What Does A CFS Crash Feel Like?
Anyone suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome is familiar with the CFS ‘crash’. It comes about when you push yourself beyond the limits of your current available energy reserve. Another way to describe it is pushing beyond your energy envelope.
And pushing yourself too hard can mean exerting yourself mentally OR physically. A crash is also known more scientifically as post exertional malaise (PEM). Some people find mental exertion tires them more while for others it is physical exertion that causes a crash. Getting to know yourself and how your illness affects you can help in avoiding the frequency and severity of crashes you experience.
PEM is a major defining characteristic of chronic fatigue syndrome and sets it apart from other illnesses such as depression. It is considered to be a delay in the recovery of muscle strength due to exertion and can cause you to be bedridden for a few days or longer until your system recovers.
Unfortunately, depending on the level of your chronic fatigue syndrome, your available energy and how well you are managing your illness, you will undoubtedly experience ongoing crashes. They are an inevitable part of the illness.
One way to describe the experience of a crash is like having the flu, you may also suffer brain fog, light and sound sensitivity, pain and a general heightening of all your usual symptoms.
The onset of a crash is very often delayed, sometimes by as long as two or more days after the trigger event(s). This, of course makes it even more tricky to work out the cause of your crash. In other illnesses symptoms usually start during or immediately following the exertion. And this is a major differentiating factor between chronic fatigue syndrome and other illnesses.
When you are in the clutches of a crash your symptoms will worsen and you may even start experiencing some troubling new ones. But the overwhelming feeling is one of crashing fatigue. You may be unable to do very much activity at all. Even a simple thing like taking a shower may be too much for you. Some people can only crawl on hands and knees to make a bathroom visit during the time they are experiencing a crash.
You will almost certainly be unable to carry out normal tasks like laundry, grocery shopping and other normal day to day tasks. If you are still trying to work, you may find that pushing through a work week may mean you spend your evenings after work and your precious weekends in crash mode and able to do very little while recovering from your crash.
Asking for help at this time is not a sign of weakness, your family members need to rally round to help you.
Experiencing a crash can be scary and leave you fearful that you have no control over your body, your health and your life. You feel helpless because you have no idea how long a crash will last. Will you recover quite quickly and be OK after a day, or will you possibly be bed or couchbound for several weeks?
But one thing is for sure, if you continue to push yourself further the result will be even more debilitating fatigue and worsening symptoms. So, give in to your crash and realize you must rest fully and completely to recover even a small amount of your diminished energy reserve again.
Can You Avoid A Crash?
It is pretty difficult to avoid experiencing crashes, particularly in the early stages of your illness when you are still trying to gauge exactly which type of activity increases your level of fatigue and other symptoms. Strangely, the more times you crash the more it will help you work out what causes you to crash.
If you are able to work this out it will help greatly in your efforts to pace yourself. The trick is to balance activity with rest in order to manage both the symptoms and your illness overall.
Practicing pacing is the only way you can have some level of control over your illness and thus avoid frequent crashes. As pacing is a way to manage activity in order to limit the severity and number of crashes you have, you are aiming to do as much as you can, but only within the limits of your available energy. And it can be a difficult skill to learn.
What To Do During A Crash To Get You Up And Going Again
The short answer is take extra rest until the crash subsides. It is super important to listen to what your body is telling you at this time. Trying to ‘soldier on’ or ‘push through’ will only make matters worse. If you have activities planned for the day, reschedule them as they will have to wait for another time.
If possible, give in to the crash and head to bed or the sofa for rest. Taking action as soon as you start feeling your symptoms intensify may help reduce the length of time your crash lasts.
You may be able to reduce the length of a setback, or even prevent it, by taking action as soon as symptoms begin to intensify.
Camp out on the sofa, or head straight to bed, settle in, get comfortable and simply rest. Understand that for now you have used up all of the energy your body is capable of making and you are in a deficit state.
Try to keep reminding yourself of the benefit of simply giving into it. And be confident that if you do, the recovery period will be shorter. It is also useful at this time to remind yourself that you are dealing with an illness, not simply a case of feeling tired. Acknowledging you have an illness mentally prepares you to take care of yourself properly.
Make Yourself Comfortable
Whether it takes a day, a week or more to recover, acknowledging you have an illness that sometimes results in crashing means you will be better prepared when it happens. There are many different ways to recover from a crash.
Each individual has their own needs and will find some things work better than others. At first it can take a bit of trial and error to find out which things are best for you. Here are some of the things you can use to recover as soon as possible.
#1. Make Sure You Are Prepared
Prepare for days in bed or spent on the sofa and make sure your nutrition is kept at optimum levels by meal prepping on days when you have enough energy. Fill your freezer full of meals that can be easily heated and eaten on crash days.
It is easy to batch make healthy and easily digestible casseroles, lasagne and soups. By batch cooking this type of healthy food it means your nutrition won’t suffer. During a crash you won’t be tempted to order home delivered fast food containing unhealthy fats and dubious ingredients.
Make sure you always have healthy snack foods on hand too. No sugary high carbohydrate snack foods as they will simply rob your body of energy at a time it is struggling to make enough for your needs.
You really need good nutritious food at this time to provide the building blocks to the cells in your body for energy production. Each meal and snack should have a balance of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats. Eating in this balanced way will help curb any cravings you have for unhealthy carbs.
If you really don’t feel like eating much, try some clear bone broth or smoothies as both are easy to digest and won’t tax your depleted system. Eating a few snacks during the day rather than full meals can help if you really don’t feel like eating at all. Keeping hydrated is also important too.
#2. To Sleep Or Not To Sleep
For many people with chronic fatigue syndrome sleep is the best way to recover from a crash. But, for others and I was one of them sleeping during the day may disrupt your nighttime sleep. Dysregulating your normal sleep pattern can be detrimental to recovery from a crash and from managing your illness overall.
For those who find sleep helpful, making sure your bedroom is as quiet and peaceful as possible will ensure you can fall asleep soundly.
For those who can’t sleep during daytime hours recovering from a chronic fatigue syndrome crash can be unbelievably boring as you take to your bed and rest but not sleep.
Make sure you have a comfortable bed and your bedroom is set up with everything close to hand. This can help you ride out your crash in comfort and avoid complete boredom from staring at the walls all day. It can help to use an adjustable bed to ensure you can recline or sit up in a supported comfortable position.
If you need to rest but not sleep you can load your Kindle or E reader with something to read to help relieve the boredom. I found this was so convenient for me, I could download a new book so quickly and easily making sure I always had something at hand to read.
Some people are unable to handle the stimulation of looking at screens, perhaps listening to an audio book or a podcast is an alternative to relieve the boredom of staring at the walls for a couple of days while you recover.
#3. Relax In A Bath
During the time I was suffering a lot of crashes and had very low energy I found it difficult to stand up in the shower. At these times when my energy was badly crashing I took baths instead.
When you suffer with the aches and pains of sore tight muscles, taking a bath with two or three handfuls of Epsom salts and some essential oils can be a very soothing and relaxing experience.
If you find the heat from a bath helps, you may also like using a heating pad while resting and recovering too.
#4. Reduce Stimuli
Many people suffering from a crash find any stimuli detrimental and need to lie quietly in a room with limited noise and light. Switching off your phone and computer is important at this time to avoid stimulation from electronics.
Lying in a warm darkened and quiet room with a heating pad on sore body areas is not much fun. Practicing some slow breathing or meditation can help slow your thoughts and relax your body and mind while you recover.
If you are able to handle some noise, wearing some earplugs and listening to guided meditation or Yoga Nidra can really help you relax. And if you want to sleep during the daytime, this will help lull you off to sleep.
#5. Simply Rest
Whatever the stage of chronic fatigue syndrome you have, the main thing to remember during a crash is to simply rest. The level of rest you require is an individual thing. I found it best if I went to bed away from day to day activity, but some people may be able to simply rest on the sofa or take to their favorite recliner chair.
You may feel anxious when you start to feel the beginning of a crash because you know what is heading your way. It is important to try to relax about it. It’s not your fault you are ill.
Rest and be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up for having this illness. Trust that by resting you are doing the best thing possible for your body at this time.
Resting is a bit of a lost art these days, we all seem to be so connected to everything that is going on. Constantly checking social media and surfing the web, it seems we’ve lost the knack of simply sitting quietly without any type of electronic stimulation.
Remember it is not only physical activity that can cause a crash, but mental activity too. Your brain needs to stop and rest too. So if you feel you MUST be connected, limit the time you spend on your phone or computer. Better yet, switch off all digital gadgets and leave them in another room so you are not tempted to keep checking online.
Putting It All Together
Whatever the level and severity of your crash, it is important to maintain a positive outlook. It is difficult when you are in the midst of a major crash with all your energy gone to remain positive.
But continuing to work towards recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome with your natural health care practitioner will show results. Your general energy will improve, symptoms decrease and crashes will become less severe and fewer in number as your health improves.
In the meantime, make your resting area or bedroom as comfortable as possible. Keep necessities close at hand, so as to limit your movement. Give in to your crash and simply rest.
Please let us know what helps you recover from a crash by leaving a comment below.