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5 Lessons My Dogs Have Taught Me About Living With Fibromyalgia

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One of the most positive aspects of my life with fibromyalgia is the fact that I now have two lovely dogs, which is great both from a personal and a health and exercise perspective. But I never expected to learn so much from them, which has changed my perspective on daily life with the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia.

Here are five things my dogs have taught me:

1. Move, preferably outdoors

Rain or shine, getting outdoors is the highlight of the dogs’ day. If ever they have to miss their daily walkies through injury or illness, their frustration is clear to see as canine cabin fever kicks in.

The benefits of exercise in the self-management of fibromyalgia are well documented, but walking specifically is cited by the UK National Health Service as one of the most suitable types. Having dogs has meant that I have to walk for at least 30 minutes every day, and I now enjoy my daily walks just as much as they do and always feel the benefits of being outdoors.

2. Accept who you are

Sometimes, I’m joined on walks by a friend with two springer spaniels, who couldn’t be more different in almost every way to my two shih tzus. Whilst the spaniels are tearing across fields, launching themselves into streams and performing acrobatic catches with their beloved tennis balls, my dogs are bumbling along, sniffing what seems like every blade of grass and taking in all the detail of their environment. They’re not looking on enviously at the spaniels, wishing they could be more like them — they’re too busy just doing what they do.

With any chronic illness, it can be easy to withdraw from life and waste hours wanting our old lives back. But to move forward, we need to build a different life with new goals, kick the habit of contemplating what was or what might have been and focus instead on what we can do now.

3. Be mindful

To be mindful means to be fully present as life unfolds, and dogs have this well and truly sussed, living in and savoring each moment through all of their senses. Whether it’s eating treats, playing with a favorite toy or greeting their owners as they come home; they’re focused on it.

Being out with dogs is a great way to learn firsthand about mindfulness. I try my best to immerse myself in my surroundings by using sight, touch, hearing and scents to fully experience the environment. For me, this approach helps lower anxiety levels and gives my brain something other than fibromyalgia to think about.

4. Be enthusiastic

Dogs are the most joyful of creatures and their enjoyment of, well, almost everything extends both to the routine and extraordinary facets of life. Whether it’s walkies, tea time, play time, owner coming indoors from taking out the trash time, the reaction of sheer joy and enthusiasm never wavers.

Living with fibromyalgia, we often focus on the negative — what we don’t have in our lives or what we may no longer be able to do. Evidence suggests though that we can retrain our brains to focus on the positive aspects of our lives. One of the simple ways in which we can do this is note down three positive things about our day, every day. This helps us to adopt more positive approach, celebrating the little things which often pass unnoticed and focus thoughts instead on what we do have and the good in our situation.

5. Downtime’s OK

Just as dogs need to exercise every day, downtime, too, is a daily requirement for maintaining wellbeing. Chilling on the sofa with me is an important part of my dogs’ day (and mine too!).

I’d guess that most of us have, at some point, pushed through the pain barrier for the sake of getting something done, only to find that fibromyalgia symptoms flare up afterwards and might see us laid up for days. Taking rest breaks and pacing ourselves is something we probably all know about, but can often be easier said than done. Balancing my activity levels and taking regular, planned rest breaks are something I’m still working on, but as I look over at my dogs, snoozing upside down in their beds, I might just take a leaf out of their book right now…

Follow this journey on the author’s blog

Getty image by Sladic

Originally published: March 24, 2021
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