Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that can cause pain and tenderness throughout the body. Among the physical symptoms are widespread pain and joint stiffness, as well as headaches and strange sensations (such as numbness) in the sufferer’s extremities.
Although fibromyalgia is often thought of as a disease with primarily physical symptoms, many people don’t realize that its sufferers also experience a variety of cognitive and emotional symptoms.
Insomnia is a common problem for those with fibromyalgia; this often compounds with the chronic fatigue that is a hallmark of the disease.
A common complaint from many is dealing with “fibro fog,” which is the loss of ability to concentrate, being mentally confused and experiencing short-term memory loss. People with fibromyalgia often experience anxiety and depression.
Although the disease primarily affects women, men can suffer from fibromyalgia, as well. Because the symptoms can be general and wide-ranging, diagnosis can be a frustrating process, often taking time and visits to multiple doctors.
It’s All Too Much: Sensory Overload
One of the most common cognitive symptoms of fibromyalgia is a feeling of sensory overload or being overstimulated.
Often, people with fibromyalgia are incredibly sensitive to things in their environment such as lights that are too bright or noises that are loud or startling. Being in large groups may be a source of sensory overload.
Sensitivity to certain scents can also be an issue. Because a common symptom of fibromyalgia is joint and skin tenderness or sensitivity, sometimes tight clothing or the feel of certain kinds of material can be unpleasant.
This can often be hard for others to comprehend, as something seemingly fun (like a rock concert) or pleasant (like a massage or a new perfume) can quickly become unbearable to someone with fibromyalgia.
Sensory overload can trigger certain fibromyalgia symptoms such as headaches and anxiety attacks. It can also worsen other symptoms like muscle tension and fibro fog.
Research suggests that sensory overload in fibromyalgia patients may be due to the fact that their brains have difficulty filtering out unimportant information, allowing an overwhelming flood of data in all at once.
Preventing and Coping
The most important step for someone who thinks they might have fibromyalgia is to find a good doctor that is knowledgeable about how to diagnose fibromyalgia and treat its symptoms.
For many people, simply having a diagnosis and a name for what they have been experiencing is a relief—especially if they have been searching for answers for a long time.
However, the benefit of having a doctor who is experienced in the treatment of fibromyalgia goes beyond simply naming the condition.
Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are many medications and treatments that can help with its various symptoms.
Having a doctor who understands what fibromyalgia patients are experiencing and knows which treatments work best is important in dealing with this disease.
People with fibromyalgia should learn what their triggers are and create a soothing home environment. Carrying sunglasses can be helpful if bright light is a trigger.
To avoid headaches caused by strong smells, they should carefully choose skincare and home-cleaning products that do not have overpowering or harsh chemical scents.
Keeping noise levels to a minimum inside the home can help make it a sanctuary from over stimulation. When outside the house, those with sensitivity to noise can carry noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs for use in situations when loud noise simply cannot be avoided.
Exercise can help. For those who are experiencing the symptoms of fibromyalgia, having a healthy weight and good cardiovascular health are important.
However, the benefits of exercise can help target fibromyalgia-specific symptoms. On the physical side, exercise can strengthen muscles, as well as improve flexibility and range of motion.
Emotionally, exercise relieves stress and releases endorphins, which can help with anxiety and depression.
All of this can help lessen the impact of sensory overload, because a mind that is less stressed is one that is less likely to be overstimulated.
Exercise doesn’t have to be hard and high-impact in order to create benefits, though. Those who are new to exercising should check with their doctors first and then start with a gentle exercise regimen.
Gentle stretching through yoga or tai chi can be helpful. Even simply getting outside to take a walk every day can do wonders for physical and emotional health.
Taking time to relax is another mind-soothing strategy. Having plenty of quiet, restful time is important for anyone who is dealing with fibromyalgia.
Meditation can be hugely helpful to settle down an anxious or overstressed mind. Taking time to meditate daily can help control pain, as well.
In fact, studies have shown that meditation can greatly benefit those with chronic pain when it is integrated in with their regular treatments.
This is especially important if there is an event planned (such as a holiday or family get together) where large groups, bright lights and lots of noise will likely make sensory overload an issue.
Be sure to take time to rest up and recharge before the event. Another good way to prepare is to have a temporary escape plan: find a dimly lit, quiet place that will serve as a retreat area during the event.
Many people like to let friends and family members know not to worry if they disappear for a little while; they just need a bit of recharge time.
Even simply knowing that they have a place to take a breath and get some rest can be helpful to an anxious, tired mind.
Of course, the best way for those with fibromyalgia to deal with sensory overload is to try to avoid it altogether.
However, with time, patience and paying attention to their bodies, those who experience these sensory symptoms can learn how to lessen or control them when faced with situations that simply cannot be avoided.