential minerals like manganese, phosphorus and iron. Chia is a great source of calcium. Did you know that women living with fibromyalgia have low levels of these minerals? All three seeds also contain fiber, which can be helpful if you suffer from digestive symptoms or IBS, and is good for your overall gut health.
Every morning I spend about half an hour doing a full body stretching routine. Stretching is probably the single most important management tool I have for my pain. I use a combination of stretches recommended by my physiotherapist, gentle yoga poses (like a child’s pose) and basic stretches I learned in gym class. A recent review of research into the effects of stretching on fibromyalgia treatment found significant improvements in pain and quality of life . According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching improves flexibility, range of motion and increases blood flow to the area. It’s usually recommended that stretches should be held for at least 30 seconds. My physiotherapist suggested that, if I found this too painful, I should hold for 5 seconds, gently release, and repeat six times. She said that gentle rhythmic movements are sometimes easier for our sensitive nervous systems to handle. You may find it necessary to warm up before stretching by walking around your home several times and/or taking a hot shower. Here is a basic list of stretches:
Cat and cow yoga pose 5 x
Knees to chest (on back)
Keyhole piriformis stretch (ankle to opposite knee and pull) each side
Stretches for neck and shoulder pain
Forward head tilt
Ear to shoulder tilt both sides
“Eagle arm” upper back stretch
Early on after my diagnosis my pain specialist recommended that I take a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course for pain management. This is one of the best things I’ve done for my sanity and well-being! There is a growing body of evidence that shows mindfulness meditation helps to reduce pain, anxiety and depression (read more about mindfulness and fibromyalgia here). “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer of mindfulness in medicine. Being mindful means intentionally being present with your breath, thoughts, feelings and sensations. Inevitably, your mind will become distracted by worries, memories, or plans. This is an opportunity to begin again, by gently guiding your awareness back to the present moment. You can practice mindfulness through breath meditation, body scans, mindful eating, or mindful movement like yoga or Tai Chi all of which, will in turn help you practice mindful touch (find a list of free guided practices in the references). I use the Insight Timer app on my phone to do an 8 minutes self-guided breathing meditation or listen to a guided meditation most weekday mornings.
 William, M. and Penman, D. (2012). Mindfulness, NY: Rodale. p.6.