10 Stress Management Techniques for CFS/ME

Home » Burnout Blog » 10 Stress Management Techniques for CFS/ME

Managing stress is crucial for those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). This condition is marked by extreme tiredness, difficulty thinking clearly, sleep problems, and worsening symptoms after physical or mental exertion. Effective stress management techniques can help CFS/ME patients:

  • Cope better with the condition’s challenges
  • Reduce symptom severity
  • Improve overall well-being

This article offers 10 techniques to reduce stress and boost well-being for those with CFS/ME:

  1. Focused Breathing: Deep, mindful breathing can reduce stress, improve oxygen supply, promote relaxation, and enhance mindfulness.
  2. Body Scan: Systematically observing physical sensations can increase body awareness, reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, and aid pain management.
  3. Guided Imagery: Visualizing peaceful scenes can lower stress hormones, improve sleep, alleviate pain, and boost mood.
  4. Mindfulness Meditation: Focusing on the present moment can reduce stress, improve emotional management, increase self-awareness, and promote better sleep.
  5. Yoga: Gentle yoga poses can improve energy flow, reduce stress and anxiety, enhance mind-body connection, and increase flexibility and strength.
  6. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tensing and releasing muscle groups can reduce stress, improve sleep quality, manage pain, and enhance body awareness.
  7. Walking: Light exercise like walking can improve heart health, increase energy, reduce stress and anxiety, and boost mood.
  8. Hugging a Loved One: Embracing someone close can reduce stress, increase oxytocin, strengthen relationships, and improve mood.
  9. Aromatherapy: Using essential oils can reduce stress, improve sleep, manage pain, boost mood, and support focus.
  10. Positive Self-Talk: Reframing negative thoughts can reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood and motivation, increase self-compassion, and build resilience.

1. Focused Breathing

How to Practice

1. Find a quiet spot: Choose a peaceful, distraction-free area where you can breathe comfortably.

2. Get comfortable: Sit or lie down in a relaxed position that allows for deep breathing.

3. Pay attention to your breath: Focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body.

4. Breathe slowly and deeply: Inhale through your nose, feeling your belly expand. Exhale through your mouth or nose, letting your belly relax.

5. Stay focused: If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Start with 5-10 minutes, gradually increasing the time.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Reduces stress and anxiety Focused breathing can trigger the body’s relaxation response, counteracting stress effects.
Improves oxygen supply Deep breathing increases oxygen to the body and brain, which may help alleviate fatigue and brain fog.
Promotes relaxation Breath focus can relax the mind and body, allowing for better rest and recovery.
Enhances mindfulness Regular practice can improve present-moment awareness, helpful for managing CFS/ME symptoms.

Potential Challenges

  • Difficulty concentrating: Some individuals with CFS/ME may struggle to maintain focus during practice, especially during periods of severe fatigue or brain fog.
  • Respiratory issues: Those with breathing difficulties may need to modify the technique or consult a healthcare professional before practicing.
  • Time commitment: Consistent practice is required to experience full benefits, which may be challenging for some individuals with CFS/ME due to limited energy reserves.

2. Body Scan

How to Do It

1. Get Comfortable: Find a quiet, relaxing spot to lie down or sit. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.

2. Start at Your Feet: Bring your attention to your feet. Notice any sensations like tingling, warmth, or tension. Breathe into those areas.

3. Scan Your Body: Slowly move your focus up through your legs, abdomen, back, arms, and head. Pause at each area, noticing any physical sensations without judgment.

4. Breathe and Release: As you focus on each body part, breathe deeply and imagine releasing any tension or discomfort with each exhalation.

5. Whole Body Awareness: After scanning your entire body, bring your awareness to your whole physical self for a few breaths before gently opening your eyes.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Increases Body Awareness Helps you tune into physical sensations, which can aid in recognizing and managing symptoms like pain, fatigue, and muscle tension.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety Observing the body without judgment can trigger relaxation, lowering stress hormones.
Promotes Relaxation Deep breathing and releasing tension can induce calm, allowing for better rest and recovery.
Improves Pain Management Greater body awareness may increase your ability to identify and address areas of discomfort or pain.

Potential Challenges

  • Difficulty Concentrating: Brain fog or fatigue can make it hard to maintain focus during the practice.
  • Physical Discomfort: For some, lying down or sitting for extended periods may worsen symptoms.
  • Emotional Distress: Heightened body awareness could potentially trigger anxiety or distress in some cases, especially for those with a history of trauma.

3. Guided Imagery

How to Do It

1. Find a Quiet Place: Choose a peaceful spot where you can relax without noise or disruptions. Get comfortable by sitting or lying down.

2. Take Deep Breaths: Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply to calm your mind and body. Focus on your breathing.

3. Picture a Peaceful Scene: Imagine a serene place that makes you feel relaxed, like a beach, forest, or garden. Visualize the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of this calming environment.

4. Immerse Yourself: Walk through the scene in your mind, exploring the details. Describe the surroundings to yourself or listen to a guided meditation recording.

5. Stay Present: If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the visualization. Spend 5-20 minutes fully immersed before slowly opening your eyes.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Reduces Stress and Anxiety Visualizing a calming scene can trigger the body’s relaxation response, lowering stress hormone levels.
Promotes Restful Sleep The relaxation induced may help improve sleep quality.
Alleviates Pain and Discomfort Engaging the senses through visualization can provide a distraction from physical symptoms.
Boosts Mood and Well-being Imagining peaceful environments can positively impact emotional state and overall well-being.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Difficulty Concentrating: Brain fog or fatigue may make it challenging to maintain focus during the visualization.
  • Triggering Negative Emotions: For some individuals, certain imagery could potentially evoke unpleasant memories or emotions.
  • Limited Accessibility: Those with severe cognitive impairments or visual impairments may find guided imagery more difficult to practice effectively.

4. Mindfulness Meditation

How to Do It

1. Find a Quiet Place: Look for a peaceful spot without noise or disruptions. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.

2. Set a Time Limit: Choose a reasonable duration, like 5-20 minutes, based on your energy levels.

3. Focus on Your Breath: Pay attention to your natural breathing pattern, without trying to control or change it.

4. Stay Present: When your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your breath or current sensations, without judging yourself.

5. Open Awareness: After focusing on your breath, expand your attention to include sounds, bodily sensations, and thoughts as they arise, observing them with acceptance.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Reduces Stress and Anxiety Mindfulness can trigger the body’s relaxation response, lowering stress hormone levels like cortisol.
Improves Emotional Management Regular practice can enhance your ability to handle difficult emotions and reduce emotional reactivity.
Increases Self-Awareness Mindfulness cultivates a better understanding of your thought patterns, emotions, and physical sensations, promoting self-acceptance.
Promotes Better Sleep The calming effects of mindfulness may help improve sleep quality, which is often disrupted in CFS/ME.

Potential Challenges

  • Difficulty Concentrating: Brain fog, fatigue, or cognitive issues can make it hard to sustain focus during meditation.
  • Emotional Distress: For some, increased awareness of difficult emotions or physical sensations may initially cause distress.
  • Time and Commitment: Developing a consistent mindfulness practice requires dedication and patience, which can be demanding for those with limited energy.

5. Yoga

How to Practice

1. Start Slowly: Begin with gentle, easy yoga poses that do not make your symptoms worse. Listen to your body and do not push too hard.

2. Use Props: Use blocks, blankets, and straps to modify poses and make them more comfortable for you.

3. Breathe Mindfully: Focus on your breath during the practice, using techniques like Ujjayi (ocean-sounding breath) to calm your mind and body.

4. Seek Guidance: Consider working with a qualified yoga teacher or instructor experienced in teaching yoga for chronic conditions like CFS/ME.

5. Customize Your Practice: Adjust poses and sequences based on your current energy levels and symptoms. Some days, a brief restorative practice may be all you can manage.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Improved Energy Flow Gentle yoga poses can help improve blood flow and oxygen supply, providing a boost in energy levels.
Reduced Stress and Anxiety The combination of physical postures, breathwork, and meditation can trigger the body’s relaxation response, lowering stress and anxiety.
Enhanced Mind-Body Connection Yoga helps you tune into your body’s needs, promoting self-care and self-acceptance.
Increased Flexibility and Strength Over time, regular yoga practice can improve flexibility, balance, and strength, which can be helpful for those with CFS/ME.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Fatigue Worsening: If not practiced mindfully, yoga can potentially worsen fatigue and other symptoms, especially in the early stages.
  • Physical Limitations: Some yoga poses may be difficult or impossible due to physical limitations or pain associated with CFS/ME.
  • Emotional Distress: The increased body awareness cultivated by yoga may initially heighten sensitivity to physical and emotional discomfort.
  • Time and Commitment: Developing a consistent yoga practice requires dedication and patience, which can be demanding for those with limited energy reserves.

6. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a simple technique that can help you relax your body and mind. Here’s how to do it:


  1. Find a Quiet Spot: Choose a peaceful place where you can relax without noise or interruptions.

  2. Get Comfortable: Sit or lie down in a relaxed position, making sure your clothes are loose and not too tight.

  3. Breathe Deeply: Take a few deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.

  4. Tense and Release: Start by tensing a specific muscle group (e.g., feet, calves, thighs) for 5-10 seconds, then release the tension and relax for 10-20 seconds. Repeat this process for each muscle group, working your way up from the feet to the head.

  5. Focus on Sensations: As you tense and release each muscle group, pay attention to the feelings of tension and relaxation. Notice the difference between the two states.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Reduces Stress and Anxiety By promoting relaxation, PMR can help lower stress and anxiety, which often worsen CFS/ME symptoms.
Improves Sleep Quality The relaxation response induced by PMR can help calm the mind and body, promoting better sleep.
Manages Pain Releasing muscle tension can help reduce pain and discomfort associated with CFS/ME.
Enhances Body Awareness PMR encourages mindfulness and increased awareness of physical sensations, which can aid in recognizing and addressing symptoms.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Time Commitment: PMR requires a dedicated practice, which may be challenging for those with severe fatigue or limited energy reserves.
  • Initial Discomfort: In the beginning stages, tensing muscles may cause temporary discomfort or exacerbate existing pain.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Maintaining focus during the practice can be challenging, especially for those experiencing cognitive difficulties associated with CFS/ME.

7. Walking

How to Start

  1. Go Slow: If you’re new to walking or have been inactive, start with short, gentle walks. Slowly increase the time and effort as your body allows.

  2. Listen to Your Body: Adjust your pace based on how you feel. Slow down or take breaks if you feel tired or uncomfortable.

  3. Wear Proper Shoes: Get a good pair of supportive walking shoes to reduce strain on your feet and joints.

  4. Choose a Suitable Path: Select a flat, even surface with few obstacles, like a park or quiet street.

  5. Stay Hydrated: Carry water and drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your walk.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Improved Heart Health Regular walking can strengthen your heart and improve blood flow, which may help reduce fatigue and brain fog.
Increased Energy While it may seem counterintuitive, light to moderate exercise like walking can boost energy levels by improving oxygen delivery and promoting better sleep.
Reduced Stress and Anxiety Walking outdoors, especially in nature, can lower stress and anxiety levels, which often trigger CFS/ME flare-ups.
Better Mood The release of endorphins during physical activity can improve your mood and overall well-being.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Symptom Worsening: For some with severe CFS/ME, even light exercise like walking may worsen symptoms like fatigue, muscle pain, or brain fog.

  • Pacing Difficulty: Finding the right balance between activity and rest can be challenging. Overexerting during a walk may lead to a post-exertional malaise (PEM) episode.

  • Environmental Factors: Extreme temperatures, humidity, or air pollution can make walking more difficult for those with CFS/ME.

8. Hugging a Loved One

How to Do It

1. Choose Someone Close: Pick a person you feel at ease with, like a partner, family member, or dear friend who knows about your condition.

2. Explain Your Needs: Let them know that hugging can help manage stress and fatigue. Talk about any preferences or limits you have for the hug’s length or type.

3. Find a Calm Moment: Look for a quiet, relaxed setting without distractions or interruptions.

4. Hug Gently: Start a gentle hug, being mindful of your energy levels and any physical limits. Breathe deeply and stay in the present.

5. Hold for 20-30 Seconds: Aim for a 20-30 second hug to allow the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes relaxation and bonding.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Reduced Stress Hugging can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, helping to ease anxiety and tension that can worsen CFS/ME symptoms.
Increased Oxytocin The release of oxytocin during hugging can promote feelings of calm, security, and emotional well-being, which are important for managing the psychological aspects of CFS/ME.
Stronger Relationships Hugging can foster a sense of connection and closeness with loved ones, providing emotional support and reducing feelings of isolation often experienced with CFS/ME.
Improved Mood The release of endorphins and serotonin during hugging can lift mood and promote a sense of happiness and contentment, which can be helpful for managing the emotional challenges of CFS/ME.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Physical Discomfort: For some with CFS/ME, prolonged hugging or physical contact may cause discomfort or worsen symptoms like muscle pain or fatigue.
  • Sensory Sensitivity: Those with sensory processing issues or hypersensitivity to touch may find hugging overwhelming or unpleasant.
  • Personal Boundaries: Hugging may not be suitable for everyone, and it’s important to respect personal boundaries and preferences regarding physical touch.

9. Aromatherapy

How to Use Essential Oils

  1. Choose Oils: Pick essential oils that may help with CFS/ME symptoms. Basil, sweet marjoram, rosemary, ylang-ylang, and chamomile are good options.

  2. Dilute Oils: Mix essential oils with a carrier oil like coconut or almond oil before applying to skin. Follow proper dilution ratios.

  3. Apply Topically: After diluting, apply the oil blend to pulse points like wrists, temples, or the back of the neck. You can also add a few drops to a warm bath or use an aromatherapy diffuser.

  4. Inhale Deeply: When using a diffuser or applying oils, take deep breaths to inhale the aromas and promote relaxation.

  5. Experiment: Try different oil combinations and application methods to find what works best for you.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Reduce Stress Oils like lavender, bergamot, and chamomile may lower stress and anxiety that can worsen CFS/ME symptoms.
Improve Sleep Ylang-ylang and marjoram have calming properties that may help you sleep better.
Manage Pain Anti-inflammatory oils like rosemary and marjoram may ease muscle pain and headaches linked to CFS/ME.
Boost Mood Uplifting citrus scents like lemon or grapefruit may improve mood and combat depression.
Support Focus Rosemary and basil may help improve concentration and counteract "brain fog."

Potential Drawbacks

  • Skin Irritation: Some people may have skin reactions to certain essential oils, especially when applied undiluted.
  • Sensory Overload: Strong scents can be overwhelming for those with sensory issues or smell sensitivity, potentially worsening symptoms.
  • Medication Interactions: Essential oils can interact with certain medications or medical conditions, so consult a healthcare professional before using them.
  • Quality Concerns: Low-quality or adulterated essential oils may be ineffective or potentially harmful.

10. Positive Self-Talk

How to Do It

1. Notice Negative Thoughts

Pay attention to the unhelpful thoughts that come up when dealing with CFS/ME. For example, thoughts like "I can’t do this" or "I’m too tired to keep going."

2. Question Negative Thoughts

When you notice negative self-talk, pause and ask yourself if the thought is really true or helpful. Reframe negative thoughts into positive statements that empower you.

3. Use Positive Statements

Repeat positive statements to yourself often, such as:

  • "I am strong and can manage my symptoms."
  • "I am patient and kind to myself on this journey."
  • "I am healing and making progress, one day at a time."

4. Practice Regularly

Positive self-talk takes practice. Set reminders or create visual cues to help make it a habit. Celebrate small wins along the way.

5. Get Support

If you struggle with negative self-talk, consider working with a therapist or joining a support group to learn more coping strategies.

Benefits for CFS/ME

Benefit Description
Reduces Stress and Anxiety Positive self-talk can counter the negative thoughts that contribute to stress and anxiety, which can worsen CFS/ME symptoms.
Improves Mood and Motivation Encouraging self-talk can boost your mood and motivation, making it easier to engage in activities that support your well-being.
Increases Self-Compassion Practicing positive self-talk cultivates self-compassion, which is important for managing a chronic condition like CFS/ME.
Builds Resilience By reframing negative thoughts, you build resilience and a more positive outlook, which can help you better cope with the challenges of CFS/ME.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Difficulty Changing Thought Patterns: For some, it may be hard to shift from deeply ingrained negative self-talk to a more positive mindset.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: If positive statements are not grounded in reality or set unrealistic expectations, they may lead to disappointment or frustration.
  • Resistance or Skepticism: Some individuals may be resistant or skeptical about the effectiveness of positive self-talk, potentially limiting its benefits.


Dealing with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) can be demanding. Managing stress is key to coping with this condition’s challenges. This article offers a range of techniques to help reduce stress and boost overall well-being. From mindfulness practices like focused breathing and body scans to physical activities like yoga and walking, there are options to suit different preferences and needs.

Incorporating stress management into your daily routine can yield significant benefits for those with CFS/ME:

  • Improved sleep quality
  • Better mood regulation
  • Increased energy levels

These practices can also foster self-compassion, resilience, and a greater sense of control over your condition.

Remember, every person’s journey with CFS/ME is unique. What works for one may not work as well for another. Approach these techniques with an open mind and willingness to experiment. Consult your healthcare provider or a qualified therapist to develop a personalized stress management plan tailored to your specific needs and limitations.

The key is finding the right combination of techniques that resonate with you. Be patient and embrace the process of self-discovery. With consistent practice and a commitment to self-care, you can cultivate a greater sense of calm, balance, and overall well-being while navigating this challenging condition.


Can stress make CFS/ME worse?

Yes, stress can worsen CFS/ME symptoms. Stress affects many body systems, including the immune system, nervous system, and metabolism. For people with CFS/ME, stress can trigger increased fatigue, brain fog, pain, and other debilitating symptoms.

Chronic stress disrupts the body’s stress response system, making it harder to handle even minor stressors like infections. This disruption can potentially trigger or worsen CFS/ME symptoms.

It’s crucial for those with CFS/ME to prioritize stress management techniques as part of their treatment plan. Practices like:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Relaxation techniques

These can help reduce the negative effects of stress and promote a sense of calm.

Related posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *