Boom & Bust
Why Boom and Bust is a problem
We all tend to Boom and Bust to some extent. We have days when we really ‘push the boat out’ to achieve something important to us, and then feel tired for a while afterwards. If our health is robust, we can cope with these peaks of exertion. However a lifestyle where we constantly push ourselves beyond our capacity, and make little time to recover will eventually take a toll on our health, as our immune system in particular becomes depleted. If you have persistent pain Boom and Bust is a way of repeatedly triggering your pain symptoms.
If you are already challenged by a health condition, the contrast between your activity levels on ‘good days’ compared with ‘bad days’ can become more marked and extreme. This then creates a problem.
Many health conditions have a fluctuating pattern of symptoms which may be outside of your control. For example, you may experience a ‘relapsing and remitting’ pattern or have painful ‘flare-ups’ of your condition. These patterns need to be respected, as you move towards a place of acceptance and honesty about the boundaries of your physical ability. However as well as the variability of your illness, some ‘symptom’s may be related to your pattern of behaviour and activity. Obvious examples are be chronic pain conditions which may flare-up if you push too hard. The symptoms of Chronic Fatigue behave in a similar way.
On a day when your feel a bit more energetic you might try to make up for lost time by packing in as much as you can. You might enjoy the sense of achievement so much that you become unaware of, or ignore the signs of increased pain or fatigue. It is almost as if your mind takes over, racing ahead, as your body is left behind.
At this point you are expecting too much of your body which may not be able to deliver what you are asking of it. Your muscular and circulatory systems may be challenged. You may not have the ability your mind expects, due to your health condition. This is the ‘Boom’ phase of the cycle.
Inevitably, you crash and need to rest to recover. This is the ‘Bust’ phase. Sadly, as you enter an extended spell of inactivity, you are further reinforcing the process of deconditioning, losing strength and stamina. Soft tissues around the joints can become tighter, muscles become weak, increasing joint pain and stiffness. Over time this can become a difficult downward spiral, as you find that you need to rest more to achieve less.
We have drawn this as a graph, which represents this familiar pattern and story.
The goal is to manage your energy so that you reach a place of steadiness and balance, a bit like the red line on the graph. This also means that you begin to notice what pushes you to over-stretch yourself some days, as well as what holds you back on other days. These frustrations and fears, are ‘thought-habits’ that can begin to shift as you become aware of them.(see the section on mindfulness)
When this pattern has become dominant you may find it difficult to plan ahead. You never know how you will be on any particular day in the future, and have lost any sense of daily rhythm or balance. The big fluctuations in activity mean a loss of confidence in your physical health, but also you may become isolated, unable to get out and about and dominated by your symptoms. Often you will rest for extended periods in the hope of feeling more energised. Unfortunately, in the absence of any active or acute illness, this is not physiologically possible. The extended rest will cause a further reduction of physical capacity.
The different sections on this page offer some simple advice on how to begin to balance how you spend your energy, throughout your daily routine.
Often people express frustration about the tediousness of this approach. They say things like ‘I just want to be spontaneous’, or ‘I can’t believe I have to be so organised about such basic issues’. We can fully understand these perspectives. It's really important to be aware of Boom and Bust as an issue, without being afraid of your body or doing irreparable damage by pushing too far. Sometimes you may want to choose to try something a bit outside your comfort zone or to just 'give it a go'! That's great. You may discover you can do a bit more than you thought! We sometimes call this the 'stretch and grow' phase.
The emphasis is always on AWARENESS, HONESTY and ACCEPTANCE. How are you actually? What's going on for you in this moment? Sometimes you will make a choice to be spontaneous, or ‘push the boat out’. That’s fine. You know you may feel worse, and you can always try to minimise the impact by not over-resting and by getting up and moving again as soon as possible.
Eliminating the peaks and troughs of Boom and Bust is simply a means to an end, as you find daily stability and a steady springboard from which to build your strength and stamina.
Become aware of your coping pattern
The first step in dealing with any problematic issue is to notice and become aware of it !
Sometimes we are ‘set in our ways’ and don’t even realise that our habitual ways of doing things are no longer appropriate or helpful. We tend to spend a lot of our time in automatic pilot!
Use the activity diary here to help you notice your particular pattern. Try to record how you spend your time and energy throughout the week. Jot down a subjective measure of your symptoms as you go. This may be pain or fatigue- with zero being ‘no pain/ not fatigued’ and ten being ‘worst possible pain/ highest level of fatigue’. You might also jot down how stressed or tense you feel in the same way, with zero meaning ‘relaxed’ and ten meaning ‘totally stressed out!’ This is the first step in noticing your patterns, and not intended to increase your anxiety about activity. More to guide you towards tweeks in your ways of going through your day.
Next: Activity Diary