Importance of pacing when Living with a Chronic Illness

When you are living with a chronic illness, such as ME, long covid or long-term pain, it is important to finding a way to pace yourself. You need to find a balance between living your life to the full, and the challenges you experience with chronic illness

Majority of people who have chronic illnesses tend to try to do everything that they used to do before their illness. This leaves them burnout, and unable to move for a few days after. They are left frustrated and feel their life must stop. It is essential to accept what you can and cannot do and find a way of pacing yourself, so that you can adjust to your new lifestyle. Balance is key and this is where pacing is important.

What is Pacing?

Pacing is a journey of managing your chronic illnesses at a pace that suits you. It’s a crucial skill to master. You need to find the art of finding balance and rhythm in your life, with the primary goal of avoiding the notorious “boom-bust cycle.” This cycle often plagues individuals with chronic conditions, where they experience bursts of energy and enthusiasm (the “boom”) only to be followed by a sharp drop in energy and health (the “bust”).

Pacing involves recognising one’s limits and understanding their unique capacity for physical, mental, and emotional tasks. It’s about listening to your body and acknowledging that pushing too hard on good days can lead to setbacks on not-so-good days. Pacing doesn’t mean giving up. Pacing means taking control and making informed choices to preserve your well-being in the long run.

There are three approaches to pacing:

  1. Spoon Theory: allocate a metaphorical number of “spoons” to various activities on the energy you require. By carefully managing and distributing these spoons throughout the day, week, or month, helping you achieve a more stable and sustainable rhythm in their lives.
  2. Timing Tasks: Involves categorising activities based on the time it takes you to complete rather than their energy demands. By timing tasks and paying close attention to how you feel before, during, and after each activity, you can identify your own ‘pacing time’ – the duration that’s manageable for a specific task.
  3. Gradual Progression: is a strategic approach in pacing that entails starting with a minimal workload and incrementally increasing it over time. This method allows individuals to discover their sustainable limits without pushing themselves to exhaustion. By patiently building up their capacity for various tasks, individuals can maintain a more stable and controlled energy level, avoiding the boom-bust cycle often associated with chronic illnesses or health challenges.

Devise a timetable

Devising a pacing timetable can help you as well. This is a practical tool that assists you in finding a balance in your daily lives. It involves categorising tasks into three main categories: enjoyable, routine, and necessary, while also considering the energy levels required, often graded as easy, medium, or hard. By distributing these tasks across the week, mixing the types and energy levels, you can create a structured plan that ensures you don’t exhaust yourself. Regular self-assessment and adjustments allow for flexibility, enabling you to accommodate your own unique needs, health conditions, and energy fluctuations. This framework will allow you to maintain a consistent and sustainable routine, that prevents energy depletion and helps you build a better quality of life.

Top Tips:

  1. Take it slowly – don’t rush the pacing process.
  2. Tell those close to you your pacing strategy so they can support you.
  3. Pacing is about finding life balance so you can continue to enjoy life.
  4. Be mindful of your thought processes and narratives. Be rational in your thinking.
  5. Be kind to yourself.

Do not forget pacing is a proactive way to maintaining well-being and looking after yourself.  It allows for periods of rest and recuperation without guilt, and ultimately, it’s a path to living life to the fullest within your new unique needs and health circumstances.

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