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What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/CFS?

Since Covid, the number of people suffering from chronic fatigue has increased significantly. Yet, most people are still unaware of the extent of the illness or challenges people face when living with this condition.

This blog is one of a series of blogs I’ve written to help people with chronic fatigue cope better, feel better, and reclaim their health. Check out my full Chronic Fatigue Recovery Series <HERE>.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex and debilitating condition characterised by persistent, unexplained fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep. Unlike regular tiredness, chronic fatigue significantly impacts a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks, affecting their physical and mental well-being.

Everyone’s experience of chronic fatigue is unique. Differing health, triggers, and lifestyles contribute to a personal blend of symptoms and severity of the illness. These influence the best treatments and recovery timeframes.

Three stages of chronic fatigue

There are three different stages of chronic fatigue and each requires a different approach:

  • Crashed – this is the time for good quality rest. You feel you need to sleep a lot so you can build your core energy. Pushing yourself to do things or doing too much exercise will make you worse. 
  • Tired but wired – often still feeling exhausted yet unable to sleep, possibly because you’re overstimulated and so can’t switch off. This is the time to put yourself into a calm relaxed ‘rest and digest’ state. 
  • Reintegrate – you now have some energy and you feel you’re recovering but working out how quickly to increase what you do again can be challenging. That’s where managing your energy and increasing what you’re doing slowly is crucial.

Find out more about chronic fatigue in my blog Ten Essential Truths About Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Common chronic fatigue symptoms

Apart from the prominent and persistent fatigue, individuals with chronic fatigue often experience a range of symptoms such as:

  • Cognitive difficulties and brain fog
  • muscle and joint pain
  • migraines
  • post-exertional malaise (where you have a crash of energy up to 4 days after doing activities)
  • sleep difficulties
  • digestive issues
  • feeling sick or dizzy
  • heart palpitations

Causes of chronic fatigue

A combination of factors is thought to contribute to chronic fatigue, including viral infections (particularly Covid or Epstein Barr), trauma (emotional and physical), adverse childhood experiences, genetics, stressors, and personal traits. Chronic fatigue can show up many years after a triggering event or where there has been a cumulative effect of triggers that crosses the tipping point.

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Chronic fatigue: underlying physical issues

Over the years, there has been much debate about whether ME or chronic fatigue is a real physical illness. Increasingly, scientific research shows it is and that it’s far more than simply being tired. Typically, chronic fatigue syndrome negatively impacts several inter-related systems in our body:

  • Mitochondria dysfunction – your mitochondria (the energy batteries in every cell of your body) are unable to produce enough energy for you to perform your usual activities. This is what can cause energy crashes that can last days or months until you’ve restored your mitochondria. That’s why it’s so important to manage your energy levels in ways that can help you recover, not make you worse.

  • Nervous system dysfunction – your nervous system is your internal communications system that sends messages between the cells and organs in your body. Science suggests those with chronic fatigue spend more time in the flight-or-flight stress response, rather than the more healthily rest-and-digest mode. Stress exacerbates most illnesses including chronic fatigue which is why putting yourself into a calm healing state, as much of the time as possible, supports your healing. 

  • Digestive dysfunction – poor digestive issues and gut health contribute to many chronic illnesses, including chronic fatigue. Eliminating common trigger foods, medical tests, and changing your diet is often one of the first things to address in recovering from chronic fatigue. 

  • Neuro and hormonal imbalances – your brain regulates your hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, adrenaline, oxytocin, and endorphins. These affect your energy, mood, motivation, and physical health, particularly when they are out of balance over the long term. 

  • Immune system dysfunction – rather than simply fighting off infections or viruses, in some cases, the immune system can sometimes go into overdrive and/or forget to switch itself off. You may also have a weakened immune system for other reasons. 

I’m not a scientist. But I have read many fabulous books. I’ve listed my favorites in a blog <HERE>.

Chronic fatigue diagnosis

There is currently no one way to diagnose chronic fatigue. Rather, health professionals diagnose it in people who have experienced extreme fatigue for an extended period, and where other serious illnesses are ruled out. Prior to Covid, the ‘extended’ period was often months or years. However, since Covid, an ‘extended’ period in this context is often stated as being twelve weeks.

Cure for chronic fatigue

Unfortunately, there is no one-fits-all quick fix for chronic fatigue. Rather, it’s likely you’ll need to rest, get clear on why you got ill, and then embark upon a quest to determine the best treatments for you. It takes time and a range of core strategies to recover from chronic fatigue. You may find it helpful to read my blog 9 Steps to Overcoming Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Treatments for chronic fatigue

Effective recovery strategies vary. A chronic fatigue treatment plan often includes a combination of:

  • Mindset – embracing a recovery mindset (to find out more see my blog Healing Affirmations for Chronic Fatigue)
  • Rest and sleep – when your body needs it
  • Energy/exercise management – spending less energy than your body can produce
  • Gut health and nutrition – fuelling your body for optimal health
  • Emotional resilience – letting go of stress/anxiety and managing your emotions
  • Lifestyle changes – changes you make to your daily habits and life
  • Support – from family, friends, and medical professionals who encourage your recovery.

Recovery duration

Recovering from chronic fatigue is highly individual and varies from person to person. Some people may experience improvements within a few months. Others might take years to regain their energy levels and functionality. Patience and a holistic approach are essential throughout the recovery journey.

What’s next?

Living with chronic fatigue can be an arduous journey, but understanding the condition, recognising the symptoms, and exploring a range of treatments can pave the way to a better quality of life. Remember, recovery is possible, and with the right support and strategies, you can get better and enjoy life again.

Want to know more? Check out my Chronic Fatigue Blog Series <HERE>.

It may also be worth sharing these with family and friends so they can better support you.

The power of journaling in recovery

Keeping a journal can be an invaluable tool for those battling chronic fatigue. Recording daily activities, symptoms, emotions, and progress can help identify patterns and triggers. Additionally, journaling provides an outlet for expressing feelings and frustrations, aiding in emotional well-being. That’s why I’ve designed a range of journals specifically for this purpose. Check these out <HERE>. 

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Above all, remember you matter, and what you do next matters.

Remember, you matter, and what you do next matters. 

With love and gratitude,

Life Coach for Adventurous Midlife Women, Best-Selling Author & Speaker

Empowering you to enjoy a happy, adventurous life that lights up your heart and makes you feel proud

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P.S. Have you checked out My Meaningful Life course yet? Find out more HERE

Often described as one of the most authentic and inspiring souls you can meet, Alisoun is on a mission to make it easy for adventurous mid-life women to live their truth, do something that matters, and shine more brightly than they’ve ever done before.

Alisoun’s keynote talks, training, mentoring, and best-selling books Heartatude: The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success and Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes have favorably changed the good fortune of thousands of people worldwide. Personally, Alisoun loves spending time with friends, exploring the world, and enjoying a quiet lifestyle by the beach in Scotland.

Alisoun has written the following free resources:

  • 101+ Ways to Create a Joyful Life of Meaning, Vitality, & Impact (download this HERE).
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