Helping you recover: rest and relaxation
Getting some good quality rest and relaxation is an essential part of the recovery programme for chronic fatigue and promotes a healthy lifestyle.
Making time in the day to take a break from activities helps your body to recover physically, and gives your brain space to simmer down and think more clearly.
Some people find it hard to take time out to rest or feel guilty if they’re not doing something ‘useful’. Thoughts like this can actually make chronic fatigue last longer, so it’s important to see rest as a key part of getting better and staying well.
Rest is important, but we know that lots of rest, and cutting out your usual activities causes lethargy and reduces motivation, so people feel like doing less and less. This cycle plays a part in low mood and can cause anxiety about doing activities, going out or socialising. If you experience fatigue you probably feel you need to rest more –it can be hard to get the right balance.
Your therapist can show you different ways of resting, and how to fit the breaks into your day in a way that’s right for you.
Taking regular breaks forms part of your pacing programme, along with setting your bed and wake times, mealtimes and other activities. For young people we recommend around 20 minutes for a break, three or four times a day. After a meal is usually a good time, or after a busy part of the day – perhaps when you get home from school.
Good resting is about:
- setting aside regular times and planning your day around them
- having a place to rest that is quiet, warm and comfortable. You could customise it for resting by using a special throw or putting on gentle lighting
- switching off your phone and letting people know not to disturb you.
- not watching TV or computer screens
- being in a comfortable position laying down or gently propped up on cushions
- knowing ways of relaxing that work for you.
Ideas for good resting
When people feel stressed or worried their breathing tends to be quick and shallow, and only uses the top part of their chest.
This is called hyperventilation, and can cause dizziness, pins and needles, fast heart rate and chest pains. It makes people feel alert and vigilant because it’s part of the body’s natural stress response (the “flight or fight”), but it’s not helpful if it becomes a habit. It requires excess energy to sustain and can lead to feeling agitated, or uptight, which then makes it very hard to relax.
Learning to breathe more deeply is an important part of being able to rest and relax effectively. It helps you to switch from a state of activity and alertness to feeling calm and able to switch off (“rest and digest”).
Understanding your breathing
Put one hand on the top of your chest and the other on your tummy. Which hand is moving up and down the most when you breathe?
Try breathing in slowly through your nose and into the bottom of your lungs – you should feel your tummy rising while your chest only moves slightly.
When you take a breath in, pause for a few seconds and then breathe out slowly, gently pushing out all the air. Repeat this 10 times, going at your own pace.
Keep focused on your breathing, just thinking about how it feels as the air moves in and out of your body. Does breathing like this make you feel any different?
How to use breathing to help you relax
The chronic fatigue team uses Mindfulness to help people in their recovery. Mindful awareness has been shown to help people both physically and emotionally – and a focus on the breath is a key part of the approach. Ask your therapist for more information and to borrow a CD or book.
When you have found a comfortable position and started good breathing, think of a restful place you have been (or make one up) that you really enjoyed. It could be a warm, sunny beach, in a forest or a lovely garden.
Imagine walking along, thinking about what you can hear, see and smell, and what the ground feels like under your feet. Imagine laying down and listening to the sea, or the birds.
If you notice that your thoughts have drifted off to something else, just think about your breathing – following your breath in and out – and return to your scene again.
When you want to finish, imagine you are getting up and slowly walking out of the special place still thinking about the sounds and smells as you go.
3. Body scan
Once you are lying comfortably and breathing calmly, close your eyes and think about your feet. Imagine how they look ask yourself how they feel. Spend a few moments really focusing on them. You could imagine that as you breathe in, the muscles and bones in your feet are being soothed by fresh, clean air and then, as you breathe out, you breathe away all the aches and pains and tension.
Gradually move up your body to include your ankles, shins, knees, thighs, hips, tummy, back, chest, shoulders, arms and hands, neck, head and face.
As you breathe out imagine that your body is getting heavier and sinking lower into the bed or chair.
When you are ready to finish, focus on the noises you can hear in the room around you and then move gently as you open your eyes.
4. Using your senses
Each one of us has favourite senses to help us relax. You might not be aware what works best for you, and you probably choose things automatically without thinking about it. Knowing which senses you find calming can make resting easier and more effective.