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How Families Can Help

If you are a family member or friend of someone with CFS or FM, thank you for coming to this page.

We recognize that CFS and FM may have had major effects on your life. You may well have more to do now than before and your dreams for the future may have changed. So thank you, again, for considering ways you can help your loved one.

Ways to Help

Some help you might give is practical, such as taking on tasks the person with CFS or FM is no longer able to do or providing transportation to doctor appointments. Some help is emotional, offering a listening ear or some reassurance. But perhaps the biggest aid, and the one we focus on here, is supporting the person with CFS or FM in her efforts to live well with long-term illness.

The key fact about CFS and FM is that the severity of symptoms and sometimes even the course of the illness are affected by how a person lives his or her life. The effects are so great that lifestyle change is the treatment of choice for the two conditions.

As Dr. Lapp says, CFS and FM "are best managed with adaptation and lifestyle changes....There is no drug, no potion, no supplement, herb or diet that even competes with lifestyle change for the treatment of CFS or FM."

As a family member or friend of someone with CFS or FM, the way you interact with your loved one will have a significant effect on her, helping her gain control over her condition or making that goal more difficult. The discussion below describes the most important ways you can help.

The help you offer is likely to bring benefits to you as well as to your loved one. For example, if you help your loved one to pace herself, she is likely to have a much more predictable life, reducing uncertainty for herself and those around her.

She is also much more likely to be able to expand her activity level and therefore able to do more without making her symptoms worse. And if you help her get better sleep, she is likely to be less irritable and able to think more clearly.

Pacing Activity

Probably the single most important lifestyle change for controlling symptoms and increasing the likelihood of improvement is pacing, which means adjusting activity level to fit the limits imposed by illness.

In contrast to fighting the body with repeated cycles of push and crash, the person who adapts to limits seeks to understand the body's new requirements and to live within them.

With pacing, people with CFS and FM can live their llife according to a plan, rather than in response to symptoms, giving them a sense of managing their illness rather than the illness begin in control.

Learning pacing is a gradual process, usually aken a period of several years and involving the use of multiple strategies as described in the Pacing section of this site. 

Managing Stress

Stress is a challenge for everyone, but it is especially difficult for people with CFS and FM. The two conditions add new stressors and also make people more vulnerable to stress.

CFS and FM reset the physical basis of people's "stress thermostat," so that the effects of a given level of stress are greater than they would be for a healthy person, making managing stress crucial to living well with CFS and FM.

One of the best stress management strategies is preventive: avoidance of stressful situations. This can include avoiding foods and other substances which trigger allergic reactions, and also avoiding or minimizing exposure to bright light, noise and crowds.

Many people with CFS and fibro are selective about their exposure to television and movies, avoiding material that is emotionally arousing and shows with rapid scene or sound changes.

Family and friends can help the person’s stress by learning what factors create stress for their loved one and working together to find ways to reduce or avoid them.

Help may include supporting the loved one in taking rests and leading a structured life, adjusting diet to avoid allergic reactions, and limiting exposure to over-stimulating environments by visiting restaurants when they are not busy or watching a movie at home rather than going to a movie theater.

In Conclusion

How people with CFS and fibromyalgia live their lives has a big effect on their symptoms levels and quality of life. Family and friends can help by supporting their loved one’s efforts to adapt to the their condition.

Note: For ideas about how you can help in areas beyond pacing and stress, see the article How Families Can Help People with CFS or FM on the self-help program website.

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