Living with fibromyalgia can be challenging and tough to navigate not to mention going to work and performing work tasks with fibromyalgia symptoms. Whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with fibromyalgia for years, doing routine tasks at work can be challenging and tough to navigate. I remember when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia and was working at my 9-5 office job.
The simplest tasks from typing, to walking to different meeting rooms would become overwhelming. Every sensation and office sensory had my system on overload and my nerve pain was always high. There are things you can do to help adapt your workplace setting to help minimize your fibro pain. Let’s dive into working with fibromyalgia tips.
This post does not serve as medical advice, please speak to a health care professional about your fibromyalgia symptoms and treatment. The below article are suggestions to help with managing fibromyalgia, this does not replace treatments and prescriptions.
What is Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a nerve pain disorder, that is spread wide across the body. This is also coupled with sleep problems, fibro fatigue, emotional mood swings, and pain sensitivity. The two most common symptoms that people who live with fibro pain experience are widespread pain and fatigue. It is common that the fatigue symptom will cause other small symptoms to appear such as brain fog, memory issues, and emotional mood swings due to the lack of rest. Fibromyalgia is most commonly diagnosed in women; however, it can affect both genders.
Working with Fibromyalgia Fatigue
Fatigue is one of the most common and powerful symptoms that can be paired with fibromyalgia. Trying to stay awake at work, and focused on the task at hand can be incredibly challenging when fatigue sets in. Fibromyalgia fatigue isn’t just feeling like you had a bad night’s sleep, it’s like how you’d feel after a week without sleep. It can make doing simple and routine work tasks overwhelming and mentally very taxing.
Learn more about Fibromyalgia Fatigue here in this blog post focused on ways to help reduce it.
To help combat working with fibromyalgia fatigue you can use naturally caffeinated beverages to help with creating mental stimulation. Using beverages that have ginseng, green tea and cacao can help with increasing mental alertness without the caffeine crash from coffee or sodas. You can also use aromatherapy such as lemon essential oils to help increase focus and alertness.
On days when your fibromyalgia fatigue is not overwhelming, or you’re feeling well take some time to write down routine tasks you complete. Write down each step you take with the task and the details that are important. When you’re having a day where mentally it can be overwhelming to think of tasks or what to do having a detailed list to follow can help with providing a clear road map. Lastly, if possible, work with your employer for flexible work hours or part time hours. For example, you can start later in the day and work in the evenings if morning is a struggle for you to feel mentally alert. Not all workplaces and jobs are able to accommodate, however, ask your employer and see what options can be provided.
Making Notes and Keeping Lists
As mentioned above with fibro fatigue one of the best ways to help with chronic fatigue that comes with a fibro flare is keeping lists and making notes. When working in a work environment that is fast-paced, shared with others, or collaborative in nature it can be easy to get overwhelmed on a brain fog day. To help slow things down and keep it simple make lists everywhere. I mean everywhere. Keep a pack of posts it’s on you, your phone notes/voice notes app or a journal. To help combat fibro fog write down tasks, and to-do items as soon as they are told to you (or you think of them). If you work with others, ask them to help by sending an email or an agenda. This will help you with taking notes of items that will be discussed in meetings.
Writing notes and making lists is helpful with fibromyalgia syndrome as it takes the stress and pressures off you cognitively to remember items. It provides your brain a rest and you with the ability to rest assured you aren’t likely to forget things. When I use to work in an office 9-5, I use to bring home a folder covered in post it’s. When I thought of things in the evening for work, I quickly wrote them down. At work, all the information you need is ready for you. You can also use voice notes to make quick mental notes to listen back to later. It gave me security knowing everything was noted down and helps reduce my fibromyalgia fears.
Moving Locations/ Remote Working with Fibromyalgia
When it comes to managing fibromyalgia pain the location at which you work can play a big role. Sitting in an office chair, walking between spaces with chronic pain, and doing physical exertion jobs are all things that can exacerbate symptoms. Trying to keep yourself comfortable while in chronic pain is not a simple task. With managing fibromyalgia pain in a physical work environment, you should speak to your supervisor about workplace disability benefits. For fibromyalgia it’s best to understand what accommodations can be provided by your employer.
In previous office jobs, I’ve been able to work with my employer to be provided an alternative office. At times when my office chair and desk would make working unbearable, I was able to use unused conference rooms with soft chairs and couches to complete my independent work. As well, as speaking to your supervisor about remote work options.
Fibromyalgia and work can be challenging, and covid-19 has provided a lot of employers with the confidence and equipment to able to set up remote work options for certain jobs and positions. Lastly, work to make your space as comfortable as it can be. This could be a gel rest mouse pad, and soft chair cushion, or a softer office chair. Having lamps for lower lighting options, and essential oils for aromatherapy relief. If moving around your office is challenging speak to your supervisor about remote calling into meetings or attending them virtually if this is an option in your job.
Wear Comfortable Clothing when working with fibromyalgia
Each work environment has a different dress code, however, when possible, try to wear comfortable clothing. Tags on clothing, zippers, tight cuffs, scratchy materials, itchy fibers, and heavy jewelry can all feel horrible with a fibro flare. The everyday outfit that you love, might cause you pain or be uncomfortable to sit in all day with widespread body pain and pain sensitivity. When it comes to working with fibromyalgia try to wear comfortable clothing when possible. Instead of wearing tight trousers, you could wear more relaxed fitted pants or flats instead of high heels.
If you work in an office where you share space with others and interact with others frequently speak to your boss or supervisor about what options are available for more relaxed options if possible. If you are provided a work uniform, speak about alterations or alternatives for pieces that may be uncomfortable to wear.
One of my personal favourite hacks, when I worked in an office, was wearing comfortable footwear under my desk. If you have a desk that hides your feet have slippers underneath your desk for when doing desk work. When I went to meetings I would slip back on my work shoes. However, when typing and speaking on the phone at my desk I was comfortable. I also made a switch to a more comfortable bra that did not have unwire, however still provided full support and coverage but was gentler against my skin. Finding small switches can make a big difference overall to fibromyalgia pain.
Ask for Accommodations where possible
One of the most important tips for working with fibromyalgia is speaking to your supervisor. Being open and honest about your health is one of the most powerful things you can do. While I completely understand not every workplace is a positive space or a space that is open to these discussions. It is important to advocate for yourself and speak up to the right people about your health. Workplace accommodations in most countries are common practice and there are typically systems in place to help. If you live in a space where this is possible ensure to speak up and have an open discussion about how you can work and be healthy.
While it can be challenging to know how much to share and who to share it with. Speaking to your doctor is a great starting place. They can help provide you with information on what policies are for your area and what typical health accommodations for your condition can look like. Assistive technology and alternatives to typing and writing are more common than years ago. You can then speak to a supervisor or Human Resources about workplace accommodations to be able to be provided to the right personnel to speak to.
Speaking to loved ones and friends or practicing the conversation with them can be a great technique to help reduce fears. As well, as speaking to other colleagues in your workplace (if comfortable) about your health so that they can support and help you. Your health is your personal journey, and who you choose to share it with is up to you. However, I encourage you to look and research what options for workplace accommodations are in your area. So you have the appropriate information to make a decision. In some places, there are even fibromyalgia disability benefits that you may be eligible for through an employer.
Working with fibromyalgia can present many different challenges and obstacles. Working with your employers, and colleagues and speaking to a health care professional can help you navigate this. While every job is unique, and every work environment is unique there are little adjustments that can be made to help ease the pain and symptoms.
Setting up systems to help on fibro flare days is a simple adjustment that can make a big impact on brain fog and fatigue. Changing small environmental factors of clothing options can help with reducing pain when possible. If you work in a job that provides sick day coverage, or sick day leaves utilizing those when needed for rest is another powerful tool at your disposal. Technology and office systems have vastly improved with the digital world and getting creative to help reduce your pain can help! Get creative and find out what works best for helping manage the pain.