6 Ways I Cope With Work Stress as Someone With Fibromyalgia


I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to be someone who can be relied on. Last year I moved departments at work, to one with more responsibility and, arguably, more stress. There’s a lot more on my shoulders, and this has resulted in having to stay late, or take work home, and go on training courses. I also have to make the six- or seven-hour round trip to our other depot in Wiltshire a few times a year.

Everyone struggles with work stress at some point in their lives, but living with a chronic illness means that any extra stress can cause a flare in my symptoms. Before our last audit, I became so stressed with the workload, I ended up with excruciating pain in my back, and I began to have migraines. This was a sharp shock, and a reminder that I have to put my health first. That’s not to say I can’t be stressed out, but just like everyone else, I have to find ways to deal with it so I don’t jeopardize my health.

I’m preparing to travel down to our other depot for another audit this week, so I’m having to think carefully about what needs doing, and plan accordingly. I’m hopeful I can take steps to mitigate any negative impact on my health.

1. Write a list

I’m a lover of lists, and I’m meticulous at ticking them off. I use the Amazon Alexa app and the Echo to add things to my to-do list, whether it’s work-related or things I need to pack in preparation for a trip. Using such methods really helps if you struggle with fibro fog, and often forget to even make the list in the first place, let alone tick them off. I just say “Alexa, add ‘get petrol’ to my to-do list,” and it’s done. I also use Alexa to set reminders.

2. Prepare

I’m not a fan of doing anything last-minute, but I do have to be careful that I don’t set my OCD off by constantly checking and rechecking everything. I need to prepare what I can in advance, and not force myself to do everything at the very last minute. When it comes to traveling, whether for work or pleasure, I slowly tick off my to-do list over the week before I go. I wash my clothes, pack what I can, put petrol in the car, pick up food and just do anything I can in advance. At work, I have a daily to-do list, as well as a bigger list of longer-term tasks.

3. Cheat

It’s not really cheating, but I will always try to find better coping methods around my chronic illness. Fibromyalgia will try to cause me to stumble at every turn, but there are aids that can help. For example, rather than risk forgetting to pack my medication, I bought a pill box, which allows me to safely pop in all the medication I need, and put it in my suitcase straight away. Otherwise, fibro fog might cause me to forget to pack it the night before I leave. I also use Alexa, Medsmart or my phone to set reminders to take my medication each night, and vitamins in the morning.

4. Check

Part of my OCD means I need to continuously check things. Do I have my keys, my purse, a drink? Am I sure? But sometimes, checking is necessary. Before any long drive, I like to get my local mechanic to give my car a once-over. This calms the OCD voice inside my head somewhat, and is also an important safety step. One technique used in meditation is noting, which is, at its most basic, a scan through the body to check how its feeling. This is particularly important to do during times of stress, as you may not realize just how much the stress is affecting you until you begin to flare up. Attempting to catch it before it gets really bad is one way I try to mitigate the effect on my body.

5. Stick to routine

As much as is possible, I’ll always try to attend a Pilates class or get a sports massage before I undertake any journey. It’s also important to stick to these appointments during a time of high stress, even if what I really want to do is go home and curl up on the sofa. Sometimes my pain or fatigue levels are too high, but I do try to get to class as much as possible, in order to spend 50 minutes relaxing, stretching and breathing. Forgetting about everything for a short while can do wonders for stress levels, and even make me more focused afterwards.

6. Accept

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and so this is an important step to take. With the best will in the world, something can always go wrong. Sometimes I have to pause and remember that I can only do what I can do, and sometimes the universe has other plans for us.

Living with fibromyalgia can make life more difficult than it needs to be. Some of the common symptoms – pain and fatigue – can make day-to-day life hard enough, so when you’re dealing with stress at work on top, it can be overwhelming. The above does tend to help me, either individually or as a collective list. I’d be interested in what others use as aids to help them deal with their chronic illness, when they have to deal with everyday life on top.

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