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Activity Pacing on the “Good Days” and “Bad Days”

Activity pacing is an important skill to have when coping with chronic illness, recovering from an injury, or managing other health problems. As you work to juggle your physical symptoms with your daily activities and responsibilities, it can be hard not to overdo it. Learning how to pace yourself, even on your “good days,” can be crucial in limiting the physical and emotional lows of your “bad days,” and allow you to take back a sense of control over your life.

Why do I need to pace myself?

When coping with a physical illness, it is common to experience “good days” and “bad days.” Sometimes you may wake up feeling energized with minimal pain or discomfort, and on other days, you may wake up feeling sluggish, achy, and all around uncomfortable. It is only natural that on the “good days,” you may feel the need to “take advantage” of your energy to complete tasks or engage in activities—and  it can be very easy to “overdo it.”

Doing too much during a “good day” often leads to a big crash or burnout and can make you more susceptible to longer bouts of “bad days,” as your body recovers. At the same time, it is easy to do get in the habit of over-limiting your activities because of your fear of a bad crash. Activity pacing can keep you from burning out and help you find the balance between doing too little (under-activity) and doing too much (over-activity) by teaching you how to effectively listen to your body as you go about your everyday life.

How do I pace myself?

Activity pacing requires you to actively monitor your physical symptoms and mindfully gauge how you are feeling as you plan your activities. It may take some time to understand how much you can or cannot do, without risking feeling worse later. Here are a few tips that may help you to find a balance that works for you:

  • Write down your schedule ahead of time.
  • Make sure to include things you have to do, things you like to do, and time for rest.
  • Plan what you can skip if you are starting to feel too tired.
  • Troubleshoot how you may complete the tasks you have to do, if you begin to feel worn down (e.g. asking for help or finding alternative solutions).
  • Use a daily planner to schedule your activities and track how you are feeling. 

By taking the time to pace yourself, you can increase in the odds of having another “good day” rather than knowing there will be a burnout and crash afterwards that could last days/weeks. It can also encourage you to safely stay active and engaged, even when you aren’t feeling your best. Activity pacing can be hard to do at first, especially if you feel you have been stuck in an endless cycle of “good” and “bad” days for a long period of time. Health psychologists can help you begin to manage your days so you can regain a sense of control in your life.

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