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Key 4: Nurture Yourself with Pre-Emptive Rest

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(From the series Ten Keys to Successful Coping: 2001)

By Bruce Campbell

I believe that daily scheduled rests, taken no matter how good I felt, were perhaps the single most helpful strategy I used in my recovery. I was amazed at what a difference short morning and afternoon rests made to stabilizing my life, increasing my stamina and reducing my symptom level.

Resting everyday according to a fixed schedule, not just when I felt sick or tired, was one part of a shift from living in response to symptoms to living a planned life. Before I discovered scheduled rest, I often experienced the cycle of push and crash, swinging from too much activity to periods of rest and back.

I would be more active than my body could tolerate, experience intense symptoms and then use rest to recover. Resting worked. It was an effective strategy for recovering from periods of doing too much.

When I first heard of the idea of scheduled rest, I resisted it. It was hard to accept the idea that I would lie down voluntarily, because I thought of rest as a victory for the illness. It was also hard to accept idea that I should rest regardless of how good I felt. But I decided to try lying down briefly every afternoon.

And I was surprised to find that even 15 minutes seemed to help, reducing my symptoms and making my life more stable. After a while I added a morning rest as well.

Over time, I came to believe that these 15-minute periods of recharging my batteries were the most important thing I did to aid my recovery. I think they became even more effective after I started doing a relaxation practice technique at the same time.

So, through experimenting I found that rest could be used for more than recovering from doing too much. It could be employed as a preventive measure as well. In the terms suggested by one of the students in our class, I learned the difference between recuperative resting and pre-emptive resting.

Rest = Lying Down, Eyes Closed

Before discussing how you might use planned periods of rest, let me explain what I mean by the term "rest." In our program, rest means lying down with your eyes closed in a quiet place.

We do not consider such things as watching TV or reading to be rest. We view them as activities. They may require less energy than housework, errands, or paid work, but they are activities nonetheless. To get the full benefit of rest, you should lie down in a quiet place with your eyes closed.

Here's what one student said about rest after taking the course: "Watching TV, talking on the phone, or talking with my family...I learned that these things could actually be quite tiring, even if I was lying down. Resting with eyes closed is completely different, and I found very helpful. Before the course, I only thought I was resting; now I know that rest means lying down with my eyes closed (without television or the telephone)."

Scheduled Rests

Pre-emptive rest means resting according to a planned schedule rather than in reaction to symptoms. This type of rest is done as part of a regular routine, a time you set aside to nurture yourself.

You will gain maximum benefit if you are consistent, making rest a part of your daily routine regardless of how you feel. It can be tempting to skip the rest when you are feeling good. At such times, it may be helpful to remind yourself that by resting now you are avoiding symptoms in the future.

Scheduled rests have been one of the most frequently used strategies among people who have taken our course. Most people take one or two rest breaks a day of 15 minutes to half an hour. They report having more energy with lower symptom levels, and an increased sense of control.

Resting the Mind

When you begin using pre-emptive rests, you may discover that your mind is pre-occupied with worries. Lying down may not feel restful if your mind is full of anxiety. A solution is to use a relaxation technique or meditation practice during your rest. (For some specific procedures, see the articles in the Stress Management archive.)

Most people who have done this have found that combining mental with physical relaxation deepens the restorative power of rest.

Frequent Short Rests

You may want to experiment to see what works best in your unique situation. A woman in one of our classes found she tired very easily. It was as if her batteries ran down very quickly and needed frequent recharging.

So she decided to take several daily pre-emptive rests, rather than one or two. She was able to reduce her total rest time dramatically by this strategy.

At the beginning of the course, she was sleeping nine hours at night and resting six hours during the day in two naps of three hours each. She decided to break up her day into one- and two-hour blocks, and to take a 10 to 15 minute rest during each block.

By doing so, she reduced her total rest time by an hour and a half over a period of two months, and after six months had cut her rest time down to three hours a day. By resting in small blocks, she added three hours of activity to her day.

We call this woman's approach being your own ME/CFS or fibromyalgia scientist. By that I mean that we can learn much by having an experimental attitude toward our illness. We can study our illness to generate ideas or hypotheses about what might help. Then we try a new strategy and observe the results.

Scheduled rests are a useful part of pacing, a strategy of gaining control over chronic illness by living according to a plan rather than in response to symptoms.