Why Is Pacing So Hard? And One Simple Technique to Make It Easy

Picture of woman who doesn't like pacing to manage her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Taking breaks when you don’t want to is hard.

“I hate pacing!”

It didn’t take long after we had begun the discussion part of the San Francisco Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Self Help group meeting until a woman started railing passionately against pacing:

“I know I should use pacing, but if I just lived my life in the confinements and limits of my illness, my life would no longer be worth living anyways. Sure, it hurts me not to take breaks, but I believe that this life force in me, that just wants me to be active, is a good thing, and I shouldn’t repress it by pacing myself too much.”

All of us in the room could sympathize. Pacing is hard!  It is frustrating when—despite our fatigue—we got ourselves into cooking a healthy meal, cleaning our house, or making a shopping list and we have to stop again after only a few moments of flow, because otherwise we’d over-exhaust ourselves and exacerbate our symptoms.

Personally, although I consider myself functionally fully recovered, the one part of my life that I still notice myself complain about is that I have to pace myself by taking intermittent breaks throughout my day (or the Thanksgiving dinner).

Do the following thoughts, which go through my head when I coax myself into a twenty-minute rest, sound familiar?

“When I rest I have to face all of the unpleasant sensations in my body, I’d rather drown them out by eating some more turkey.“

“It’s so much fun with my family. I won’t be able to stand the loneliness in my room when I leave the thanksgiving dinner table.”

Or on days that are not holidays:

“When I rest it’s going to be terrible, I’ll lose all the great ideas that I just had and wanted to act on.”

“I can’t rest because I’m so into what I’m currently doing that if I stop now, it will take me forever to get back into the flow of doing it. “

The above thoughts hint at why pacing is so hard. So how do you make it easy?

Although I haven’t completely “solved” the problem of pacing, over the last five years I have discovered several ways to make it a lot easier. I have to admit that, even when I use these techniques, I don’t always enjoy the process of stopping. However my techniques are good and enjoyable enough, so that at least, I no longer avoid pacing. This is a BIG DEAL: I mentioned in my previous article how important pacing is for healing in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. I believe it is important to make pacing fun enough, so that we no longer avoid it, but make a rock-solid commitment to actually doing  it.

Here is a simple, three-step process that helped me in overcoming my aversion to pacing:

Step one – Notice when it’s time to take a break

Sometimes we get so into what we’re doing that we’re unaware that we’re over-exhausting ourselves and need to stop. Luckily, there are a couple of ways I have found useful in increasing our awareness of when it’s time to  rest:

  1. Meditation. Mindfulness meditation helps us to become more aware of what’s going on with our body and mind. My favorite mindfulness meditation is the Soften and Flow audio that’s part of the Amygdala Retraining Program (Win-Win Affiliate Link).
  2. A tool such as Stillness Buddy for your computer or a mindfulness bell for your smartphone. A simple timer or alarm will do as well. Although your natural level of awareness is not increased by using these tools, they still get the job done.

Another way to ensure that you take breaks when you need them is to plan ahead: Each day, you can schedule certain times in your calendar at which you’ll want to take a break. Everyone at the self-help group meeting jeered at this technique when it was mentioned as part of Bruce Campbell’s self-help strategy, but just because it’s unpopular doesn’t mean it’s not effective.

How will you make sure that you become aware of when it’s time to rest? Pick one of the strategies above, or something else that works for you, and find a commitment in your heart to make it a part of your life.

Step two – Trick your mind to make pacing easy

If you become good at step one, you will recognize when it’s time for a deep rest, but you might still feel a big resistance to actually taking that break (as I described in the opening of this article).

I’m not asking you to just be strong and push through it. You’ve probably done this for years, and you and I know that it’s not the right approach to healing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia.

Instead, I’ll ask you to make pacing easy for yourself.

Here is how you do it: You shorten the length of your break. Now, I’m not asking you to rest for a shorter period of time in total (more about that in the next step), but I ask you to begin with a very short break.

Here’s why: While it feels hard to rest for 20 minutes, taking a break for only ten seconds feels doable, if not easy. We need to begin easy, or else we won’t get started at all.

Let’s do it together, right now:

Take a slow, deep breath in (secret tip: put a fake smile on your face while you do it)…

And now, breathe out.

Did you take that deep breath with me? If you haven’t yet, I urge you to really do it and not read the next paragraph until you’ve done it. So: take that deep breath in… and let it go.

You’ve just taken a ten second break. It was easy—right? That’s all I’m asking you to do in this step. Easy.

Step three – As easy as step two

This step is no harder than the previous step. All I’m asking from you is to do the same thing you just did over again.

Take another slow, deep breath in.

And now, let it go.

Did you do it? Good!

Now do it again.

Excellent! Now, all you have to do is repeat this over and over again, until twenty minutes are over.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It really does, but it works like a miracle. When you’re committing to taking really short breaks, you trick the part of your brain that freaks out at the prospect of you taking a healing pacing pause.

Is it OK to trick that freaking-out part of yourself? I think so. I liken it to when my love, Erin, tried to get her horse in a trailer to move her to a more beautiful pasture. The horse, Pockets, didn’t know that it was good for her to trod into the trailer: she resisted. So Erin had to trick Pockets to make her go in.

Once Pockets arrived at the new pasture, she was very, very happy (as you can see here :). Likewise, the freak-out part of your brain will be overjoyed once you’ve helped it get out of its own way and rest for twenty minutes.

The best thing about this technique is that after you’ve repeated your commitment to a mini-break a few times, additional mini-rests become easier. Your mind has already calmed down a bit and therefore freaks out less. As you recognize yourself calming down, you may increase the length of your mini-rests to thirty seconds, a minute, or even longer.

You’re doing it right as long as your rest continues to feel easy.

Over to you

I urge you to try the technique now. It’s made pacing, which was essential to my recovery, so much easier, and I believe it will help you, too.

Free recording

To make it super easy for you, I’ve created an audio recording that will guide you through the process in real time. You can download it here, shove it on your mp3 player, and it’ll guide you, through each of steps above, into a peaceful, enjoyable rest.

Get your FREE recording here.

Any questions? What was it like for you to try the three simple steps? How do you use pacing to manage Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. How intriguing. The use of my planner to record rest periods as part of my pacing technique certainly doesn’t get jeered at by me. I have used an hour flat rest period in a darkened room sometime in the afternoon (12-6) as part of my recovery plan for the last 6 years. Using this 7/7 habit has been virtually the most important part of my recovery from nearly house bound to being able to ride a friend’s horse twice a week. Planned rest period are wonderful in my book.

    For the first 4 years I slept for an hour and sometimes longer, as I became better I didn’t sleep so long or so deeply and now rarely need to sleep at all. I see this time as my gift to my body and have linked it with relaxing application of aromatherapy oils, hand and foot cream or whatever I felt was spa like, linking pleasure with healing..

    Whilst I no usually longer need to sleep or lie flat for about an hour, I am happy to either meditate or read quietly. The time is mine to use as I wish.

    • Hi Suella,

      I love reading about how you’ve been able to make a long time commitment and fall in love with your daily hour of rest. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome dictates that we take very good care of our body, and you are a beautiful example of how to be at peace with or even appreciate that fact.

      I hope you continue to enjoy your hour of self care. And riding horses 🙂

  2. I agree completely. I have found that pacing and resting makes the difference between managing my symptoms and my life or reeling from one crash to another. I find that my ideal scheduling is 3 – 5 rests per day. The first one I do for 15 minutes about an hour after I get up as I am usually exhausted by the time I dress and eat and mornings are always the hardest. I do a 20-30 minute rest around noon and another around 5:00. If needed I will do a 15 minute one around 8 pm. If I’m having a higher activity day – whatever that involves – more social interaction etc. I will schedule an additional rest immediately prior to the activity and immediately after. I’m still operating at about 30% of pre illness activity level, but thanks to the rests and pacing I am experiencing less severe crashes and not as many days or hours requiring complete bed rest.

  3. Katrina McGrouther says:

    So are you saying for that 20 minutes I just sit or lie and breathe?
    Or is that a 20 minute lying down reading or other quiet activities?

    • The 20 minutes are best spend doing relaxation exercises, such as listening to a guided meditation or doing a body scan or focusing on your breath. This allows the body to get the deepest possible rest. Reading or other quiet activities can also be restful, but with most people with CFS, it is still too active to count as real, deep rest.

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