Dealing With Stress in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Stress is the enemy when you have fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Most people with these illnesses agree that stress makes symptoms worse, sometimes even triggering debilitating flares.

Some doctors believe that FMS and ME/CFS may be the result of chronic stress, or that stress contributes significantly to their onset. Research suggests there may be dysregulation of the body's stress systems (HPA axis) and abnormal levels of the stress hormone cortisol. With these syndromes, people are especially likely to deal with the overlapping conditions of anxiety and depression, which can be triggered or worsened by stress.

It's not possible to get rid of all the stress in your life, but you can cut down on your stress levels and learn to deal better with the stress you can't eliminate. Managing the stress in your life may help you alleviate symptoms and avoid debilitating flares. Because these illnesses tend to attract skepticism and unwanted advice, and also can damage relationships, you may benefit from learning more about dealing with people and relationships.

Mother cleaning floor with daughter while holding baby at home
Maskot / Getty Images

Stress Basics

You may not always realize it when you're feeling stressed. You need to learn to recognize the symptoms of stress before you can manage it. These vary from person to person, but some common ones include headaches, frequent colds, sleep problems, lowered libido. low energy, upset stomach, aches and pains, and rapid heartbeat.

If you're looking at things with a distorted view, called cognitive distortion, it could be creating more stress in your life. Common forms of cognitive distortion include all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, focusing on the negative, discounting the positive, and emotional reasoning. These can be addressed with cognitive therapy.

Health Effects of Stress

Stress can do a lot more than elevating your FMS or ME/CFS symptoms. Knowing the vast effects stress can have on your health can provide extra motivation for better stress management. Stress has been implicated in conditions such as depression, diabetes, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, and more.

Coping With Stress

Dealing with stress takes more than simply saying, "I'm not going to worry about it anymore." Find new ways to manage the stress in your life. Effective time management can help alleviate stress.

When money is tight, stress is generally high. When you have FMS or ME/CFS, the cost of treatments or lost wages (if you can't work as you used to) can contribute to serious financial problems. You may need to find ways to address money stress and dealing with a financial crisis.

Stress and Relationships

Relationships are rarely without any conflict, and chronic illness can cause a whole new set of problems. Learn how to better deal with conflict, avoid conflict, and deal with difficult people.

Sometimes, it's best to end a stressful relationship, although that brings its own kind of stress. You may also have to learn to cope with loneliness, which can be part of living with a chronic illness.

Being a parent is never easy, and it can be especially difficult when you have a chronic illness. Parenting stress can contribute to depression.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Powell DJ, Liossi C, Moss-Morris R, Schlotz W. Unstimulated cortisol secretory activity in everyday life and its relationship with fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome: A systematic review and subset meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013;38(11):2405-2422. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.07.004

  2. Gracely RH, Ceko M, Bushnell MC. Fibromyalgia and depression. Pain Res Treat. 2011;2012:e486590. doi:10.1155/2012/486590

  3. Özdel K, Taymur I, Guriz SO, Tulaci RG, Kuru E, Turkcapar MH. Measuring cognitive errors using the cognitive distortions scale (CDS): psychometric properties in clinical and non-clinical samples. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(8):e105956. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0105956

  4. National Institute of Mental Health. 5 Things you should know about stress.

Additional Reading

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.