7 Secrets to Surviving in the Workplace When You Have Fibromyalgia

Lets face it – the long days and fast pace of today’s workforce aren’t exactly suited to those of us suffering from chronic pain. For millions of people suffering from fibromyalgia, work is an on-going struggle. Every work environment or career presents its own challenges to those suffering from fibromyalgia – but regardless of your job there are steps you can take to help make the best of your situation and lessen the negative impact.

Here are 7 secrets we've discovered that can help you manage your fibromyalgia in the workplace:

Talk To Your Boss

One of the first things you can do is talk to a boss or supervisor about your fibromyalgia and explain what the condition is, what symptoms you’ve experienced and how they might affect you in the workplace. The purpose of speaking with a boss or supervisor is two-fold.

First, doing so can help eliminate false perceptions about your performance. Second, it provides you with an opportunity to discuss what steps both you and your employer can take to minimize the effect of your condition on your job and maximize your potential.

Some may worry that discussing their fibromyalgia with their boss could backfire on them. Though every situation is unique, in my experience being open tends to help clear up misunderstandings and lead to a more positive work relationship.

Be clear that you’re not looking for a way out of doing your job but instead want to be as valuable an asset to them as possible and therefore want to work with them to make that possible.

You may find it helpful to download this guide to fibromyalgia published by the Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Use Stress Coping Strategies

If there is a common trait shared by every job I’ve had it’s that they all have their own stresses that accompany them. Unfortunately, stress and fibromyalgia do not mix well. Stress – if not managed properly – can aggravate the symptoms of your fibromyalgia and take a toll on your energy levels and morale. For that reason, it is important that you develop strategies for coping with stress – regardless of its source.

Stress coping strategies might include deep breathing, visualization, short breaks/walks, etc. A quick Internet search of “stress coping strategies” should give you enough ideas to get you started. Pay attention to your stress levels at work and make an effort to recognize when they are starting to rise beyond a healthy level. Use the coping strategies throughout the day, as necessary.

Explore Workplace Modifications

Whether its small changes to your personal space or special considerations given for your situation, workplace modifications can help make your fibromyalgia more manageable at work. A few small changes you can make to your personal space might include requesting lumbar support for your chair if you sit for long periods of time, a headset if you’re on the phone frequently or a standing desk (with chair) to allow you to alternate between sitting and standing.

Additionally, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides a list of special accommodations that may be beneficial to those with fibromyalgia.

Stretch

Stretching throughout the day is especially beneficial if you’re sitting for long periods of time. A good stretch helps increase blood flow and improve circulation throughout the body – which in turns helps ease tender muscles & joints as well as helps deliver important nutrients and oxygen to the areas of the body that need them most.

If possible, take three or four stretch breaks throughout the day. These breaks need not be longer than 5-10 minutes to have the desired effect.

Bring the Heat

By which we mean the heating pad, of course. Having a reusable heating pad (i.e. rice or gel pad) can be a lifesaver on bad days. Applying the pad to sore areas can bring much needed relief and help get you through those days when the pain flares up.

Make To-Do Lists

One of the biggest causes of stress can be lack of organization and prioritization. For those with fibromyalgia, this can be even more pronounced if the symptoms of fibro fog are clouding your mind. I like to end each day by writing out a rough to-do list for the next day. Of course, nothing is set in stone and plans may change throughout the day – but having a list of things to do when I get into the office each morning takes some of the pressure off. It also has the added benefit of making me feel productive right from the get-go, which can go a long way for my morale.

Apply for Disability

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the nature of your work – you may be caught in a scenario where continuing to work just isn’t an option. If you find yourself in this situation, you might consider applying for disability. As the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not list specific medical conditions by name, it can be elusive for those with fibromyalgia. In some cases they may be approved for it while in others they may not.

For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act and how to apply, click here.

As work is often a financial necessity for the majority of fibromyalgia patients, finding ways to make your work life more manageable is important for both your physical and emotional well being.

Whether you employ the tactics above or come up with tactics of your own – start today by making a plan to improve your work environment and better suit it to your needs.

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