Daily Activities With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can affect every area of your life, right down to the most ordinary tasks of daily life. Sometimes, you might be surprised by how difficult so-called ordinary things have become for you.

Some everyday tasks that are complicated by your symptoms are so basic that they can throw a major wrench into your life. Four of these tasks are below, along with resources for alternatives or how to adjust.

woman trying to comb her knotted hair
Jennifer Boggs / Getty Images

Grooming

It's such a basic thing – you get up, shower, style your hair, and make yourself presentable before you go out into the world. Right?

For those with fibromyalgia or CFS, it's not that simple.

First, the shower:

  • It gets hot, which can make you dizzy and activate your temperature sensitivity (which in turn can lead to more symptoms).
  • The spray of the water, for many of us, is painful to the skin at any temperature, thanks to a symptom called allodynia (pain from typically non-painful stimuli).
  • Standing for that long and using your arms to vigorously scrub your hair and body can lead to tired, achy muscles.

Fortunately, there's a simple solution to this: baths. Taking a bath instead of a shower eliminates many of these problems.

Then there's styling your hair. Holding your arms up to brush, blow dry and/or flat iron your hair is hard on the arms. For the heat-sensitive, styling tools can make you feel like you're in a microwave, especially after a hot shower. In some of us, they can also trigger excessive sweating, which can undo all that hard work, and melt off your makeup, just minutes after you're done.

Wearing Clothes

Waistbands. Bra straps. Elastic in socks. Rough fabrics. Tags. These are all things that can cause a lot of pain because of allodynia. Many of us have to tailor the way we dress to avoid this symptom or to at least make it less of a problem.

Temperature sensitivity can play a big role here, too. What starts out as a cozy sweater on a cold day can become a sweltering nuisance if the heater's set too high. A cool breeze can quickly make you regret a pair of shorts and a light cotton shirt as well.

For those with both hot and cold sensitivity, deciding what to wear, and enduring the ramifications of the wrong choice, can be extremely unpleasant as you either freeze or overheat or alternate between the two.

Talking on the Phone

We don't normally think of a conversation as a strenuous mental activity, but when you have cognitive dysfunction (brain fog or fibro fog), it can become one.

All social interaction takes energy, and when you're not face-to-face, it requires even more energy.

A big part of communication is body language, and you lose that when you're on the phone. That means you have to focus more. For most people, it's not noticeable. And if you're experiencing brain fog, you might not be up to the task.

Also, when you're on the phone, you may be distracted by things in your environment that the other person is unaware of. Multi-tasking may be a problem for you, so your brain may essentially block out what the other person is saying while your attention is on something else. Then you find yourself confused as to where the conversation has gone, which can be frustrating and embarrassing.

Sometimes language impairment may make it difficult to get your point across, especially when it comes to finding the right word for things. Again, it's frustrating and embarrassing, and if you know you're having a bad day, communication-wise, it can be easy to stress over the problem and make it worse, or at the very least make the conversation unpleasant for you.

And then there's the physical aspect. Holding a phone for very long can tire your arm or your neck if you're clenching it between your jaw and shoulder.

Driving

Brain fog can be a major problem when you're behind the wheel. When this occurs, you can forget where you're going or how to get there. Even worse, you may become disoriented and not know where you are.

It's scary when this happens and can lead to an anxiety attack, which makes the situation even worse.

Some may also have trouble paying attention to the myriad of things that you need to while driving. You may not be able to process all the necessary information to be safe on the road.

Most people with fibromyalgia or CFS are able to drive. Some may have to limit their driving to familiar places, while others are okay most of the time, but choose not to drive on especially bad days. A few decide it's best for them not to drive at all. It's a personal decision, but one that we need to be aware of to protect ourselves and others.

As you evaluate your driving ability, it may help to get input from friends and family members who've ridden with you, as they may have noticed things you didn't.

A Word From Verywell

The reality of having a chronic illness is that you may need to make some changes to your daily life. By identifying the things that are difficult for you, you can modify or eliminate them so they take less of a toll on you and leave more energy for things that are a higher priority.

A key to adapting appropriately is paying close attention to your body and the patterns of your illness(es) while taking an honest look at your lifestyle.

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  1. Abbi B, Natelson BH. Is chronic fatigue syndrome the same illness as fibromyalgia: evaluating the 'single syndrome' hypothesisQJM. 2013;106(1):3–9. doi:10.1093/qjmed/hcs156

  2.  International Association for the Study of Pain. IASP terminology. Updated December 14, 2017.