Reducing Symptoms with Planned Rest
By Bruce Campbell
Rest is often used as a way to recover from a crash, but it can also be used to prevent problems. Taking planned rests on a regular basis can help you reduce your symptoms and gain stability. We call this practice pre-emptive rest.
Setting aside time every day for rest may seem counter-intuitive. You may ask, "Why should I rest even if I feel OK? Isn't that giving in to my illness?" I know those were my thoughts when I first heard of scheduled rests.
But I was intrigued by the idea that I might gain control over my illness and bring predictability to my life by having consistent levels of activity and rest each day.
Before I discovered scheduled rest, I often experienced the cycle of push and crash. I would be more active than my body could tolerate, experience intense symptoms and then use rest to recover. (We call resting in response to a crash recuperative rest.)
Pre-emptive rest helped me escape this cycle and gave me a sense of control. Resting everyday according to a fixed schedule was part of a shift from living in response to symptoms to living a planned life.
I started with a 15-minute rest in the afternoon and was surprised at how much it seemed to help, reducing my symptoms, increasing my stamina and making my life more stable. After a while I added a morning rest as well. I came to believe that these two short periods of recharging my batteries, taken no matter how good I felt, were the single most helpful tool in my recovery.
You might wonder whether scheduled rest adds to your total rest time. It didn't for me. In fact, pre-emptive rests enabled me to reduce the time I spent in recuperative rest to such an extent that my total rest time was reduced. Later in the article, I'll describe how another person cut her rest time in half by using a series of short rests.
Defining Rest: Lying Down, Eyes Closed
Before discussing how you might use planned rest, let me explain what I mean by the term rest. In our program, rest means lying down with your eyes closed in a quiet place. We view things such as watching TV or reading to be low level activities, not rest. They may require less energy than housework, errands, or paid work, but they are activities nonetheless.
Here's what one student said about rest after taking our course:
Watching TV, talking on the phone, or talking with my family...I learned that these things could actually be quite tiring, even if I was lying down. Resting with eyes closed is completely different and, I found, very helpful. Before the course, I only thought I was resting; now I know that rest means lying down with my eyes closed (without television or the telephone).
Pre-emptive rest means resting daily according to a planned schedule. The length of the rest period and the number of rests per day vary from person to person.
For those people in our program who have used it, pre-emptive rest has usually meant taking one or two rest breaks a day of 15 minutes to half an hour each. Here's what some of our students have said about their experience with pre-emptive rest.
Making sure I have a short break or two in the day where my body and mind are completely relaxed and at ease is really beneficial for increasing the amount of activity I can tolerate and how I feel.
[Right after starting the class,] I decided to incorporate two scheduled rests into my day and the results have been incredible. My symptoms and pain have decreased and I feel more ‘in control'. My sleep has been more refreshing and even my mood has improved.
I have been resting in between activities, sometimes only for five minutes. For the first time in the four and a half years that I have been ill, I feel that it is possible to manage my symptoms and have some predictability in my life.
You may be tempted to skip the rest when you are feeling good. If you have that thought, I would suggest that you remind yourself that by resting voluntarily you are avoiding symptoms, and more rest, in the future.
You will gain maximum benefit if you are consistent, making rest a part of your daily routine regardless of how you feel. Resting according to a fixed schedule, not just when you feel sick or tired, is part of a shift from living in response to symptoms to living a planned life (the topic of the next article).
Resting the Mind
When you begin using pre-emptive rests, you may find you are distracted by your thoughts. If that occurs, try using a relaxation technique or meditation practice during your rest or listen to music or a book on tape. By focusing your attention on something other than your thoughts, you will relax your mind, making it easier to rest.
Finding Your Optimal Rest Schedule
I recommend that you experiment to find the number and length of rests that works best for you. As the last quotation above suggests, some people find it helpful to take several daily pre-emptive rests, rather than one or two.
One person who tried this added dramatically to her activity level while reducing her total rest time. When this woman started in our program, she was resting six hours during the day, taking two naps of three hours each.
After learning about pre-emptive rest, she decided to break up her day into one- and two-hour blocks, and to take a 10 to 15 minute rest during each block.
Over a period of two months, she reduced her total rest time by an hour and a half. After six months, she had cut her rest time down to three hours a day. By resting in small blocks, she added three hours of activity time to her day without increasing her symptoms.
Pre-emptive rest can be useful even for people with severe CFS or FM. A bedbound CFS patient wrote that before she took our self-help course she thought she was nearly always resting because she spent most of her time lying down. Through the class, she realized that she was actually quite active, talking to people, working on the computer, etc.
She was initially apprehensive about trying scheduled rest, because she feared it would reduce her activity level. But she told herself that quiet, pre-emptive rests, "by allowing my body to recuperate and even heal, would give me more opportunity for activity in the spaces between them."
Her verdict after several months of integrating frequent rest periods into her day: "I am absolutely amazed by just how much impact resting has on my overall well-being. The effects have been instant and quite phenomenal. It's turning out to be the best treatment I've ever tried. And it's free!!!"
Using Pre-Emptive Rest for Travel and Exercise
You can apply the idea of planned rests in many parts of your life. For example, I used it for several years to expand my envelope for travel.
I found that if I stopped during driving trips for a ten to 15 minute rest every two hours, I arrived fresher at my destination and had a lower symptom level throughout my trip. I reduced my symptoms further while traveling by doubling my usual daily rest times.
Rest is commonly recommended for exercise routines: exercise-rest-exercise-rest. While I was recovering from CFS, I used rests to expand the length of my walks. I found that if I walked for a while and then sat down for an equal amount of time, I could walk farther without increasing my symptoms.
Breaking up my walks with rests also enabled me to begin hiking up hills again, instead of being limited to level ground. For some people, the rest periods may be longer than the time spent exercising, but the principle is the same: controlling symptoms by alternating periods of exercise with times of rest.