Fibro Friday: World Environment Day
June's edition of Fibro Friday is in honour of World Environment Day, which was on June 5th.
World Environment Day is honoured around the globe to increase awareness and support initiatives aimed at taking action to protect our physical environment and our planet. The environment impacts many aspects of our lives, including our health.
People with Fibromyalgia are often sensitive to a number of environmental influences that, when identified, can lead to improvements in symptoms and decreased flares overall. The reason for this increased sensitivity is likely due to the increased stress these environmental influences place upon the body. The body of someone with Fibromyalgia is already stuck in a state of constant, overwhelming stress. Adding more stress does not bode well for symptoms. Think of your body as a rain barrel and water as the level of stress your body is under. With Fibromyalgia, your rain barrel is already full of water. It simply cannot hold any more. Adding more water will result in water spilling over (which in the real world, is more pain/fatigue/brain fog, etc). The good news is, you can decrease the "water in your rain barrel" by identifying environmental triggers for your symptoms and minimizing your exposure to them.
When conducting an environmental history with patients, I inquire about not only the physical environment, but the mental and emotional environments they live in as well. All aspects of our environment have an effect on the internal environment in our bodies and our state of health.
There can be many sources of toxins and chemicals in our physical environments, some of which we are familiar with and some we may have never heard of. For example, living in a high traffic neighbourhood may increase your exposure to pollution and poor air quality. Living near farms or industrial plants may increase your exposure to pesticides and chemicals used in manufacturing. Many people have been exposed to mold at some point in their lives and may be exhibiting symptoms as a result. Food, beauty products, soaps, household cleaners, materials your furniture are made of, what materials were used in your dental fillings, your hobbies, and many other areas of your environment may include other potential exposures.
Your emotional environment can have a huge impact on your symptoms and your ability to cope with your diagnosis. Emotional stress can be just as toxic as physical stress and can be harder to identify at times. Relationships with family/friends/coworkers, your interactions with your health care providers and the community, your spiritual/religious beliefs, and the support you have in coping with your condition can all be positive or negative environmental influences on your symptoms.
The emotional impact of being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia is another emotional aspect that is often neglected in the medical world. The stress of the grief of losing the life you once had can be profound and leave you feeling hopeless. This is big stress that may be best addressed with the right mental health professional.
The mental environmental assessment includes a look at how thoughts impact your internal environment. Do you mentally talk down to yourself or tell yourself you're "stupid" when you can't remember something or you're feeling foggy? Do you worry excessively about situations that are out of your control? Do you internalize the messages all around you saying your Fibromyalgia is "all in your head"? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are experiencing the toxic effect your mental state can have on your body. Changing your mental state can be difficult, but it often gets easier once other environmental influences have been addressed and your body is under less stress.
There are a number of supports available to work on minimizing your environmental exposures. I've listed several resources for you to check out below. This process can be a lot to work through on your own. You're always welcome to contact me with questions or schedule a visit if you're ready to dive right in.
1. Environmental Health Clinic at the Women's College Hospital in Toronto is a clinic devoted to providing education and direction for care of people with complex chronic illnesses (Note: This clinic can only be accessed by referral from a medical doctor).
2. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has lots of great information on limiting your toxin exposure through food and beauty/household products.
3. The Fibro Manual by Ginerva Liptan
4. The Complete Fibromyalgia Health, Diet Guide, & Cookbook by Dr. Louise McCrindle & Dr. Alison Bested
Books on the Mind-Body Connection:
5. The Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss
6. When the Body Says No by Gabor Mate