Let’s Talk About: Pacing
You know I don’t like to tote cures. And this is by no stretch a cure, in fact, pacing is a lot of bloody hard work.
However it is a very strategic and mathematical way of handling your energy; and hence, I’m sold.
What Pacing Is
Okay, Emma, but what the hell is pacing? Are we just supposed to walk back and forth in a room in a relatively angry manner?
Well no. Google defines pacing as the above, but also as ‘to move or develop (something) at a particular rate or speed’. In this case, what I’m talking about pacing is your life.
Sounds a little shit. Yeah, I know. The thing about CFS is that your body is going so fast that you, by default, want to go fast with it. It’s also a function of today’s modern lifestyle – we have the technology to communicate across the world, to access information at any given time…
Pacing is an extension of the ‘slow’ movement. You know all those books about mindfulness, hygge, lagom etc etc? Yeah. Pacing.
Psychology Today describes pacing as ‘pacing out your activities during the day so that you’re able to stay within the limits of what your body can handle without exacerbating your symptoms’. I think that’s a pretty good description. It’s an extension of the spoon theory, really; know what you do and don’t have the energy for.
How I Pace
A’ Chronically Ill Person’s Best Friend’ (according to the article), most people who subscribe to the notion kind of hate it a little. Sure, it allows you to monitor your energy – but who really, honestly, wants to do that every moment, of every day? Not me.
Alas, here I am. Using pacing.
I heard about ‘pacing’ my activity through an occupational therapist (OT) who was recommended by my pain specialist. After what seemed like a million trillion exercises, she sent me home with a worksheet, to document what I could and could not comfortably do.
Here’s the thing, and this is why most people have a love-hate relationship with the concept. I wasn’t documenting how long I could comfortably do laps in a pool, cook or dance. No, I was timing how long I could sit, stand, walk and talk. And honestly, it was shit. But once I had the basics of pacing down (e.g. I could sit for 30 minutes, drive for 20, stand for 15 and talk for about 5 hours), I could start trying to extend what I was doing, without hurting myself.
How You Can Use Pacing
This is where it gets fun, and this is where you come in. Yay for you!
You don’t need to go to an OT to start pacing. In fact, you can start right here and now. Just click on the pop up below, enter your email, and receive your free pacing worksheet. All you need is yourself, a timer and a whole lot of patience.
Start with your basic activities – how long can you sit down for before you’re in pain? How long can you stand for before you’re in pain?
For your first round, you want to know how long you can go;
You then want to add your extraneous exercises, for example;
- Being in bright light
- Listening to music
- Being on the computer
I tried to do my chosen activities THREE TIMES while calculating how long I could go using my phone timer. (Of course, you might want someone else to time you for swimming and driving. I then found the average (say, 5 minutes) and took 20% of the time off that to find my base number.
A little confused? Me too.
Say I had a time of 4.40 minutes, 5.00 minutes and 5.20 minutes. That’s 280 seconds, 300 seconds and 320 seconds. To find the average, we add the three totals and divide by the number of attempts.
Therefore 280+300+320=900, and 900/3 is 300.
Then you can convert back into minutes, which would give you an average of 5 minutes. 80% of 5 minutes is 4 minutes.
Lots of maths, I know. But that’s it, and I’m pretty sure we learned that in like primary school. NO MORE MATH I PROMISE.
Once you’ve found your base number, you can start gradually adding on time. Do one week of only walking for 4 minutes, and then the next week, you hike it up to six. The week after, you might walk for 8 minutes, and the following week 10. It’s really up to you and what you’re feeling like – if you’re feeling so comfortable with 10 minutes that you think you can take a 5-minute jump to a 15-minute walk, go for it. If that jump ends up being too much, either go down a few minutes for another week or try and stick it out for a few weeks.
The thing to know about pacing is that it’s all about what you can and cannot do. It is putting the control of your body, back into your hands. It also gives you some little achievements too – I can drive for 30 minutes! I can walk for 20 minutes non stop! Yay goals!
Sometimes you slip, and that’s okay too. Pacing is a very strict discipline, and no one likes having to be disciplined all the time. I most often ‘slip’ doing things I love, like sewing, because I lose track of time. However, a gradual increase in the time it takes you to complete everyday activities can lead to an overall increase in health – and really, that’s all we’re here for.
Looking for more info?
Google Scholar has an absolute wealth of studies on pacing.
You can go here to see all the results that google scholar has to offer you.
If you’re feeling brave, the below studies are the ones I read and really liked, for both their clarity and information. If you can’t get into them for whatever reason, I would still recommend reading the abstract.