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Stress Avoidance

Stress avoidance, the second category of stress managment strategies, is preventive. It involves using self-observation to identify stressful situations and then taking measures to avoid them. The goal is to minimize stress by avoiding stressful situations.

The main ways people with CFS and FM prevent stress are by avoiding stress triggers, and by using pacing, order, and routine.

Avoiding Stress Triggers

There are three types of stress triggers: substances that create allergic reactions, situations that produce sensory overload, and certain people.

You can reduce symptoms by avoiding foods and other substances to which you are allergic or sensitive, minimizing situations that create sensory overload, and limiting contact with anxious, negative or overly-demanding people.. 

If you are particularly sensitive to light, noise or crowds, or experience sensory overload in other ways, avoiding those situations can help you control symptoms. For example, you may socialize mostly at home or in small groups, limit you time shopping or visit restaurangs only during "off hours." Wearing sunglasses and earplugs also reduces sensory input.,

Also, many people with CFS and FM are selective about their exposure to television and movies, avoiding material that is emotionally arousing or has rapid scene changes.

Some people with CFS or FM experience high levels of stress when they interact with people who are anxious negative or demanding. Responses they have made include talking with the person, limiting contact, getting professional help, and ending the relationship.

One person said, "I have cut people out of my life that only irritate or don't support me. It was a hard thing to do but has made a big difference in how I feel."


Pacing strategies lessen stress. For example, reducing activity level, scheduling activity based on priorities, having short activity periods, scheduling important tasks for your best time of day, taking scheduled rests, and taking time for meditation or prayer all help control stress.

As one person wrote, "I found I could avoid much stress by knowing my limits. Planning too many activities in one day or scheduling them too close together are big stress triggers, so I try to prevent their activation by liming the number of activities in a day and by giving myself plenty of time between activities."


Another way to reduce stress is through routine. Doing things in familiar ways and living your life according to a schedule reduces stress by lessening decision making and increasing predictability. It takes more energy to respond to a new situation than it does to something familiar, so by reducing the surprises and novelty in life, you reduce your stress. 

In the words of one person, "Having a daily schedule of activity, rest, exercise, and socializing at set times gave structure to my life. With routine, I had less pressure and fewer surprises and emotional shocks." Another said, "My life was one big roller coaster [but] now I live by a schedule. Routine may sound boring, but it's a must for me."



A final area for stress avoidance is order. Living in a well-organized environment reduces stress in two ways. First, you avoid rhe stress of having to hunt for things. If you always put your keys in your purse, you know where to find them.

Second, an orderly environment reduces the emotional distress and the social isolation that can be triggered by a cluttered house that leads some people to feel embarrassed about having guests.

In her article Illness and Housekeeping, Nancy Fortner describes a series of small practical steps she took to bring order to her house. She says "I have learned how to keep a clean and orderly house, and it has made a big difference to my life and to how I feel about myself."

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