Do you know when to stop? The importance of knowing your limits in chronic illness

Published by Inder Singh Virdi BA (Hons) mBANT on

I don’t know about you, but before developing chronic fatigue syndrome, I never knew when to stop.

That ‘last paragraph’, ‘last press-up’, ‘last assignment’ that ‘last word’. I just kept going.

I remember telling myself ‘I am going to fucking ‘achieve it even if it kills me’. 

I had this burning desire for whatever I put my mind to. 

I simply did not know when to stop.

In my previous article ‘how to focus on yourself’ I talk about having an excessive drive to thrive and be better than the rest. 

I briefly discus the personality types prone to developing chronic fatigue syndrome and other chronic illnesses.

In ‘the handbook of highly sensitive people’ by Mel Collins, Mel describes ‘The Pleaser’ ‘The Achiever’ and ‘The Perfectionist’.

You may have watched ‘Avicii stories’ exploring the life of Tim Bergling, one of the most successful DJ’s of all time.

It was a classic example of the ‘pleaser’, ‘overachiever’ and ‘perfectionist’ in action.

Although he was arguably one of the most prolific producers in history, it was clear he pushed passed his invisible limits.

When I work with clients, they spend months repeating the same pattern.

They start to feel better and then overexert themselves falling back to square one.

Peak and Crash. Boom and Bust.

‘Running on Empty?’

When you struggle with energy related issues such as CFS, you feel like there’s a limited amount of ‘fuel in the tank’. We can use a few analogies to describe and help manage the ‘energy balance’ such as a bank account or the spoon theory

Although, I certainly believe in the early stages of CFS, there are tremendous energy deficits driven by biochemical factors, I am beginning to believe, that the key to managing energy further down the road is in our interoceptive attention.

In other words, our focus on our symptoms and lack of energy.

Imagine in between your thumb and index finger on your right hand I gave you a paper cut… notice what happens to your attention…imagine the cut, the pain, the bleeding. You may start imagining all the worse case scenarios this paper cut could lead to.

Just by picturing those things, you may have felt a kick of adrenaline, your body tightening and thoughts racing.

I’ve begun to observe, that many people with CFS are in this constant state of ‘hyper arousal’ or ‘high alert’ to their symptoms (albeit at a subliminal level).

The increased ‘focus’ or interoceptive attention, perpetuates the cycles of nervous overdrive, further driving the symptoms.

So the key to knowing your limits, is firstly, finding a way to break the internal focus on your symptoms and lack of energy.

Don’t worry, be happy

In Ashok Gupta’s CFS amygdala re-training programme one of his recommended 7 attitudes for success’ is to approach life in a happy go lucky way freeing yourself of pressure and expectations.

Why To-Do Lists and Goals are Destructive

By their very nature, setting goals on a to-do list is a form of failure because it poses a constant reminder of what we haven’t yet done.

Using language such as to start/do/complete/finish’ just piles on the pressure.

Clients often tell themselves ‘ I must do this’ or ‘I have to finish that.’

Try saying ‘I will TRY to start/complete/finish’ this task instead.

You may find it’s much easier to get started because there’s no expectation. 

You may end up enjoying the task more because there’s no pressure. 

But remember….if it works out then great, but if it doesn’t…great! You’ll try next time.

Be Mindless, not Mindful

Mindfulness, is a ‘buzz word’ everyone talks about at the moment.

Mindfulness techniques allow us to become aware of those negative thoughts that add unnecessary stress or pressure on ourselves.

However. in my experience, people with CFS and chronic illness in general, benefit more from being mindless i.e. they need to get out of there minds and be fully engaged in the present moment, not worrying about their symptoms or futures.

Although, mindfulness meditations are a good way of developing awareness and presence, just engaging in something you enjoy, perhaps with a friend, can take you out of your head. Going for a walk, playing an instrument or whatever!

Exhale Before You Pull The Trigger

My mentor used to say “it’s better to de-compress throughout the day than explode at the end of the day.”

When I was a cadet in the army, our sniper instructor taught us about the importance of our breathing when aiming at our target.

Sniper rifleman are taught to exhale and hold before they pull the trigger as it keeps the rifle still. Isn’t that what we all want. To be still in our mind before we take action or make decision?

As it happens, exhalation helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the part that activates healing and rejuvenation). 

I’ve found people with fatigue related conditions tend to have a more sensitive or overactive nervous system.

When you find yourself becoming worked up. Say to yourself STOP!. Don’t breath in. JUST EXHALE all the way out.

And Remember ‘Exhale before you pull the trigger’.

If you strive to be ‘mindless’, drop expectations and live in a happy go luck way, you maybe one step closer on your path to health. 

Wishing you well on your path to health,



Inder Singh Virdi BA (Hons) mBANT

I'm a nutritional therapist specialising in brain health and chronic fatigue syndrome. My goal is to help people achieve their dreams through optimised brain health and helping alleviate ‘invisible issues’ that people with chronic health issues often face.


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