Cancer related fatigue is the most common symptom experienced after cancer treatment - 30% of cancer survivors experience fatigue after treatment that may persist for years. So what you are supposed to do about it?
Start thinking about fatigue as something to be handled and managed over time. Adopting habits to maintain over the long term will give you the best defense against persistent fatigue.
Now - what specifically can you do? Below are seven fatigue fighting habits cancer survivors can adopt to improve cancer related fatigue.
1. Start moving
There’s a mountain of data that says movement (a.k.a. exercise!) is the best medicine to battle cancer related fatigue (read about it here and here). It's imperative that cancer survivors move their bodies. As with many things, less is more - just start walking. The ideal time spent moving is 30 minutes, 5 times weekly. Don't worry about doing that much at first if it's too overwhelming. JUST START SOMEWHERE, even if it's walking to the end of your driveway and back. Then tomorrow, go twice as far. You can do it!
2. Maintain Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is one of my favorite medical terms. It refers to being a responsible steward of your own sleep/wake cycles. You will have more "good days" if you are able to get good nighttime rest. Improve sleep hygiene by:
not sleeping during the day
not drinking caffeine late in the day
powering down all electronics at least an hour before bedtime (and keeping the electronics out of the bedroom!)
exercising regularly (funny how that keeps coming up)
going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
creating a bedtime routine where you do the same comforting things nightly (ex: hot bath)
If you’d like to learn more about insomnia in cancer survivors, read this.
3. Limit Sugar
I've discussed the sugar roller coaster in previous posts, but it's worth mentioning again here. Limiting refined sugars is essential to keeping your body from constantly depending on sugar spikes for energy and suffering from the sugar crashes that inevitbly follow. Avoid this cycle by eating complex carbohydrates (whole grains!) and limiting processed foods. A low sugar diet can also decrease inflammation in your body, thereby decreasing inflammation’s fatiging effects. For more information on how cancer survivors can eat a lower sugar diet, read this post.
4. Manage Your Energy Supply
Keep an energy diary for a few days and take note of the times of day your energy is high and low. Plan to get your active tasks done when your energy is high. Choose to do quieter activities when your energy pattern is low. It's possible that your fatigue is more noticeable because you are trying to function within the same schedule you kept prior to treatment. Small adjustments will make a world of difference; you won't notice your fatigue because you're not trying to do high energy tasks at the wrong time.
5. Set Boundaries
You know those people in your life that are TAKERS? You know how being around them makes you feel exhausted and used? I hereby give you permission to limit access. Choose a boundary and set it. Don't answer their calls. Cancel your date. Request a transfer. You deserve to keep your energy for yourself. It's not their's to take.
6. Be Mindful
A mindfulness practice can help you feel less judgmental toward yourself and your constant companion, fatigue. Taking note of fatigue from a place of compassion for yourself will take less of your energy than noticing it with judgement. It will also sharpen your mind, helping you complete tiresome tasks with greater ease. It might also bring an overall feeling of rejuvenation, lessening the burden of fatigue.
7. Feel Joy
Joy is the antidote to fatigue. Go hang out with that old friend who knows your soul because they helped create it. Watch your grand kid's baseball game and cheer your heart out. Read your favorite novel again in one sitting. Kiss your spouse like you did on your second date.
As you can see, there’s so much you can do right now to improve your fatigue. If you aren’t sure where to start, why not try Brio's FREE Morning Checklist? The checklist is a seven point solution to cancer survivor fatigue, leveraging movement, mindfulness, and nourishment to fight fatigue and feel better in the process. Click the button below to download it for free.
Thanks for reading, Survivor!