Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a diagnosis made to accompany a set of persistent and mysterious symptoms that primarily fall around a sense of deep fatigue, unrelieved by normal rest.
The severity in symptoms can vary to a degree, as some people are completely bed bound while others can move around and perform many normal tasks, though often under extreme exertion.
People who have the condition, almost always recall a certain time or period in which their previous vitality and energy level dissipated rapidly and never returned. Usually after an illness or a very stressful life event and often a combination of both.
A minority of people have had symptoms of persisting fatigue since an early age. The condition is complicated because sufferers often have symptoms of depression and anxiety disorder as well.
I have personally been through the ringer with this condition and put together this guide to help those who are desperately searching for answers. It is by no means comprehensive but there is no reason why not at least one tenet, therapy or recommendation listed in this guide doesn’t help a CFS sufferer. I live a full life now as a climber, cyclist and mountaineer but it wasn’t always this way.
This guide is primarily meant to help those who have Chronic Fatigue but are still able to get out of bed, at least for a few hours a day.
-Lack of Vigor/willpower
-Low mood, routine negative thinking and outlook
-A profound fatigue that is unrelieved by rest
-Lack of restful sleep
-Inability to handle small amounts of stress
-Worse fatigue after exercise
-Inability to Focus
-Aches and Pains
-Memory loss and Brain Fog
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
If you have fallen into the whirlpool that is Chronic Fatigue and Burnout, one often wakes up in the morning to a soul crushing sense of fatigue and unwellness. Trying to get on with life and daily activities can feel as though the world has mustered all of its forces against you, as even the simplest task of getting out of bed can seem ridiculously difficult.
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Its not possible to define the origins of CFS for every person who has it but for most, the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue are the result of years of chronic stress or a sudden acute trauma that throws the entire body off balance. Its a condition where the sympathetic and parasymphatetic nervous system has stopped working properly (1.) Though beyond this, nobody really knows exactly what it is but the good news is, that wont matter in making a recovery.
I remember experiencing the onset of the condition when I was 21 years old, I woke up one frigid January day in the Chicago Suburbs and it immediately occurred to me that there was no gas in the tank. There was a profound heaviness in my body and my vision felt clouded and unclear. A deep sense of fatigue swelled in my muscles, while a mental sense of fear and unease splattered through my brain.
My internal battery felt completely sapped.
This was an enormous problem because i was a college athlete at the time and i had wrestling practice in one hour.
The next few weeks, I watched from a depersonalized awareness as my life came unglued, and i was forced to quit the wresting team and drop down to part time student status. I retreated to my bedroom for a good chunk of the days as normal activities such as driving a car, socializing and even sitting in class became incredibly burdensome.
Though I was never completely housebound, I could get out and walk, go to the grocery store, do many normal tasks, my previous vitality was gone and the desire to nap during the day overwhelmed all tasks that needed to be done.
The next few years were very difficult but through various medical consultations and self experimentation, I found ways to effectively treat the disease. This approach has nothing to do with hacking one’s self or going on a ridiculously strict diet (unless there are known allergies), its just implementing basic but proven methods.
Unrestful sleep, inability to focus, apathy and profound fatigue are symptoms that suck the life out of sufferers everywhere and the complexity of the illness has made traditional medicine appear obsolete in what it can offer in treatment.
There is hope however, no matter how long a person has suffered there are proven steps one can take to improve the quality of their lives and even recover and thrive. By combining the modalities of eastern and western medicine in an implemented and disciplined approach, people can experience significant improvement.
There are two fields that usually have to be adequately addressed to see improvement. The first is, Psychological/Lifestyle component and the second is, Treatment/Interventions which involves possible medicines, thereaputics and dietary intake.
The fact that addressing the psychological state of a person, which includes beliefs, emotions and even spirituality, is vital for recovery is not an easy pill to swallow for many who have suffered from this disease for so long.
Perhaps those who suffer more from the mental depressive symptoms are more accepting of this premise but even those who are housebound due to severe CFS symptoms will in, most cases, benefit exceptionally from engaging in deep ‘inner work,’
Inner work includes meditation, and a thorough psychological examination of belief systems, emotional reactivity and even early life events. This is NOT an easy, quick process and will most likely take longer than a few weeks to see benefits.
Though most people will find after awhile, that many of the symptoms of chronic fatigue and depression are messages from one’s own unconscious mind. The body is desperately trying to communicate because its been ignored for so long.
People can through this work, discover that they have actually been going about their lives with a nervous system on high alert since a very early age. They can find a belief such as, ‘value comes from material achievement and making a certain group of people happy.’
This is a rough and often further traumatizing process that is best done through a trained professional like a psychotherapist or healer.
Taking up a daily meditation practice while journaling takes some discipline but can be highly effective in the long run when it comes to alleviating symptoms.
Furthermore, this component also involves changing ones lifestyle in a manner which reflects health, vitality and joy.
Getting adequate natural sunlight and avoiding flourlescent lights as much as possible, is HUGE for Depression and Chronic Fatigue. There have been studies now that have conclusively shown that natural sunlight is one of the best treatments for these kinds of illnesses, as it boosts Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, Vit D and reduces inflammation. One doctor has even called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as chronic sunlight defiecency.
Working a job that you do not like is no longer going to cut it if you have this disease. You may be able to work a tough job for awhile with not completely crashing but if you want to make a complete recovery, you will eventually have to make some serious changes.
You should strive to live in an environment that matches the things that give you joy, along with a sense of purpose. Finding ways to give back and help others is perhaps, the best way to find purpose and give a sense of meaning to your life.
The Western World is currently experiencing one of the highest rates of Depression in history and often associated illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Scherosis and other nerve disorders are rising immensely.
The reasons for this are no doubt related to the Work lifestyle and often debt plagued culture we have cultivated here in North America and Europe. People are working themselves into the ground to pay for their mortgage, and to be able to send their kids to college.
Technology with all of its benefits, is leaving us more isolated and over stimulated than ever before.
Human Beings are social creatures, who have lived together communially for most of our history. Technology is now taking away that prerequisite for emotional health and the consequences are dire. Perhaps no one explores this newfound 21st century isolation more adeptly, than Anthropologist and Author Sebastian Junger. His book, Tribe, examines the challenges that veterans and laypeople alike are facing today in light of an ever impersonal, technology based society.
Smart Phones, with all of their benefits, are drowning our bodies in artificial light, dopamine and too much information. We are bombarded with notifications and media that is constantly trying to grab our attention. Everyone wants you to read or watch their stuff, and while there are positives to this unparalled access to media, there are a plethora of downsides.
Sadhguru, an Indian Spiritual teacher who has helped thousands of people learn the tenets of meditation and yoga, has stated that the human mind is not meant to be exposed to this level of information on a daily basis.
Though many Journalists are honest and genuine, there are many who use their platform to report or write click bait stories, full of negativity or their own personal emotional resentments. This isnt helpful and many people are unconsciously but chronically, on edge and stressed from routinely digesting negative news from their smartphone or computer.
The Point is, this area needs to be addressed for those suffering from a Chronic Illness like Depression, Chronic Fatigue and others.
Some Steps may include:
-Find a trusted therapist/healer to help you explore and heal your inner world
-Deleting Social Media
-Unsubscribe from media outlets through email and phone
-Get rid of the smartphone all together
-Get outside as much as possible
-Find a community or social group that you can communicate with often. Examples; Volunteer group, Sports team, sports club, walking group, cycling group, political discourse group, etc
-Move to a location that matches your interests and activities, Examples; Mountain town, Beach town, a rural area
-Follow your joy
-Engage routinely in a sport or physical activity (Hiking, Volleyball, Cycling, Martial Arts, etc..)
While treating the psychological and lifestyle component may be the most important aspect to recovering from Depression and Chronic Fatigue, supplements, diet, pharmaceuticals and novel therapies are very often required just as well.
With Chronic Fatigue and Depression, the brain and nervous system has gone awol. Neurotransmitters and hormones are unbalanced and there are often accompanying nutritional deficiencies. Repairing the damage and restoring balance is crucial to feeling well again. Ideally, a person should not engage in all of these treatments at one time but instead choose one or two that make sense and come up with a plan with your doctor.
Antidepressants- Lexipro, Prozac, Zoloft are Classified as SSRI’s and work by manipulating certain neurotransmitters, specifically, Seratonin. These drugs have helped many of people manage their depression and fatigue despite their reputation of causing negative side effects. Some studies have shown that SSRI’s not only rebalance a person’s brain but even repair damage caused by emotional and physical trauma.
Wellbutrin- Wellbutrin is in another class of antidepressants called, Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors. Wellbutrin also works be rebalancing neurotransmitters in the brain but specifically Dopamine. This drug was originally used for those attempting to quit smoking but is now being used for ADHD, Depression and Fatigue conditions. It can certainly help to boost energy and focus but side effects can include anxiety, panic and insomnia.
Antidepressants can take a while to work so it si vital that one works with a qualified psychiatrist. Antidepressants are not for everyone and many people have had horrid experiences with them but if natural remedies are not working, they may be worth consideration.
ADHD Med’s- Medications such as adderal, ritalin, vivanse and others in the amphetamine drug family should be strictly avoided at all costs. These are junk medications that produce horrid side effects in many users. For people with CFS, there really isnt a worse medication to take. These drugs are toxic and put further stress on the central nervous system.
Sauna’s are simply one of the best ways to improve health. Traditional Saunas are great but Infrared Sauna’s are probably the best. Researchers have found that Infrared Sauna’s are especially helpful in relieving Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Instead of just heating up the air, infrared Sauna’s work by using infrared panels instead of conventional heat to penetrate human tissue. Infrareds’ can operate at a lower temperature than traditional Saunas which allows users to stay in the sauna longer while increasing core body temperature.
Beyond issues of overheating by staying in too long and possible dehydration, there are no serious negative side effects associated with Saunas. Though pregnant women should consult with their doctor before beginning a Sauna routine.
Sauna therapy has been shown to:
- Improve Sleep
- Assist in Detoxification
- Relief from sore muscles
- Arthritis relief
- Clearer Skin
- Improve circulation
- Relieve Fatigue
Buying an Infrared Sauna can cost a grand or more so finding a health center that utilizes one may be preferable for many. Regular Sauna’s are also fantastic for Chronic Fatigue however and using one for 20 min a day, 4-5 days a week is a sure fire way to improve your symptoms, hands down.
In summary and in regards to detoxification, sauna’s increases your blood circulation to help stimulate the sweat glands, releasing built up toxins in the body which can then be eliminated by the liver and bowel. Regular infrared sauna sessions can help detoxify your body as it rids itself of accumulated highly toxic metals such as lead, mercury, nickel, alcohol, nicotine, sulfuric acid, and other organic and inorganic compounds.
There are alot of Diet zealots out there, preaching their nutritional bible to the masses and many people with Chronic Fatigue fall into their traps. Its a shame because most of these “Experts,” are absolutely full of shit.
Meat only diets, lectin avoidance diet, bulletproof diets, may God help us all if a large group of people subscribe to these fringe philosophies.
Yes, some people may benefit from these approaches but its vital to look at the big picture, ask the question, what is going to work for most?
The reality is that for the majority of us, the answer is: keep it simple stupid!
If you think you have a certain allergy, get tested for it. If a certain diet does make sense to you intuitively, give a shot.
But for the vast majority of people, the best and only advice they will ever need when it comes to diet is:
- Cut out added sugar
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible
- Drink Water
- Eat a diet of mostly fruits and vegetables
- Eat Lean, organic meats
It really is that simple for most of us and its almost a crime that these charlatans have made it so complicated. Though if you feel paleo is the way to go for you, go for it. If you resonate with Veganism, give it a shot. These diets may work but for most, the above five steps is all they are going to need. This perspective just comes from years of my own research and personal experience with the insane world of health and nutrition. There is not one diet that works for everyone but the five guidelines above are, at the very least, a great first place to start.
Adaptogens are natural herbs that have been used for centuries in indigenous and even western cultures to help treat illnesses associated with fatigue. Quite simply, they have been shown to help the human body cope with stress and boost all around vitality. There are 12 main adaptogenic herbs, and while they all have some similar effects, people generally prefer one or two over the others. And some have more direct effects on the central nervous system than the rest. I believe the most potent and medically affective adaptogens are; Rhodiola, Ashwagandha and Ginseng.
Rhodiola Rosea is a herb that grows in Northern regions of the world and has been used for centuries to combat fatigue, depression and boost recovery from stressful activities.
It is a near miracle herb and is one of the best supplements one can take for chronic Fatigue. It is both a minor stimulant and a calming agent, as it tones the nervous system and helps bring it back into equalbrium. It has been shown to boost serotonin in the brain.
Studies have shown it to be effective in treating minor depression, though i feel it can possibly treat all levels of depression at the right dosage.
The right starting dosage is anywhere from 300-500mg. Anything less than this will most likely have very little effect.
Ashwagandha– Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that grows in warmer climates of the world, most notably, the Middle East and India. It is also called, ‘Indian Ginseng’ and is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda medicine; an ancient set of principles for natural healing that has helped millions of people return their body to balance.
Ashwagandha is powerful herb that has been shown to drastically reduce cortisol levels in some people. In a six week human controlled study, 88% of people who took ashwagandha reported a reduction in anxiety, compared to 50% who took a placebo.
Researchers have found the herb can boost testosterone and fertility in men, while boosting antioxidant levels in the bloodstream. There is little doubt about it, this herb is a powerful natural remedy and can be extremely helpful for those with Chronic Fatigue.
Ginseng– Ginseng is the most popular and well known adaptogen and is a staple in Chinese Medicine. American Ginseng is reported to be more calming while Asian Ginseng is said to be more stimulative and invigorating.
The herb has been shown to help reduce inflammatory markers and protect against Oxidative stress.
More than anything Ginseng is known to increase blood circulation and promote the production of Nitric Oxide. Ginseng can assist with mental focus and physical fatigue.
Nutritional deficiencies are common in Chronic Fatigue so besides Adaptogen supplements that assist in toning the nervous system, supplementing with vitamins and minerals does bring positive results to many people. I wouldnt say supplements are required but they are at least worth looking into. Generally a well balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and lean meats can bring the body up to speed in a month or two. Besides Adaptogens, my favorite supplement in Carlson Liver Cod Oil. Cod Oil is rich in Omega 3’s which is great for brain and cardiovascular health and it has Vit D. It’s a super supplement and its natural.
Some Vitamin supplements that may be helpful for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B6
- Omega 3 through Cod Liver Oil or Fish Oil softjells
- Melatonin in the evening for sleep
Finding a good supplement company is not always easy. There are so many companies and manufacturers out there and it is hard to know the standards of each one. Some are certainly untrustworthy and have sketchy practices.
NOW however is a proven company. I have tried a plethora of products while i was ill and I keep coming back to NOW because their supplements work and i dont have to worry about possibly ingesting something sketchy. I am not linked to NOW in anyway but I do believe in the effectiveness of their products.
See nowfoods.com for more information on their standards.
Lens NeuroFeedback/Traditional neurofeedback
Low Energy Neurofeedback System (LENS) is one of the most unknown but powerful treatments in the world to effectively treat a variety of brain and nervous system disorders. It is an innovative and natural approach to bring a brain back into balance.
It utilizes a form of EEG biofeedback based on the electroencephatalgram, that helps the brain develop new neural pathways to get ‘unstuck’ from repeated patterns of trauma, fatigue, anxiety, depression and more.
LENS is FDA approved, is non-invasive and not painful. The neurofeedback professional performs an EEG scan of your brain and then attaches sensors to the scalp where an electrical current, not even as strong as the one in your hand watch, is sent into parts of the brain where there is trauma.
Usually 10-20 sessions are required to sustain positive results.
I used LENS in the past and it is one of the most effective treatments out there. If you can get your insurance to cover it, it is certainly a treatment option worth exploring.
It is generally not well known and this is a shame because it has helped many sick people with chronic health conditions.
If you wish to learn more about it, I highly reccommend the book “The Healing Power of Neurofeedback by Dr. Stephen Larsen. The stories of all the people this therapy has helped is very impressive.