Stress appears to be one of the main causes of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Sleep, proper nutrition, and stress management can restore your strength and energy.
After collapsing and ending up in the hospital one day, yoga instructor Lana Maree was shocked: “I believed myself to be robust, in the best of health.” Despite her healthy and active lifestyle, she had gotten to the point where she felt stressed, had no energy, and could barely make it through the day. She had been inexplicably ill on and off for months. She was suffering from chronic fatigue.
What is chronic fatigue?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is much more than just tiredness. It saps your creativity, your inner drive, and it quashes your abilities to move forward in your relationships, your career, and your life.
CFS, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is loosely classified as debilitating fatigue that persists for more than six months. It can last years, and onset is frequently sudden but can also be gradual. According to the 2010 Canadian Community Health Survey, 1.4 percent of Canadians over age 12 reported CFS. Two-thirds of CFS sufferers are women predominately between the ages of 45 and 64.
The true cause of CFS is usually a puzzle. “One of the most difficult parts is actually making the diagnosis and then looking to eliminate triggers as well,” says Kathryn Dundas, MD, the CEO and medical director of Sublime Wellness spa in Calgary. Dundas first looks to eliminate things such as Lyme disease, chlamydia, mononucleosis, Epstein-Barr virus , hormone imbalances, heavy metal toxicity, mood disorders, and thyroid or other metabolic dysfunction.
The stress culprit
A common finding is that CFS sufferers have adrenal exhaustion, which was the case for Maree. The adrenals produce the stress hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin, which are released in fight-or-flight situations preparing the body to react and evade harm.
Pervasive lifestyle stressors can lead to dysfunction of this system. Family, career, and relationships can serve as emotional stress. Exercise or physical exertion without adequate recovery and supportive nutrition are also stressors.
“We can get locked in states of fight, flight, and freeze, often from incidents long in the past, yet our body is responding as though it is occurring now,” says Dr. Shannon Patterson, a Vancouver-based chiropractor. “You can imagine how exhausting this can be.”
“This was very unusual for me,” said Maree after her collapse. “I had always been very physically active. Yet the tension in my life and the way I pushed myself at work and at home eventually stressed my adrenal system to the point of breaking.”
Are you chronically fatigued? What is your ever-exhausted body and mind telling you? Here are some healthy living strategies that are proving to be remarkably successful at helping fatigue sufferers get their steam back.
Rosalie Moscoe, a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist and stress consultant suggests a stress reduction strategy to help the body return to balance. She recommends deep breathing techniques, short walks outside, talking with friends, music, funny movies, and any activity that brings you joy, which will help relieve stress and boost your general well-being.
Patterson addresses CFS with a chiropractic technique called Network Spinal Analysis (NSA), which uses gentle contacts along the spine as well as conscious connection of breath and movement. “In NSA we use the spine and its fluidity, or lack of fluidity, as an indicator of the amount of fight, flight, or freeze (stress) response in the nervous system,” says Patterson.
“My body responded beautifully to NSA,” claims Maree. “Places that were stuck or that had closed down gently began to open. My life force and energy gradually came back to me.”
Rejuvenating sleep is mandatory yet difficult for CFS sufferers. Restful sleep between 10 pm and 2 am is thought to be when the greatest physical rejuvenation in the body occurs. CFS sufferers are encouraged to “shut it down” within two to three hours of sundown, eliminating any unnatural sources of light.
Maintaining a healthy diet is important to ensure that the body’s nutrient needs are being met. Moscoe recommends that CFS sufferers request standard blood tests from their doctors to check for deficiencies. She requests tests for nutrients such as vitamins D, C, and B12; folic acid; and zinc. “These vitamins are important to the functioning of a healthy body, and a deficiency of any of them can cause excessive fatigue,” she says.
Dr. Ivy Branin, a New York City-based naturopath, begins by supporting the adrenal glands with herbs such as ginseng, eleuthero (Siberian ginseng), licorice, schisandra, and ashwaganda. In the case of allergies, chemical sensitivities, and heavy metals, Branin uses a detoxification protocol that includes dietary changes that support liver and GI functioning, detoxing nutrients such as vitamin C and selenium, and herbs such as milk thistle and burdock. She also puts patients on a blood sugar-stabilizing diet rich in protein, antioxidants, and beneficial fats. She suggests that L-carnitine and fish oil are also important for energy and well-being.
For many CFS sufferers physical activity worsens symptoms and can increase impairment for days. A dangerous cycle of inactivity ensues. According to Dundas, CFS patients can be incredibly hard on themselves and often push their bodies too hard once they start to feel better.
Choosing appropriate low-level physical activities is important. Patterson, who is also a yoga instructor, incorporates somatic yoga into her CFS healing strategy. Somatic yoga incorporates a visualization component and involves a very slow movement into and out of postures.
Conscious breathing, mindfulness, and periods of relaxation between postures are all incorporated into a somatic yoga experience. “I have found this useful in helping people with CFS manage their symptoms by empowering a deeper connection to their body,” says Patterson.
There is no lab test or biomarker to diagnose chronic fatigue, and there is no single pill to treat it, but you can update your daily regimen with strategies to de-stress, nourish, and oxygenate so you can get back to living your best life.
The smorgasbord of symptoms associated with chronic fatigue include
- extremely low physical energy
- unfulfilling sleep
- painful and tender spots on the body
- joint pain that is not accompanied by swelling
- diminished short-term memory
- mental fog
- sore throat
- painful lymph nodes
- GI disturbances
Energizing nourishment for chronic fatigue
The following herbs and supplements may be beneficial for those with CFS:
- vitamin D
- vitamin C
- folic acid
- Siberian ginseng
- milk thistle
- essential fatty acids
Somatic yoga for rejuvenation
Chronic fatigue sufferers need to keep moving but should find activity that does not deplete energy. The elements of a somatic yoga experience are ideal for CFS sufferers and include the following:
- conscious pranayama breathing
- restorative postures such as child’s pose, savasana, legs-up-the-wall, reclining big toe, reclining hero, and reclining bound angle
- slow movement into and out of postures
- periods of relaxation between postures
- ending with guided meditation and relaxation