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The art of pacing

Pacing is something that individuals with a chronic illness would have heard so many times. Especially, those with chronic pain and or fatigue. "You need to learn to pace!"

Several metal spoons and a notebook with lists on it.

What is pacing?

The idea of pacing is to manage to live and do activities regularly, without exasperating pain and fatigue to unbearable levels. In a way, the whole society needs to pace to a degree, we all have our limits.
It depends on somebody's illness and the severity of it, to what this picture can look like.
The purpose of pacing is to avoid the boom and bust cycle and a downward spiral of health and mobility. 'Booming' being when you overdo it one day and suffer the next, meaning as a result, you 'bust' and do nothing, or a lot less than normal.
If you imagine a graph that shows your activity level and time, instead of having a line that goes up and down, with peaks and troughs, if you pace you have a more stable straight line across. The theory is also that over time, the more stable straight line will gradually increase, as it will be possible to step up your activities slightly, as you have got used to the old level.
When people refer to your baseline, this is the level or amount of activity you can do, before your pain or fatigue is increased. This is what you should start with. After an agreed period time you should review how you are getting. Hopefully, you are then able to increase the activity a small amount.

Having short and long-term goals can be really helpful. A focus. Make sure these goals are SMART.


The Spoon Theory

The spoon theory is an effective method that can be used for pacing. It is a way of measuring how much energy (but could also be adapted or used with pacing with pain) you have and then you can allocate it to activities in the day. For example if you start with 12 spoons, it takes 2 spoons to make breakfast, 3 spoons to get washed and dressed, 3 spoons to do exercises, then you have 4 spoons left. Either you can use those 4 spoons to meet a friend, or you can use them to do emails and some studying.
You hope that someone is there to make them lunch and dinner, otherwise the person will have starved!

You can start with any number of spoons you like. If you have a sleep or rest in the day, sometimes you can gain spoons- if you feel you have gained energy.

Some people like to use actual metal spoons, where as others draw them on a piece of paper or just work it out in their head.

Personally, the spoon theory did not work that well for me, but for some it is invaluable. We are all different!

Several metal spoons on a purple background.
The spoon theory

My experience

Pacing is not easy, or something that is easy to learn. To be honest, I really struggle with pacing. I am not saying I boom and bust, but I definitely overdo it and suffer as a result. My mind is willing, but my body is not.
This can be difficult. Firstly, as you need to accept you cannot do what you think or want to do. Secondly, when you do overdo it for example at a wedding, party or special event, people see you then and assume you can do x, y and z. They don't see the price you pay for it and the suffering afterwards. Don't get me wrong, I don't want people to see me spending most of the next day in bed and paying the price. Nevertheless, it is still difficult, people are so quick to judge and they don't understand it is not sustainable, but possible as a one off.

For weddings and special one off events, I know I am going to be caput for the next few days afterwards, however,I don't want to miss out, so go in knowing that and push boundaries for that day.

What do I find useful?

I find making a list really helpful. It enables me to make sure I have not missed anything. For a long time I just had a to-do list, but more often than not, I found that disheartening as I didn't feel much was ticked off. Now, I have a better method. I have a long- term to do list and a daily to-do list. I allocate items to each day for the week. I try and be realistic of what is actually possible. If I have achieved it all then I can always go onto a task for tomorrow- a bonus task! How exciting! I don't know if I am actually being more productive, but I feel more productive! I feel like I have achieved my tasks for that day.

A notebook with a long term list and day to day list on, to help me pace. A pen is laying on the notebook.
To-do lists

Relaxation and sleep

Relaxation is also important. Which I am not very good at either or maybe I just have active relaxation! I like to be busy or sleep. Mindfulness can be a useful tool for all of us. We need to live in the moment. A valuable point in so may ways.
I find my sleep in the afternoon really important. Without it, I struggle to make it through the day.

Do you have any helpful tips of things you find useful in enabling you to pace? Let me know below.

Hannah x


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