At first glance, fibromyalgia and work don’t seem to mix. It’s tough enough getting through a day full of mental and physical symptoms, let alone dealing with a flare-up. Thankfully, there are simple strategies you can use to manage symptoms, ease your pain, and continue working if that’s what’s right for you.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that creates widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body, along with fatigue and a host of other symptoms. Though fibromyalgia shares similarities with arthritis, it (thankfully) does not cause damage to joints or muscles and doesn’t worsen as the years go on.
Outside of pain and fatigue, some symptoms of fibromyalgia are:
- Sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights
- Trouble sleeping
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Memory and concentration issues (known as “fibro fog”)
- Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
- Digestive issues
With such a wide variety of symptoms, it’s no wonder fibromyalgia and work are difficult to balance! Fibro fog, headaches, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping all interfere with your productivity during work hours, while numbness and tingling, digestive issues, pain, and noise/light sensitivity can make office environments extremely uncomfortable.
How to Manage Pain While Balancing Fibromyalgia and Work
Just because fibromyalgia and work are difficult to balance doesn’t mean it can’t be done! These eight strategies will help you manage your pain and discomfort while still crossing off all responsibilities on your to-do list.
Request a Flexible Work Schedule
A flexible work schedule can absolutely transform the way you work and deal with fibromyalgia symptoms. The flexibility may come in terms of scheduling (like coming in late or leaving early) or location (working from home). Switching up your schedule lets you work around your pain instead of through it, giving you more time to rest and recover.
Talk with your manager or HR department about implementing a more flexible work schedule going forward. You’ll have an easier time handling your symptoms, and they’ll appreciate your commitment to getting your work done and doing your best.
Be Open and Honest with Your Team
One of the most important and impactful ways to manage your fibromyalgia symptoms at work is to be open and honest with the rest of your team. If you have not already done so, let your manager, HR department, and teammates know that you deal with fibromyalgia. Be prepared to explain how the condition affects your daily life, answer any questions they may have, and pass along helpful resources so they can learn more.
Being honest can make the future a lot smoother if you need to take extra breaks throughout the day, switch to a flexible schedule, or even take time off. Having an understanding with your team prevents issues and allows you to let go and be open about your symptoms on your worst days.
Offices aren’t always the most comfortable environments, but a chilly workplace can cause serious discomfort when managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Cold temperatures trigger inflammation, which can lead to pain and stiffness, especially if you start shivering. Always bring a sweater or cardigan with you (better yet, store a spare in your desk drawers!) so you can pop it on when you feel a chill.
Proper footwear is also essential to balancing fibromyalgia and work. You need to keep your feet warm and supported to protect against cool office temps and numbness or tingling. If you have to wear a specific shoe at work (say, flats or protective boots), bring a comfy pair of sneakers to wear at your desk and while commuting, and add arch support or warm socks to your work footwear.
Create a Comfortable Environment to Manage Fibromyalgia and Work
Dressing appropriately can help you adapt to your office environment, but if you have your own space (like in a cubicle), you should adapt your surroundings to you. Switch out your office chair for a supportive, ergonomic option — if you can’t splurge on a new seat, bring a chair wedge or extra cushions to make your existing one as comfy as possible. If your job requires you to stand most of the day, use an anti-fatigue mat to ease the strain on your legs and feet.
You could also bring a space heater to warm up a cold cubicle, or a fan to cool you off in the summer months. If you experience neck pain after a day at the office, consider getting a headset for phone calls or a computer stand to keep your posture straight.
Take Breaks to Rest When You Need Them
Breaks should be a part of everyone’s workday, but it’s okay to take a few extra ones to deal with fibromyalgia symptoms at work. You should never push through the pain and work until you’re exhausted — doing so will only make things worse and increase your recovery time later on. You owe it to yourself to honor your body and give it the rest it needs.
And this goes for your good days and your bad ones. No matter how you’re feeling, take regular breaks to rest, go on a walk to relieve any stiffness, or even take a nap if fatigue is starting to set in. You could even set alarms on your phone so you know when to pause or schedule your breaks right into your calendar.
Reduce Stress as Much as Possible
Fibromyalgia and work can stress you out, but it’s important to reduce your stress as much as possible. Stress and anxiety, no matter their cause, can cause inflammation and intensify your symptoms.
The best way to deal with stress related to fibromyalgia and work is to combine all of the strategies we’ve talked about here. Be open with your manager about your workload, alert them when you’re overwhelmed, and set up a schedule that works for you. Use your breaks as opportunities to calm your mind and relieve stress.
Plan Your Days Around Fibromyalgia and Work Tasks
Planning ahead can be transformative when you’re trying to balance fibromyalgia and work. Not only can you plan out when you’ll complete important tasks on your to-do list, but you can also schedule your breaks and adjust your working hours based on when your symptoms are usually at their worst.
This weekly planner from KAICN lets you see your entire week at a glance — keep it on your desk next to your computer for easy reference. You could even use the notes section to keep track of any symptoms while at work or when doing a new task. That way, you know what may be around the corner next time you’re in a similar situation and can plan accordingly.
Stretch or Do Light Exercise Regularly
Though you can use your breaks as opportunities to rest, you should also use one or two as opportunities to move. If your job is sedentary and you sit for long periods of time, try to get up to walk around, stretch, or do light exercise (like a few simple yoga poses or tai chi moves) once every hour.
Moving your body improves circulation, staves off stiffness, and can help clear your mind of fibro fog. If you’re feeling up to it, you can also exercise before or after your workday. But don’t do anything too intense! Low-impact activities like water aerobics are ideal for a post-work movement session.
Fibromyalgia and work don’t seem like they go hand-in-hand, but they absolutely do! Using these eight strategies will help you manage symptoms while you’re in the office to boost your productivity and make you much more comfortable at work. It’s a win-win situation!