Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also referred to as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), affects approximately 250,000 people in the UK, with a higher prevalence among women according to the National Institute for Care and Excellence. The persistent fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep can carry on for years and decades and has devastating impact on the quality of life of people affected by it.
Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS):
CFS is a complex and multifactorial condition with no single cause. It’s believed to result from a combination of biological, genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. While the exact mechanisms underlying CFS remain poorly understood, several potential contributors have been identified and are listed in the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention :
- Viral infections such as Epstein-Barr virus or bacterial infections such as pneumonia. Studies also show high prevalence of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome among long Covid-19 patients1.
- Immune dysfunction affecting both cytokine levels, responsible for regulating inflammation in the immune response, and reducing natural killer cells which act as a lookout for infected or diseased cells.
- Hormonal imbalance involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which ultimately controls the secretion of stress hormones such as cortisol. This axis is tightly linked to our autonomic nervous system which controls many of our body functions and can have devastating consequences when out of balance.
- Genetic predisposition although environment also plays a role.
- Environmental triggers such as exposure to mold, toxins, pollutants or chemicals.
- Mitochondrial dysfunction affecting how energy is produced in the body and playing a role in Post-Extertional Malaise. This is when the smallest activity, either physical, mental or social, triggers a delayed worsening of symptoms, resulting in decreased functional ability. The usual ‘crash’ experienced hours or days after the activity.
- Finally there could also be psychological factors involved including personality traits and history of stress and trauma, although more research is needed2-4.
Each individual’s experience of CFS is unique, with different triggers, levels of severity and manifestations.
The Quest for Chronic Fatigue Management:
Living with CFS can be frustrating, leading many to seek quick-fix solutions for relief from the relentless exhaustion and desperation. However, the reality is that managing CFS requires a multidisciplinary approach. Magic cures promising effortless solutions often disappoint, emphasising the need for a person-centred approach that will address individual needs and that encompasses medicine, nutrition, physiotherapy, and holistic therapies such as sophrology.
Sophrology for Chronic Fatigue Management:
Holistic therapies offer a comprehensive approach to managing CFS, aiming to treat the whole person rather than just the symptoms. They’ll consider the various aspects of a person’s life, including physical, mental and emotional well-being. Some of the benefits of sophrology for CFS are:
Stress and Anxiety Reduction
Living with CFS is a stressful experience in itself that will cause much anxiety. For instance, there is a constant decision anxiety about whether to do something or not, not knowing whether you may crash afterwards. There is also anxiety each time symptoms worsen, not knowing how long it will last and whether it will get better. The constant threat of reduced functional ability weighs heavily in a person’s life. The capacity to regulate stress levels not only provides a sense of empowerment, it also helps the body to switch to a physiological state where it can heal and repair.
Lessened Brain Fog
Because sophrology increases self-awareness, people can usually pace themselves better and feel the onset of brain fog giving them the opportunity to act proactively. Also, through the repetition of practice, people notice an increased focus and ability to concentrate of tasks.
The practice of sophrology does not only lead to a better regulation of the nervous system, it also develops an attitude of acceptance and self-compassion. This allows people living with CFS to respond to situations more peacefully and adapt to changes more effectively, lessening the inner critic and feelings of guilt often associated with the condition.
People with CFS also suffer with sleep disturbances. Although many will complain because they sleep excessively, the sleep is fragmented and non-restorative. By reducing stress levels and bringing more inner balance, sophrology will help achieve a better quality of sleep, a more restorative sleep leading a greater replenishment of energy levels.
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome includes muscle and joint pain, neuropathic pain, headaches and abdominal pain (often associated with IBS). Sophrology is a gentle method that offers simple tools which are effective at managing and reducing pain levels.
Feeling Back In Control and Improved Quality of Life
Sophrology involves an active role that promotes agency and a sense of empowerment. From practical tools developing the ability to listen and respond to your needs, you also enter a transformative existential journey redefining the relationship with chronic fatigue and finding back meaning and purpose in your life.
Blending Eastern and Western philosophies, using relaxation, mindfulness, and visualisation techniques, sophrology promotes deep relaxation and heightened awareness. It helps individuals with CFS manage symptoms, cope with stress, and cultivate inner peace and resilience. Through guided exercises in breathing, muscle relaxation, and mental imagery, sophrology empowers individuals to develop skills for self-care and symptom management.
In the aftermath of the Dragon’s Den episode which has generated uproar from ME associations because the entrepreneur apparently made unfounded claims, it’s important to remember that the complexity of a condition such as CFS cannot be tackled with a short quick fix. It requires a multi-disciplinary and integrative approach.
A holistic therapy such as sophrology play an integral role in this interdisciplinary approach. It is neither a cure nor a magic wand but it can enhance quality of life and foster a sense of empowerment on a journey towards healing and recovery.
Explore the Ultimate Wellbeing Programme for practical strategies to manage fatigue and reduce anxiety. Take the first step towards holistic well-being today.
Working with Audrey has been a complete “game changer” for me. Taking things at my pace, has seen me release/reduce daily pain, gain more control of my day, and change my perspective to focus on what really makes the difference. Alison
1- Salari, N., Khodayari, Y., Hosseinian-Far, A. et al. Global prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome among long COVID-19 patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BioPsychoSocial Med 16, 21 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13030-022-00250-5
2-Christine White, Robert Schweitzer. The role of personality in the development and perpetuation of chronic fatigue syndrome. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Volume 48, Issue 6. 2000, Pages 515-524. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-3999(00)00087-8.
3-Stefan M. van Geelen, Gerben Sinnema, Hubert J.M. Hermans, Wietse Kuis. Personality and chronic fatigue syndrome: Methodological and conceptual issues. Clinical Psychology Review. Volume 27, Issue 8, 2007, Pages 885-903. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2007.01.010.
4-Clark JE, Davidson SL, Maclachlan L, Newton JL, Watson S. Rethinking childhood adversity in chronic fatigue syndrome. Fatigue. 2017 Oct 10;6(1):20-29. doi: 10.1080/21641846.2018.1384095. PMID: 29392095; PMCID: PMC5774185.
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