Pacing – a pace backwards or forwards in chronic fatigue syndrome recovery?

Pacing and chronic fatigue syndrome recovery

If you or your child has been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), the chances are that a health professional has already given you some advice about pacing for chronic fatigue syndrome recovery. The NHS has information and resources about this technique online and it is also recommended by a number of organisations who provide support specifically for people suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome, ME, chronic pain, fibromyalgia and more recently Long Covid.

What is pacing?

Pacing is promoted as a way of increasing activity in a way that best matches your energy levels. It is used as a coping mechanism for people suffering with chronic pain, chronic fatigue and Long Covid and it is designed to reduce the ‘boom and bust’ cycle while encouraging people to stay active and work towards a recovery.

The boom and bust cycle happens where someone feels better and increases their activity levels, only to end up pushing themselves past their limits and for the over-exertion to make them feel worse again (see post-exertional malaise).

On the flip side of the boom and bust cycle is people who are doing much less activity – or nothing at all – because of their long term condition. This isn’t a healthy place to be either, for your physical or mental health.

Pacing is a kind ‘energy management’ system. It helps people to break daily tasks and activities down into smaller, bitesize pieces with periods of rest in between, so it’s possible to stay more active without going beyond your limits.

For young people, examples of pacing could be doing short periods of physical activity, time spent on social media or with friends, some moderate study at home or going into school for one or two lessons a week.

Does pacing work?

Pacing is a good coping mechanism and it can help young people to manage their chronic illness and strike a balance between doing nothing and doing too much. It can give a sense of control and it can help to avoid relapses, which are all positives. But it’s not a quick fix and it can be a frustrating, slow and arduous route to recovery.

Sometimes it can even set a young person’s recovery back because pacing can reinforce the stress cycle that people with CFS are already stuck in. This is because pacing requires micro-management of time and effort, including keeping a diary and recording every activity, rest period and personal progress in a day. All this responsibility in itself creates anxiety. Anxiety then creates fatigue, and the additional fatigue means more pacing!

Maintaining a pacing regime isn’t easy either and for young people especially, the lack of spontaneity can be frustrating. Life becomes monotonous, routine and boring and there’s little in the way of fun or pleasure. Remember, rest periods don’t include TV, computer games, playing on your phone or socialising with friends.

A quicker and more effective alternative strategy to pacing

Recovery programmes such as ours use the body mind connection to help children and teenagers with chronic fatigue syndrome to manage their body’s stress responses while building on the activities they can already do. This is a much more effective route to recovery as it breaks the cycle of ill-health.

By using mind-body reprogramming techniques alongside more of what young people love to do, they gather evidence which tells them they can do far more than they realised and it feels good. This builds their confidence, which is fundamental to regaining good health.

At New Pathways, our approach is different to the widely promoted ‘pacing’ technique but ultimately, we get to the same place – and faster! Increased activity, better health and wellbeing and a recovery from chronic fatigue.

Want to discover more about our quicker and more effective alternative to pacing for CFS?  Book a free call today

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