This article was originally published on NationalPainReport.com. It is being republished here with permission from the editor.
Higher insurance premiums.
Gadgets, creams and other products that may or may not work.
The costs of living with chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia and Lyme add up fast. I know a lot of you are struggling financially to even pay for household basics, so a few weeks ago, I published a list of low-cost treatments for fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme.
As a followup to that article, I’m now posting a list of FREE resources that might be helpful in the management of these conditions. Please feel free to add your own free tools in the comments section below so we can all learn from one another!
There’s a saying that goes something like, “If you hear something often enough, you will eventually believe it.” Well, that’s basically how positive affirmations work. I consider the late Louise Hay to be the pioneer of using affirmations for healing the mind and body. You can find her ground-breaking book, “You Can Heal Your Life,” at most libraries. There are also free affirmations on her website.
2. Diaphragmatic breathing
According to a report by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health’s Integrative Medicine Program, “Shallow breathing often accompanies stress, anxiety, and other psychological difficulties. This is typically a result of sympathetic over-arousal, commonly referred to as the ‘fight or flight response.'”
There’s some evidence fibromyalgia is linked to a hyperactive stress response, so practices like diaphragmatic breathing may be helpful in calming the nervous system and managing overall symptoms. The Cleveland Clinic has a useful guide for learning diaphragmatic breathing here.
Studies have shown walking or sitting barefoot outside – called earthing or grounding – helps to reduce stress, pain and inflammation, and improves sleep because it allows the body to connect with the Earth’s surface electrons. This documentary covers the many health benefits of earthing.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been experimenting with earthing to see if it makes a difference in my fibro/Lyme symptoms. I’ve noticed I tend to have more energy and am in a better mood on the days when I take a few minutes to sit outside and reconnect with the Earth. I’m sure the additional vitamin D from the sunshine is contributing to that feeling of wellbeing, too.
Earthing is free, but for those who don’t have access to the outdoors, there are earthing products on the market that give the same effect.
4. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Alright, I admit EFT is one of the more woo-woo items on the list. After all, how is tapping your fingers on your forehead and under your nose going to help anything? I understand the skepticism. I’m skeptical, too, but I have a few readers who are using EFT for symptom relief and swear by it. This link will get you started, and there are plenty of free EFT videos on YouTube, including those specific to fibromyalgia and Lyme.
5. Fibromyalgia class
I’ve written a full article about CFIDS & Fibromyalgia Self Help’s low-cost fibromyalgia classes, but the organization also offers a free version covering symptom management, pacing, navigating relationships with chronic illness and helpful other topics.
6. Hot showers/baths
If you’re on municipal water, showers and baths aren’t technically free, but it’s pretty close. I’ve always found heat to be helpful in reducing overall achiness and soreness, and many others with chronic pain do, too. It’s amazing what a warm bath with some inexpensive Epsom salts can do.
When you’re in pain and feeling miserable, it’s easy to sink into an emotional funk, but I’ve found fixating on the negative just makes me feel even worse. On really bad days, humor in the form of funny movies/TV shows, standup comedians or silly pet videos are a good distraction.
Fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme both come with debilitating physical symptoms, but there’s also the mental and emotional impact of living with these conditions. Journaling helps to process those feelings in a safe way without the judgement of others. If you’re not into spilling your emotions on a page, it can still be helpful to keep a chronic illness journal to track symptoms, medication side effects, food reactions, bathroom habits and other information. This data can provide clues to guide future treatment.
9. Medication questions
Pharmacist Abimbola Farinde has partnered with the National Fibromyalgia Association to answer medication questions for free. You can submit your questions here.
Multiple studies have shown meditation is helpful for managing chronic pain and stress. There are many free apps available but one of my favorites is the Meaning of Life Experiment created by Ashok Gupta. His app includes beautiful, inspiring videos, as well as daily meditations of varying lengths.
11. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a clinically proven meditative practice for the management of chronic pain developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Normally, the MBSR course costs more than $300, but this website offers an online version for free!
12. Music therapy
13. Pet therapy
No matter how bad I feel, my fur babies always make me feel better. A study in the journal Pain Medicine confirms animal-assisted therapy helps to relieve pain, stress and anxiety in persons with fibromyalgia.
Owning a pet definitely isn’t free, but if you don’t have a companion animal of your own, I’m sure a neighbor, family member or your local animal shelter would be happy to volunteer their pets for some cuddles and wet kisses.
14. Prescription assistance
For those who are struggling to pay for medications, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance connects patients to prescription assistance programs for free.
15. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
PMR is effective for managing pain, insomnia and anxiety. YouTube is an excellent resource for free PMR videos.
16. Qigong or tai chi
A lot of us avoid exercise because it can intensify our pain and other symptoms, but gentle stretching can be very helpful for relieving overall symptoms and improving mobility. My fibro friend Julie from Counting My Spoons has written a great post on the benefits of stretching. I also like this simple stretching routine from fibromyalgia specialist and fellow fibro warrior Dr. Ginevra Liptan.
18. Support groups
After my fibromyalgia diagnosis, I felt pretty isolated because none of my family or friends really understood what I was going through. During my darkest times, connecting with others through in-person and online support groups was a lifesaver for me. These kindred spirits didn’t mind if I whined about how bad I felt or shared the dumb thing I’d done because of brain fog. In addition to support, I also found valuable ideas for improving my symptoms. There are hundreds of fibromyalgia and Lyme support groups on Facebook – all of them free. I also like MyFibroTeam.com for fibro and MDJunction.com for Lyme.
Agh, I know exercise is a sore subject – literally! – but we’ve all read study after study after study after study (and then some) that says people with fibromyalgia feel better when they exercise.
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t able to participate in traditional exercise programs because they’re too intense. But many of us can do gentle walking. The keyword here is gentle! The experts say to start slow and build distance and endurance over the time. Depending on one’s functionality, that might mean starting by walking a lap around the house or just going to the mailbox and back. There are health benefits even if you’re only able to walk for 5 minutes at the time.
There’s no way I could leave yoga off the list. Yes, I know doing downward dogs and sun salutations can be downright painful, but yoga can be super gentle, too. For those with fibromyalgia and Lyme, I recommend Aroga Yoga’s YouTube channel. Kayla from Aroga Yoga has chronic fatigue, and has put together gentle yoga routines tailored for those with chronic illness. I really like this one.
Now it’s your turn: What are your favorite FREE tools to help manage chronic illness? Please share in the comments below!