How to Beat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: You don’t need to live with CFS
Ben Ahrens, Co-founder & CEO of re-origin®
About eight years ago, I found myself in a challenging situation. I’d been bed-bound for about three years with chronic Lyme disease and did years of different treatments, every kind of supplement, and even antidepressants – many of which had moderate to severe side effects.
It took years of trial and error and the infection did eventually subside. But for the years that followed, I found myself stuck in this negative loop; this vicious cycle of chronic fatigue, overwhelm, anxiety, burnout, and depression – where every time I tried to really enter back into full life – back into full-time work and social circumstances, I just found that I would get a re-triggering of all of these old symptoms, and it was never clear as to why.
Is it “all in my head”?
When I would go back to the doctors, it seemed as though I had recovered. – Yet my body was producing all of those reactions as if I was still stuck back in that vicious cycle of disease and dysfunction.
So I started to address this new problem, and I took up meditation and a bunch of different mind-body therapies. And while I did find some relief while I was engaging in those practices. The moment I stepped off the meditation cushion and back into the real world, I found myself just becoming triggered all over again and experiencing the same symptoms: muscle pain, brain fog, crushing exhaustion, anxiety & depression.
Week after week, month after month, I would make social plans to see friends, and invariably I would become overwhelmed, exhausted, symptomatic, and have to cancel, only to feel worse about myself and the situation.
It wasn’t until I turned my attention toward the brain and read books like Norman Doidge’s “The Brain that Changes Itself,” that I learned that those weights that I was carrying were actually old wiring and obsolete programming in my limbic system, which is a region of the brain.
A New Hope
As it turns out, if you’ve experienced a period of long term stress and that combines with a certain trigger, (in my case, a bacterial infection, for you, it might have been a stressful life event, trauma, or another kind of illness or even a physical injury) – these two things can actually couple together to create an overactive stress response, which at the time of infection, illness or injury is necessary for healing. But after the physical problem is over, this can lead to an ongoing stress response that is essentially no longer appropriate.
The good news is, and the hopeful part is that the brain has the incredible ability to rewire itself and adapt back to normal. Some 86 billion neurons, each with anywhere from 1 to 10,000 synaptic connections, once thought to be fairly static, are now known to be able to completely rewire themselves. Your brain literally can change its structure and its function, especially the stress response. And it’s now been clinically demonstrated, that through self-directed neuroplasticity, basically “exercises” that you can do yourself – you can literally change the structure and function of your own brain.
What I did to recover from CFS
My path to recovery was not linear and led me down many winding paths involving lifestyle changes, relaxing my nervous system, attending support groups (at first) and sometimes experiencing a worsening of my fatigue, especially after a higher than usual activity level. Nevertheless here is what I found worked best for me:
Pacing – not pushing too hard or too quickly
This goes for anyone experiencing chronic illness or medical conditions of any kind. Being realistic with yourself and knowing that it just takes time is key to allowing the nervous system to remain calm. It’s that sense of “rushing” to get better that creates agitation and the system and paradoxically, prolongs the healing process.
For anyone who’s experienced a chronic illness or prolonged injury, you know that mental health is paramount. In fact, there really is no separation between the mind and the body insofar as how they interact. I found it extremely useful to refocus my attention on things that bring me joy. Whether planning a trip (even if it wouldn’t happen for several years) or researching things that interest me, instead of searching the web for more fear-based info about chronic fatigue syndrome or related conditions. The general rule I came up with for myself was “never look at what you’re trying to avoid” and continuously refocus on the things that make you feel joyful.
Finding flow is all about allowing yourself to be absorbed in an activity. Whether reading a book or doing some form of arts and crafts project. Many of the people recovering from CFS and depression using the re-origin program now experience great improvements when they allow themselves to pursue those things that used to interest them as children, but perhaps as adults, they never got around to fulfilling. One of our members, Debra, took up playing the violin in her 70s. Another, Mira, started dancing. What have you always wanted to do but never done because you didn’t think it was “useful”? – When it comes to healing and recovery, or just living a joyful life, nothing could be more productive than engaging in fun activities.
A recent study from Ohio University shows that dwelling on stressful events can increase inflammation in the body. The study found that people had an increase in C-reactive protein when they ruminated on stressful events and that levels of bodily inflammation actually would drop rapidly when they simply placed their attention elsewhere.
At re-origin, we practice a very specific type of visualization that has been cultivated with the help of our scientific advisory board that is meant to disarm the threat reflex and calm the nervous system concerning the triggers that would otherwise agitate us. You can learn more about this visualization exercise within the re-origin community.
Celebrating small wins
Learn helplessness is a phenomenon that’s all too commonly experienced by someone who’s been ill for a long time. To combat this, I used the science of small wins. I did this by choosing one tiny action that I could take each and every day, in my case, it was taking one deep breath, and then celebrating the fact that I did that one thing. When you’ve been struggling with CFS or any debilitating condition for a long time, it doesn’t matter what you do, it simply matters that you do. Celebrating small wins will create a positive association between small actions and the rewarding feeling you get from accomplishing them.
Neuroplasticity “brain retraining”
While all those things listed above serve to alter the brain and nervous system in favorable ways, the most important thing I learned on my journey back to health, is that having a systematic plan, a road map, and a compass to follow that guides you through the exact steps of daily brain retraining, is incredibly valuable. Most people who experience an illness are already overloaded and overwhelmed. It is for this exact reason that I created the re-origin program to provide you with the exact steps to take so that all you have to do is follow them.
It isn’t going to happen overnight, but just like training any muscle, if you show up every day and do a little bit of the neuroplasticity training exercises, then your brain literally has no choice but to change. Change, after all, is your very nature.
You are NOT stuck!
The biggest takeaway and thing that I learned is that your body and mind actually have all of the resources internally that they need in order to be healthy and calm.
The brain is extremely sophisticated and if it’s reestablished, as this chief orchestrator of all organs, systems, neurotransmitters, and chemicals in the body that affect how we feel and function at any moment, it can restore homeostasis to your system – that state we know as perfect health.
Doubling down on the CFS research
My research and experience since then, have led me to believe that everyone is capable of retraining their brain and resetting their system. It won’t happen overnight, but for anyone willing to put in the time and take the small daily steps, I’ve teamed up with a group of Ph.D. Neuroscientists and clinicians to create re-origin: a science-based, self-directed neuroplasticity program that you can do yourself.
Whether it’s ongoing physical pain that you’ve been feeling, anxiety, or exhaustion without any clear apparent cause. I want to assure you that there is a cause, and most importantly, there’s a solution. It’s not “all in your head”, but it might be stemming from your brain. And fortunately, that’s good news because the brain is really good at adapting and changing itself. And through the right techniques and exercises, you can actually rewire the brain to produce a response that’s more pleasant and more advantageous for overall health, healing & happiness.
Chronic Fatigue FAQ
How do you get rid of chronic fatigue fast?
Because it takes a while for the underlying conditions that cause CFS to form, it can take time to change them if long-term results are to be experienced. The goal of the re-origin program is not short-term “boosts” in energy, but sustainable long-term self-regulation and ultimately, a return to full homeostasis. This can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months or more.
Is there hope for chronic fatigue syndrome?
Yes! Nothing in life is static, and that includes your health and energy levels. Recovering from myalgic encephalomyelitis or CFS/ME is 100% possible and many people who’ve been through our program are now 100% recovered and have remained that way for years.
What is the best way to heal from chronic fatigue?
The best way to heal from chronic fatigue syndrome is to take a full brain, body, and mind approach. Because CFS/ME is multisystemic and involves virtually all vital organ systems in the body, such as the endocrine system, the adrenals, the HPA axis, and even the microbiome, people generally see the best results using a neuroplasticity based approach whose aim is to reestablish the brain is the “chief choreographer” of all organs, cells, and systems. It’s far too complex to try and manage these bodily systems with medication or singular activities or approaches. Because the brain and particularly, the limbic system governs these autonomic functions, it works well to address the source and not just the symptoms.
Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome real?
Yes. According to the centers for disease control and prevention website: “Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a complex, chronic, debilitating disease with systemic effects. ME/CFS is characterized by reduced ability to perform pre-illness activities that last for more than 6 months and is accompanied by profound fatigue, which is not improved by rest. A hallmark of ME/CFS is that symptoms can worsen after physical, mental, or emotional effort, a manifestation known as post-exertional malaise (PEM). Patients with ME/CFS also have unrefreshing sleep. Other common manifestations are orthostatic intolerance, cognitive impairment, and pain. As can be observed in people with other long-term chronic illnesses, secondary psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety may also be present in some patients with ME/CFS.”
What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome?
Symptoms of CFS can vary from person to person but some common symptoms include: post-exertional malaise; immune system overactivity, joint pain, inability to engage in intense physical activity, sensitivities to foods or chemicals, sore throat, extreme fatigue, fibromyalgia or muscle, and joint pain, sleep disorders or general sleep problems, changes in blood pressure, activation of Epstein-Barr virus, cramps and muscle pain, tender lymph nodes, autoimmune activity, and difficulty performing some daily activities that include focussing for extended periods of time or any type of physical exertion.
How do you cure chronic fatigue syndrome?
We always want to be mindful when it comes to using words like “cure” especially with respect to complex conditions for the reason that their cause is not well understood. For that reason, if the cure is defined as not just an alleviation of symptoms but rather, a complete and total eradication of the causes of symptoms, then we advocate an approach that treats the whole person and not just the symptoms. Whether a “cure” can be had, is not something anyone can say for sure, but if all symptoms and their sources can be eradicated – that’s to say, if a person can be truly restored to a state of self-management and homeostasis, then it most certainly would not come in the form of a pill.
How can I beat chronic fatigue naturally?
re-origin offers one of the only science-backed neuroplasticity programs that guides you through the exact steps of retraining your limbic system to restore self-organization and homeostasis throughout your mind and body. Thousands of individuals have been able to restore their full health and recover from chronic fatigue, myself included using the simple exercises offered within this program. You can visit this page to learn more about the re-origin program and see if it’s the right fit for you.