One very valuable strategy for coping with chronic illness is pacing. Inherent in this concept are the ideas of taking things slowly, focusing on one thing at a time, stopping for rest breaks, creating routines and prioritizing tasks and activities.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? Well that is what I thought too when I was first introduced to the idea of pacing as a self-help strategy for living with chronic pain and fatigue.
Then that I discovered this motto at the FlyLady website : You Can Do Anything for 15 Minutes.
Inspired by this motto, I began by limiting activities to 15 minute periods by using a timer to track the time. Once the timer went off, I stopped and rested for 15 minutes. Then I asked myself, 'Can I go another 15 minutes?'
Initially I learned that I wasn't honoring the limits chronic illness put on my body. Making myself stop and rest after 15 minutes really got me in touch with how my body was reacting to certain activities. This lead me to discover which things I could do for longer than 15 minutes, which things needed to be stopped after 15 minutes and which things needed even smaller work periods--like 2, 5 or 10 minutes.
Now that I have been employing this strategy for several years, I find this strategy much easier to implement. I am constantly refining my knowledge of my body's tolerance for certain activities. I now know how long I can do certain things, like cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, and when I am on the verge of getting myself into trouble with increased symptoms.
I also know that when I am experiencing higher symptoms levels I need to be more diligent about limiting how long I engage in activities, in addition to adding in more rest periods during the day.
That said, my recent recovery from carpal tunnel surgery forced me to go back to a stricter approach to pacing. I needed to slowly ease my hand back into activities after the trauma of surgery. So I set a goal to work up to 15 minutes of continuous activity with my right hand. Being right-handed, this was a real challenge, especially since I was naturally tempted to try and do everything with my right hand by default.
With surgery scheduled for my left hand in about three weeks, I am going to need to continue pacing myself more diligently.
Compared to when I was healthy, my ability to do things is still markedly reduce because of chronic illness. But I am getting more done today compared to when I was pushing myself too hard and then paying for it with flare-ups. Pacing has really helped me enjoy a more consistent energy level throughout each day as well as over time. Plus when I spend less time dealing with flare-ups, I have more time to get things done.
For me, focusing on doing things for 15 minutes at a time proved to be the simplest way to pace myself. Today I am living my best life despite chronic illness because I focus on living my life 15 minutes at a time.