Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Energized Despite Chronic Illness

Do you contantly hit the snooze in the morning?Many patients wonder how in the world they can increase their energy when they have a chronic illness like interstitial cystitis. As if living with a chronic disease isn't tiring enough, IC patients have to "give up" caffeine and other stimulants too.
There are many things that can contribute to fatigue when you have a chronic condition like interstitial cystitis. Obviously, the quality of sleep is compromised if you are getting up several times at night to use the bathroom. In addition, many of the medications patients use to treat a painful bladder, including narcotics, anti-anxiety medications, and antihistamines cause drowsiness. Even the mental activity of navigating all the changes associated with being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be exhausting. 

How does a person deal with such a situation? Trust me, it is far from hopeless. Here are some suggestions: 

  1. Work with your physician. Once you rule out any other medical conditions, ask if you can take less medication that contributes to drowsiness if you can get your symptoms under control by modifying your diet.
  2. Nurture a positive attitude about giving up caffeine. Remind yourself that this is something you can control, unlike many other aspects of the disease.
  3. Establish regular sleep habits. Most people, sick or not, require at least 8 hours of sleep at night. If you know you will spend a portion of that in the bathroom, plan to “sleep” even longer.
  4. Take mini-naps during the day if necessary. Find a quite place to lay your head down for a few minutes. Set the alarm on your cell phone for 15 to 20 minutes. When you consider that you are much more alert after these mini-naps and accomplish more, the time is worth it.
  5. Eat smaller, well-balanced, low fat meals. High calorie meals can slow even the healthiest person down as the body diverts energy to the process of digestion. Have a handful of nuts or carrots as an afternoon snack instead of a handful of sugar cookies.
  6. Drink plenty of water. One of the first signs of dehydration is fatigue. You may have kicked the caffeine habit, but have you developed a water habit?
  7. Use a small personal fan in your workspace. The cool air movement can keep you feeling more alert.
  8. Expose yourself to bright lights. If you have a choice, move your desk near a sunny window. If that isn’t possible, ask to have brighter lights installed in at least part of your workspace.
  9. Use citrus scented hand lotions. That burst of citrus as you moisturize your hands can wake you right up! I have citrus lotions all over the place, in my home, in my car, and in my purse. You can find them in specialty stores like Bath and Body Works, Body Shop (try the Bergamot), and William Sonoma. Lotions with a strong minty scent work good too!
  10. Watch your posture. Sit up tall! Don’t make your lungs and heart work harder than they have to. Just sitting tall can give you the feeling of having more energy.
  11. Get regular exercise. One of the first things we are tempted to give up when we are tired is exercise, when that is the opposite of what we should do! As you make the rest of your body stronger, it becomes more efficient at accomplishing everyday tasks. In fact, people who are fit often report needing less sleep than their out-of-shape neighbors do.
  12. Finally, find a way to stimulate your funny bone. Many times when we live with a chronic illness, we forget to enjoy some of the simpler things in life. Watch funny television shows and movies instead of draining yourself with emotional dramas. Subscribe to a joke of the day to great you each morning in your email. Find an excuse to laugh every day!

Julie Beyer, MA, RDN
Author, Speaker, Patient Advocate For More Diet and Lifestyle Modifications:

For step by step guidance for creating your own personal interstitial cystitis meal plan, see: Confident Choices®: Customizing the Interstitial Cystitis Diet.

For some basic, family-style, IC bladder-friendly recipes, see: Confident Choices®: A Cookbook for Interstitial Cystitis and Overactive Bladder

For health care workers:  Interstitial Cystitis: A Guide for Nutrition Educators 

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  1. Do B12 shots help with energy levels if you've been dianosed with IC?

  2. Hi there!B-12 shots are good for people who may not be absorbing B-12 properly through the stomach. If you are absorbing properly, but still have low B-12, you may not be getting enough so a supplement in the form of a pill may be required. B-12 is found naturally in a variety of seafood, beef, and a smaller amount in eggs. Cereals in the US are often fortified with B-12. I hope that helps!