3 Studying Tips for Fibromyalgia

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Caring for your body and keeping pain at bay while working/studying is a to-do list, in and of itself. I've found it is best to keep it as simple as possible with just 3 tips.

Being in school can be daunting. With all the deadlines for assignments, not to mention the additional tasks of shadowing professionals, and preparing for and taking standardized tests (I'm currently preparing for the GRE), and also possibly volunteering, it's no wonder anxiety and depression are increasingly becoming a major problem for college students. It can seem like it's impossible to get good grades, take care of your physical and mental health, and keep your personal relationships in good condition.

For us spoonies, or invisible illness owners, it can be even more insurmountable a dream. I myself, having fibromyalgia have a difficult time sitting and studying for an hour, let alone several, like some students. I find that my neck hurts from craning over a book for even just ten minutes. I also get a lot of brain fog and this has resulted in cognitive problems most recently and has made it tough to focus at all on some days. Add in side effects from medications and you've got a recipe for bad grades, or a bad lifestyle. I have made good grades at the expense of my health many semesters. However, I can't afford that expense any longer. The thing is, we need our health in order to pursue our dreams. If we graduate with a great GPA, only to be bed-ridden, how are we to use the degree for a career we so badly wanted?

These just being a few reasons that study time is difficult and anxiety-producing for myself-- I wanted to share some tips that I've found helpful in dealing with a pestering health condition while being in school. My hope is that some of you out there can benefit from taking better care of your time and your body.

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  1. Get a timer!

Nothing keeps your head in check better than a timer that lets you know it is time to get up, stretch and take a break. Our bodies were not made to sit for hours without movement. Especially those of us who have chronic illness.

I know that my joints tend to stick a lot and there is more cracking when I've had a day where I have been too sedentary.

The timer I use is called Focus Keeper, and is based off of something referred to as the Pomodoro method- a schedule of 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, four rounds total, with the fourth round being a long break (30 minutes). So I try to study for 2 hours at a time. Yet, it doesn't always happen. But it is a nice reminder to get up every approx. half hour.

Here is how it looks in the app store:

So part of this method, and that I find super helpful-- is the simple act of writing down any distractions that come up in my head, onto a notepad, whiteboard, or whatever is available. If you're like me, you get distracted with Pinterest, Instagram, and since the finale is tonight--The Bachelorette gossip...the list of distractions goes a mile long! And those distractions can add up to time away from what really matters.

Instead of beating yourself up for having been distracted in the first place-- use this method as a means of physically getting them out of your head so you can move on. The idea is, once the timer on your Focus Keeper says it's time for a break, you can act on those distractions, for 5 or 30 minutes. Go read a blog, or scroll mindlessly. It gives you permission to act on your distractions for a specified amount of time. Writing them down is a way of saying, "Thanks brain, for that! But I'm in the middle of something. I will look at it once I get a chance."

Just look at those items on the list as hypothetical employees and you're the boss managing and juggling it all. A boss can't assist absolutely every employee with different needs all at once, and if they tried to it wouldn't be very efficient (eh*hem* I see you...7 browser tabs open at once)! There are a whole mess of different requests to get to, and idk about you, but I'm only one person!

ONE * THING * AT * A * TIME *. . . is key.

 

2. Use an ergonomic book stand.

Everyone talks about ergonomic chairs and keyboards, however I haven't seen much discussion on the position of your screen/book.

Along with my fibromyalgia comes some really bad neck pain that flares up, especially with craning over a book, for any length of time. Something that changed my world this last year, was having a bookstand. Let's get real. We're probably reading 10-20 hours a week at least during a full semester, so having bad posture for that amount of time will take it's toll on your body. So I decided to do something about it and my neck feels so much better for it. I got my bookstand on amazon for only $16, tax included. The price may fluctuate, but it's well worth it.

I love this one because it has rubber prongs on it that hold your pages open (helpful if you're studying outside with wind, too) and it is super adjustable to whatever position your neck needs.

Here is a link to the one I purchased on Amazon. If you do end up buying one, make sure to purchase it through this link. It gives me a little payback for recommending! 😉

3. Give yourself a massage and stretch often.

Speaking as a massage therapist, the tightest shoulders I've massaged have been on people that once I asked what they did as an occupation, admitted they were on the computer alone 40+ hours a week. Probably 90% of the population is glued to the computer or phone 90% of the time and this makes for extremely tight trapezius and rhomboid muscles. Here, I'll give you a quick lesson:

Travell, Janet G., et al. Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 2nd ed., vol. 1, Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2015.
Travell, Janet G., et al. Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 2nd ed., vol. 1, Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2015.

 

Above is a picture of just one of your back muscles, called the trapezius. Having different muscular fiber directions, that have different functions, pain may manifest differently in different areas of the back, resulting in burning or aching feelings, what many would call a knot. When we sit crouched over the computer, what actually ends up happening is this particular muscle tends to get overstretched in a forward slump to type on our keyboards, and our pectoral muscles (chest) get extremely tight. This is why there are so many people who have horrible posture. We are training ourselves to exist in a hunchback posture. The result is pain (where you see the X's and red on the photo) that is nearly unbearable! Using self-massage with your hand or some kind of lotion is one way to loosen up this area, although you can really only reach the upper portion. A Thera Cane is an invaluable investment as it helps immensely getting into these areas, before and when they turn into a knot. I will link the kind I have below.

Stretching as I'm sure you've all heard is helpful. But stretching the right areas is what matters. If you're stretching a likely already overstretched muscle (your traps), you won't get results. If you are at a desk or in a chair for hours a day, or even if you're confined to the bed or couch, you've got to loosen up those pecs! Pec stretching will help you with that chest tightness. Do what you can to avoid forward-shoulder posture as a student, and especially as a chronic illness patient, and stretch your chest out often.

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