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Fibromyalgia Action UK
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Stress and Fibromyalgia

Hi all, I posted a wee while ago about the difference a holiday or even a weekend away makes to my fibro with a question: 'Is it more psychological than physical?' Got lots of interesting articles and the consensus is, rightly I think, that it is both. But for me, and perhaps for many others, the key to controlling the fibro must be to manage stress better. I can see a regular and direct correlation between stressful periods and pain, even between one very minor stressful event, e.g. a difficult conversation with a colleague at work or even a family member, and the onset of a flare up.

The following articles might be of interest to others:

Medical paper on relationship between stress and fibro:

- Argues stress may play a causal role in fibro

- Stress - threat to physical wellbeing or emotional burden - triggers our stress response in hypothalmus and amygdala (parts of brain)

- Stress affects cardiorespiratory, metabolic, reproductive, digestive and immune systems (ie pretty much every major bodily system) and 'turns them off temporarily'

- Discusses links to stress response and traumatic childhood experiences - this is not relevant to me but I gather from posts that it may be to others here. Early life stress may predispose to stress-induced illness and may lower pain threshold of individual

- Chronic (long term) stress is thought to increase pain (though more research needed)

- Inflammation and immune activation may also be stress induced

- "A substantial subgroup of FM patients seems to be characterised by problematic self-esteem and immature defence mechanisms with a tendency to anxiety, depression, and lack of emotional openness". I don't like this statement but I recognise that it may, in part, be true as I have low self-esteem and a tendency towards anxiety.

- This, it says, may lead to 'compensatory overactive lifestyles' and striving for high acheivement. Such personality factors and behavioural styles may be an important source of chronic stress. (Much as I don't like it, I believe there's some truth in that for me)

- Anxiety may perpetuate pain, muscle tension (and trigger points?), irritability, hyperventilation

And the result of all this: It's worth looking into stress avoidance, stress management, CBT etc to help. I don't have time to write more now. Must dash but will follow up with more on stress and pain

A x


13 Replies

Hi there Apple. So very true. Could really relate to what you say. Your ability to say 'I don't like to admit it but..' was refreshing. Thanks so much for the info and your words and hope you have an ok...or maybe even a brilliant day.

Warmest wishes, Lyn xxx


Hi Apple4me, Again you brought an interesting post for me. I have for the last 34 years suffered from Vitiligo, which is an immune system problem where the bodies immune system stops the skin from producing pigmentation, Which means factor 50 sun block from March to October and then a lower one the rest of the year. At least I don't burn :) It is also a great talking point for kids when they ask me why my skin has big white patches. It took me a good few years to come to terms with that problem and it looks like Fibro is another. Problem is I would rather think it was an out and out medical problem rather than a stress induced one. I am a worrier, like my mother. Food for thought again...Susan :)


I am a worrier too, and I too get it from my mother! Oh well :)


Hi Apple4me, a very interesting post, raising lots of things to think about. I know for certain that stress definitely fires things up in me. Thank you for posting this :-)

Foggy x


Hi Apple 4 me, thanks for all your interesting ideas!

I totally understand where you are coming from!!

Stress and fibromyalgia definitely do not mix!!

I try and avoid any stressful situations at all costs, such as arguments, shouting, disagreements, and any kind of upsetting remarks.

I am currently reading a book about how to handle stress, anxiety and worry ( I am not advertising it, but if anyone is interested it is called "This book will make you calm") and it really does make so much sense to me.

I also have a problem with "low self esteem" and I have another book, in the same series, to read afterwards called "This book will make you confident"

I am also a bit of a "perfectionist" and fearful of failure.

:) xxx


Ha ha. I think we are alike! Those books sound good :)


Hi there, without a shred of doubt, stress is so significant and damaging full stop. I'm sure like others I'm easily knocked out of kilter. I feel there is often a very fine line between feeling ok to feeling very anxious. I can very much relate to low self-esteem and lack of confidence, feeling very self-conscious. When I feel most uncomfortable and vulnerable mentally my default is to withdraw and avoid. Generally speaking, a combination of time passing and/or rallying round brings some relief. Stress is a pre-cursor to so many health concerns. It's impossible to separate mind from body and vice versa. We have to think holistically.


Hi Apple4me

I sincerely hope that you are feeling as well as you possibly can be today? Yes, yet again a wonderful, intellectual post, thank you.

I am the most confident and optimistic person that I know! I have had an incredible career and a wonderful family life. However, I have noticed that when I am 'one on one' with certain people I have a flare up. I do not get anxious or depressed over them, I simply feel drained by the time I have finished talking to them.

I have spent most of my adult life looking after people; my wife who has MS, my children, my sister who suffer with Downs Syndrome, a couple of very needy friends, and I have never had a flare up because of them. Of course, I now have two grandchildren and I love them to bits.

I think what I am trying to say, is that I have never noticed a flare up through doing these things, but only by who I am with at the time? Could it be I are allergic to certain people? Or too polite to certain people?

All my hopes and dreams for you

Ken x


Hi my little biscuit friend, I can really relate to certain people draining you, it even happens on the telephone. I think it comes to whether or not you can relax and be yourself, or whether you,re expected to play some sort of role, mayb as a listener (always my role!) or something else that they want from you that may be very subtle. I do my very best to avoid these people, they are sooo draining! love and best wishes xxx


Hi wildwoman

I sincerely hope that you are feeling as well as you possibly can be today? I think you are spot on! It is a certain family member who always needs a favour when I am busy, and it usually involves money! This role playing comes into effect whereby I have to save the day. It leaves me feeling exhausted and with a really bad flare up.

On a brighter note, when in the supermarket a few days ago they had my coconut cookies back in stock, so this made me very happy.

All my hopes and dreams for you.

Ken x


Hi Ken. I think you're right. It can be certain people that cause a flare up. I notice that to feel good I need to feel relaxed and unburdened. Some people are too much of a burden for me to handle. But then, I'm in a flare up right now, so everything and everyone is feeling like a burden. It's funny. People don't realise what they're asking of you.

And yes, I agree with Wildwoman too. It is especially true when I can't be myself and when I have to 'fulfill some sort of role'. That's bang on.

And I agree with Fenbadger, there's definitely a spoon theory impact here. Some people (and their problems) take more out of you than others. Some should be limited to under half an hour once per month; some once in 6 months; some once per year if absolutely necessary!

All this (self-inflicted) talk about the psychological side of FM has, to be honest, left me a little unnerved. Oh how I wish, I wish, I wish I knew how to turn the pain off. Knowing it has a psychological side does not leave me any better equipped to deal with the problem though. I wish it were that easy. Unfortunately telling myself to 'get a grip' doesn't seem to do the trick!

Been doing a bit of sobbing this afternoon, lying flat on the kitchen floor, which is a new low, even for me. On a brighter note, as you say Ken, my hysteria gave my husband a good laugh ;)

A x


Hi Apple4me

I am so sorry to read that you are experiencing such a bad flare up at the moment, and I genuinely wish there was something that I could say to help it go away!

I must admit that I have not been brilliant for a few days, I have cluster migraines and they have been building up for a few days, so spent most of Sunday in bed. I had to get help in for myself and my wife.

I think it is a real healthy approach to be able to cry and really sob out all the misery that you are feeling. Sorry, but I did giggle when you said it gave your husband a good laugh, really sorry! I think this, what we are doing discussing it all on the forum shows that counselling can be a useful tool in helping fight FMS, as it is a good release mechanism.

All my hopes and dreams for you

Ken x


Hi Apple4me

I've put that paper in my Fibro folder. It's extremely interesting. It seems to confirm and explain a lot of my beliefs.

It seems that survey and experiment will just confirm self evident truths but that's rather glib and unscientific.

I've heard loads of evidence about the effects of stress, short and long term and have seen most of the types you and the paper describe. The over achiever - or rather the over optimist is just one result. It seems clear that stress has effects on many things starting with endochrine system, making us produce chemicals necessary for survival but harmful in continuous production. It's a bit like revving a car engine for a quick getaway, ok for a few seconds but damaging when sustained for hours and ultimately shortens the engine's life. Your 3rd point is very true. It attacks endorphins which are among our natural pain controllers, and keeps us at a heightened state of alert - great and necessary in the very short term, but unhelpful when continuously sustained. We're still built as the fight or flight apes of 250 000 years ago (though maybe no longer as physically agile).

I agree that more research is needed to discover the finer details.

I think that "substantial subgroup of FM patients" is true of many other groups. Not mentioned as such, but my belief is that when dealing with stress and its results you have less energy to deal with your condition(s) or plain life in general. There's a hint of spoons coming out here. Stress and fatigue seem related, control one, you may control the other too, and reduce both and you get a bit more life back.

I'd be interested in what further you have to say. Must dash also. I have a date with my daughter's new car. :)


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