While the cause of fibromyalgia isn’t 100 percent clear, a few risk factors have been identified. One major risk factor is mental health. Research has noted that chronic stress, depression, anxiety disorders, and panic disorders can all increase the risk of fibromyalgia, according to the American College of Rheumatology.
“It’s important to control stress,” says Anita Gupta, DO, PharmD, pain specialist. “When you have stress and fibromyalgia, it can also significantly affect your ability to function.”
People with fibromyalgia may be able to reduce their painful fibro symptoms and improve their quality of life by prioritizing stress management. Here’s what doctors recommend:
1. Work with a psychologist.
“If you have stressors in life, consult a psychologist,” says Dr. Gupta. “They can help you cope with those stressors.” Find out what to expect at your first therapy appointment here.
One of the most effective styles of therapy for fibromyalgia (and many other conditions) is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This type of therapy is a style of psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” that identifies unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting, and attempts to rewire them through mindfulness and healthy coping. (Here are life lessons everyone can learn from CBT.)
CBT “has been particularly effective for fibromyalgia and exacerbations of pain, coping with pain, coping with stress, and also the symptoms related to fibromyalgia,” says Dr. Gupta.
2. Find a social network.
A supportive circle of friends and family can be a significant buffer against stress. “Sometimes, friends, family, or individuals around you can help talk through some of the problems that you have,” says Dr. Gupta. Plus, socializing is simply good for mental health.
If you don’t have that support from family and friends, consult a psychologist, who can direct you toward support groups and other networks.
3. Follow stress-reducing lifestyle habits.
Unfortunately, people often make poor health decisions under stress, like ignoring good nutrition and exercise and isolating themselves. These habits can worsen your stress—and thus worsen your fibromyalgia.
Although it’s not easy to stick to healthy habits when you’re stressed, it often pays off. Healthy, balanced meals and adequate physical activity can help you feel your best and naturally fight stress levels.
4. Consult your doctor.
“If you’re unsure about your stressors in life and not clear on whether or not these are affecting your symptoms of fibromyalgia, it’s important to discuss that with your doctor,” says Dr. Gupta. “These stressors can increase the amount of flares that you have, and you want to avoid them as much as possible.”
Your doctor can also make sure your treatment regimen for fibromyalgia is also working effectively. “By dealing with the disease itself, you can minimize your stress and hopefully, your stress will also go down, too,” says Dr. Gupta.