ME/CFS: Taking Control of your Environment

Unfortunately this illness is very vulnerable to environmental influences. There are a great many things that are a part of everyday life that can worsen our symptoms. The more we can take control of these factors, the more energy we will have for ourselves. Many of us become so sensitive we have to deal with the environment but if you’re not there yet it’s a great idea to be proactive and optimise your environmental conditions before they start to cause problems. A general guide is to aim to avoid unwanted stimulation. Apart from making it more difficult to relax, too much stimulation will exacerbate our neuro-endocrine imbalances.
Any kind of noise, even pleasant, will add to your arousal levels.  So aim to keep noise levels in your environment down. If you live with a noisy family try to create a quiet refuge for yourself and limit the time you spend in the noisy part of the household to short bursts with regular breaks. Educate those around you about how important it is for you to have a quiet space to retreat to. Introduce regular periods of silence into your day. You may be used to listening to music or watching TV almost constantly. Try doing some everyday tasks in silence and focus on how relaxed you can be whist you’re doing them instead. Choose noise only when it is central to your activity. Listen to music only when you are really listening to it and not as a background. Some music is very stimulating so consider the impact it will have on your energy when you do choose to listen to it.
Bright office lighting or bright sunlight can also put pressure on our overwrought nervous system. Try to avoid bright light as much as possible and wear good fitting sunglasses in bright sunlight.  If you can’t avoid it altogether, try and give your senses a break as often as possible, spending time in a darker room.
Natural day light can also be used as a tool to help up stabilise our circadian rhythms which may help bring more balance to our endocrine system. Aim to spend a little time in natural day light every day, first thing in the morning if possible. In the summer make sure your bedroom curtains keep out the light at night. Spend some time in in a darkened room before you go to bed to reinforce the message that it’s time to sleep.
The body will often respond to cold by tensing up and screwing itself into a ball in order to conserve and generate heat. This can be quite an unconscious process and before you know it you can find that your muscles have seized up and you have a few days of pain ahead of you. In winter make sure you stay in an adequately heated room and even then, make sure you move around regularly to keep yourself warm from within.
Excessive heat brings other problems and is likely to reduce what little energy you have. Avoid very hot baths, saunas and steam rooms, and spending time in a very hot climate.
You may also find yourself sensitive to strong smells, chemicals and moulds. Avoid perfumes, air fresheners and aerosols. Use fabric conditioners and cleaning products with strong smells in more diluted concentrations, or avoid them all together. Many environmentally friendly products are less likely to cause problems. Lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda have many cleaning uses, and are unlikely to cause any irritation. If you are working and you don’t do the cleaning ask if your particular workstation can be cleaned without the chemical products. See if you can get someone else to fill your car up with petrol when it needs it. Definitely avoid being around fresh paint, creosote and pesticides. Try to avoid damp environments where mould might thrive. Air damp rooms regularly and/or use a dehumidifier.
Do you have any tips for how you can minimise the impact of the environment on your symptoms? I welcome all comments.

Leave a comment