Fibromyalgia, a chronic condition known for causing widespread pain and serious fatigue, can have a whole list of symptoms.
Sometimes these symptoms don’t seem interconnected in any way, as they can affect completely different parts of the body; the symptoms also might not all flare up at the same time.
Apart from muscle/joint pain and fatigue, fibromyalgia is known to cause insomnia, difficulty concentrating (which is known as “brain fog” or “fibro fog), irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches.
One of the top symptoms of fibromyalgia is a sensitivity to light and sound. Lighting that seems normal to most people is can seem overwhelming at times to someone with fibromyalgia. Everyday sounds can seem amplified.
The other senses are affected, as well; many people with fibromyalgia report having an increased sensitivity to some flavors, as well as scents and changes in temperature. These factors can increase pain, anxiety and stress levels.
What’s With the Increased Sensitivity?
What’s the connection between, for instance, fibromyalgia and sound? Researchers think that it’s due to a change in brain chemistry.
Studies have found that people with fibromyalgia have something called central sensitization. With central sensitization, your central nervous system (which controls, well, pretty much everything) processes information in a way that’s different than the way everyone else processes it.
In fact, central sensitization causes the central nervous system to become overwhelmed by information, unable to block pathways that would filter certain information out.
The result of this is a highly stimulated central nervous system. This causes everything to be on high alert—from your hearing to your sense of smell, your reaction to light, various skin sensations, and even your skin sensitivity. Any of these factors can cause increased stress and cause your overall pain levels to shoot up.
This sort of increased sensitivity can be frustrating to those who experience it, as well as difficult for other people to understand.
A seemingly fun event such as a party or a rock concert can be overwhelming—with its bright lights and loud noise—to someone with central sensitization.
When a fibromyalgia sufferer’s sensitivity is really elevated, even everyday activity such as children playing or the smell of perfumes and cleaners used around the house can be too much to bear.
Dealing with Fibromyalgia and Sensitivity
The good news is that there are coping mechanisms for those who have fibromyalgia and experience sensitivity to things such as sound.
Because these issues are caused by an overactive central nervous system, you’ll want to find ways to calm your nervous system.
Getting plenty of rest, developing a regular exercise routine, and having some sort of meditation or relaxation practice that you can utilize will all be helpful in calming your brain in order to calm your body.
A Rested Mind = A Prepared Body
“Get plenty of rest” is often easier said than done with fibromyalgia, as insomnia and disturbed sleep are hallmark symptoms of the disease.
It’s important to develop strategies to help you get rest, though, as fatigue can intensify central sensitization. Work with your doctor to see if certain medications that can help you get some sleep.
For some people, sleeping pills or anxiety medications can be helpful; for others, controlling their pain is key to helping them get rest, so pain medication may be useful.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary. This is important both for you to get rest at night and also because your bedroom can be used as a recharging zone if your sensitivity begins to get the best of you during the day.
Keep the lights low and use window coverings to keep out intense daytime light. If outside noise intrusion is a problem, find a machine that makes white noise or nature sounds in order to drown that out.
(White noise is particularly helpful, as it can help cut down outside noise as well as soothe you to sleep, but it doesn’t consist of any specific noises such as water or birds that might be agitating.)
Exercise: Good for the Mind; Good for the Body
No matter what medical issue a person is dealing with, exercise is often prescribed as one of the solutions. While you should check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program, most fibromyalgia sufferers find that it helps their overall pain, as well as anxiety and depression, when they get moving.
Exercise (especially with fibromyalgia) doesn’t have to mean high-impact, hardcore activity. You’ll want to avoid any exercise that will cause flare-ups and worse pain.
What this means will differ from person to person. Start slowly and gently and if you feel fine the next day, gradually increase your activity level.
Exercise can mean simply getting out and taking a walk, doing gentle yoga, or taking a tai chi class. No matter what exercise you do, you’ll be working towards stronger muscles, better flexibility, lowered stress and anxiety levels, as well as better health, overall.
More on That Mind/Body Stuff
There are many fibromyalgia sufferers who spent years being told that their symptoms were all in their mind, which—of course—is not true.
While fibromyalgia symptoms are very real, doctors have found that there is a strong mind/body connection.
This doesn’t mean that you are imagining your symptoms; it simply means that the state of your mind can make your symptoms better or worse. This is particularly true with central sensitization and things like sensitivity to sound.
Meditation has been proven to help reduce pain levels. Not only can it reduce current pain; it can help prevent pain.
You’ll remember that earlier we mentioned how central sensitization can cause increased pain levels. A calmer mind means a less painful body.
There are two important factors when it comes to meditation and relaxation exercises. The first is to find a kind of meditation/relaxation that works for you.
Some people prefer a sitting meditation and others get agitated while sitting and may benefit from a walking meditation.
Meditation doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. The second factor is that you’ll want to practice these exercises even when you’re feeling good.
This will make it easier for you to utilize the practice when you’re not feeling good; it’s significantly harder to use a new method to relax and calm down when you’re in pain.
Through figuring out your triggers, getting plenty of rest, and working to calm your mind, you’ll begin to notice an improvement in your sensitivity levels. Overall, be patient and compassionate with yourself.