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FND Techniques

What is Balancing/Pacing?

Balancing is all about managing activity and rest to bring about improvements in the way you feel. The word ‘activity’ is used in a broad sense, to include mental and emotional activity, as well as the more obvious physical sort. Taking a balanced steady approach to activity counteracts the common tendency to overdo things. It avoids the inevitable ill effects that follow. Balancing your activities gives you awareness of your own limitations which enables you to plan the way that you use your energy, maximizing what you can do. Over time, when your condition stabilizes, you can very gradually increase your activities to work toward recovery.

To understand balancing it can help to think of your available energy as being like a mobile phone battery. If you completely drain the battery you have to wait to recharge it before you can use the phone again. If you use some of the battery and make regular top-ups, then your phone will always be ready to use. Managing your energy through planned periods of activity and rest will mean that you are more likely to do the activities that you want.

It can be as important to understand early on what being balanced is not about. It does not give you a free hand to push through activities, banking on rest and recuperation afterward, but takes an altogether smoother approach. If you are prone to trying to cram in as much activity as you can in the morning, then have to sleep during the afternoon or the next day to recover, planning your activities will help you to break this boom and bust habit. Similarly, it discourages you from gathering energy through the day and then attempting a burst of activity later in the afternoon or evening.

How can balancing help?

So far, pacing yourself throughout the day may not seem very appealing. You’ve gathered that it requires planning and discipline, which probably doesn’t sound easy when you’re ill. It may also seem restrictive – the last thing you need when you are already coping with the limitations imposed by your illness. However, this approach has the potential to create stability by gradually regaining control, which helps with coping while maintaining focus on your recovery.

Understanding the Basics

Balancing in Practice

Finding A Baseline and Stabilizing Activity

To find the amount of activity that you can confidently manage on a day to day basis, you first need to have a good awareness of your current activity patterns and their impact on your symptoms and how you feel. How do your symptoms change and fluctuate in relation to what you have been doing? Remember to consider not just physical activity but also mental and emotional activities.

  • Priority Setting


    If concentration and memory problems make reading difficult, you might set yourself a specific reading goal. Choose a book that is enjoyable and not too taxing, then build in small stages – tackle a couple of pages at a time, or a chapter and build in quality rest periods. Similarly, you could choose a newspaper or magazine.

    If you want to build up a physical activity, such as walking to the shops, consider your current capacity or baseline and then set yourself a realistic and measurable goal. If your baseline is currently set at walking regularly around your home, build in several small stages before the end goal of getting to your local shop. Your first stage may be to walk outside to the garden or to the pavement. You might then have several stopping points along the way.

    Don’t be tempted to make big jumps or increases regardless of how well you may be feeling. In the end, a slow and steady approach will help you to reach your goals more quickly.

  • Calculate Baseline

    How to Calculate Your Baseline:

    You will need to work out a baseline for each different activity you undertake.

    Techniques include:

    The 75% rule. If you think that you can carry out an activity for 20 minutes, try reducing your activity time by 5 minutes to 15 minutes (75% of 20 minutes). The aim would then be to maintain 15-minute blocks of activity interspersed with rest/relaxation periods throughout the day. An even simpler way is to set your baseline at about 50% of what you think you can do on an average day.

    • Split each activity up with 5-10 minute rest breaks.
    • When setting a baseline, the golden rule is to remember that all activities must be set at a level that can be maintained on both a good and a bad day.
    • It can be very disappointing to find that your baseline is lower than you expected but remember that you are taking a step back in order to go forward!
    • Know your limits. Set a small target for the day and if you complete it, congratulate yourself. Don’t think, “I’ve done this, so I can do more”, there’s always tomorrow. You should be pleased with the smallest of tasks. Keep positive!
  • Stabilize Activity

    When you have set your baseline you need to give your body time to settle into the level. How long this takes will vary from person to person, but it can take weeks. You will be ready to gradually increase your activities when you feel your body has acclimatized to the level, and you can confidently sustain it.

  • Rest and Relaxation

    Relaxation is about achieving complete rest of the body and mind. If you feel that your brain or body is being stimulated, you are not achieving true relaxation. It can take some time to learn to ‘switch off’ both physically and mentally. Some people find it very difficult to relax properly and feel guilty if they’re not busy or doing something ‘useful’.

    There are several techniques or skills that you can learn to help achieve a state of relaxation:

    Schedule Relaxation

    Set aside a time and place to relax. You don’t need to go to bed to relax and in fact, it can be best to save your bed for nighttime sleep. Where you choose will depend on your home circumstances but you need to find a place where you won’t be disturbed. Switch off the phone and let those around you know that you don’t want to be interrupted. Get yourself really comfortable, either lying down on a mat, or sitting in a chair with your neck, feet, and arms well supported. Make sure you are warm enough.

    Become aware of your breathing

    Learning techniques for good breathing, and remembering to put them into practice, is important. When you are feeling stressed, anxious or worried, your breathing can be shallow and quick. This is called hyperventilation. When you hyperventilate you use on the upper part of your chest, whereas good breathing uses your whole chest and lung area. A lot of people are unaware that they are hyperventilating and it can become a habit. It alters the blood chemistry and causes symptoms such as pins and needles, dizziness, palpitations, breathlessness and chest pain, and heightens anxiety and panic. Naturally, these symptoms can cause further worry and anxiety and a vicious circle is created.

    Good Breathing

    • Place one hand on the top of your chest and the other hand at the bottom of your rib cage/abdominal area. Breathe in slowly through your nose and into the ‘bottom’ of your lungs. You should feel your abdominal area rise while your chest should only move slightly.
    • When you take a breath in, pause for a moment and then breathe out slowly either through your nose or mouth. Make sure you breathe out fully. Repeat this slowly 10 times. You might need to build up to this number.

    It’s a good idea to practice breathing like this on a regular basis.

    Tackle Tension

    There are a number of different techniques to help tackle tension so you will need to find out what works best for you. Some people find that focusing on a pleasant or relaxing image can help to calm the mind and body. Another method is to consciously relax tension in your muscles. Your aim is to recognize when your muscles are tense, then to relax them in response to this. One way of doing this is to clinch a fist for a few moments and then unclench. Note how tense and uncomfortable it felt when clenched and how good it feels when fully relaxed. Try this with other muscles in the body, eg. Your neck, shoulders, and back. Focus on whichever area you think might be tense. Clench for a few moments and then unclench. Some people find it helpful to systematically work their way around the body from head to toe. As you get better at the technique, it’s possible to bypass the clenching and just ‘let go’ of each muscle group in turn. This can also be used alongside deep, slow breathing as a ‘first aid’ measure in stressful situations.


    Deep relaxation takes practice, and relaxation tapes or CDs can be a good guide. Gentle music can be helpful if you find that your mind starts to race. Some people benefit from practicing meditation and yoga. Complementary therapies such as reflexology, aromatherapy, and massage can also help.

    The important thing is to find a way of resting that works for you.

Maintaining Balance

  • Avoid Taking on Too Much

    It can be hard to let of things that might be preventing you from pacing effectively. There are likely to be demands and pressures from other people and you may also be battling with your own expectations. If you have standards that are getting in the way of pacing you will need to adapt and change them. It’s all too easy to push yourself to finish a task you have started, or to feel bad about ‘letting somebody down’. It’s important to learn to let go and to make fewer demands on yourself. It just isn’t possible to do all the things you did before you were ill.

    You may have people in your life who drain you emotionally, or you may be the sort of person who is always available in a crisis. Do you always put other people first, regardless of how you are feeling? Remember that emotions are far harder to account for when learning to pace. If you are struggling with delegating, saying ‘no’ or dealing with other people’s reactions and attitudes, counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be useful.

Medical Disclaimer
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