The boom and bust cycle (also known as over and under activity or persistence coping), is a cycle many of us find ourselves trapped. Chronic illness or not. It is when someone is overactive and regularly pushes past their limit, to then at a later point crash, going into extreme fatigue. Maybe getting run down with a cold or just getting into a bit of a depression point. Only to recover and complete the cycle all over again. This can cause real issues for people facing chronic fatigue and pain conditions as we already struggle to regulate our energy levels and sometimes get the simplest of tasks done for the day. It makes it harder to improve our energy levels consistently and often leaves us in debilitating pain.
Why and when do we fall into this behaviour? It could be pressure from work and others. Maybe moving home or starting a new career or overestimating our time scales or activity levels. These are the normal stresses of life. However, some people, including myself, seem to have a long-term habit of living in this pattern and that is a very unhelpful way to live and an extremely tough thinking pattern to break.
I was diagnosed with Fibro in 2014 after already suffering from its effects for two years. I was working a 30 hour a week retail job, which I loved and took part in active hobbies like skating. All while trying to maintain a social life. I would regularly fall apart, forced to spend days or weeks in bed by constant pain and exhaustion. I would spend that time depressed and alone, wishing that I could get back to my old life. Then, as soon as I had recovered just enough to get back into my job, my skating, anything. I’d get straight back to wearing myself out again.
This was the cycle I lived in for a good 3 to 4 years before starting CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and mindfulness. I try to be more mindful of my bodies warning signs and sensations. The feeling of physical fatigue starting to creep up. I try to slow my actions down, making decisions on what I need to do to complete my day, and what is expecting too much of myself. I’m in no way perfect at it. Just last week, I overbooked my week and tried to squeeze in only one extra gym session. Big mistake. But I’m learning and causing myself fewer flare-ups in physical pain and fatigue. I’ve started to find a balance.
People like myself with chronic health conditions often face boom and bust behaviour because we get an overwhelming feeling that we are missing out. That our lives are going on without us. Many are forcing themselves through this pattern simply because they have no other choice. Maybe they have a family to provide for or have been turned down for the benefits that are essential for recovery. Similarly see others also showing boom and bust behaviours, my Mother for example; She is a hard worker but sometimes does not know when to say no. She will take on any task and get it back to you in a jiffy. When the workload is too much, though when she has a lot on at work, and we try tackle something that needed work in the house, or more is thrown in the mix. She can get very sick. Full body cold sets in and her immune system completely fails her for a week or so.
It can be hard to notice if you yourself are an extremely active or productive person such as my Mum and I. However, it takes a great deal of honesty with yourself to work out what parts of your life need your energy and what should be given voluntarily. So, what can be done to help if you are guilty of booming and busting? Although it can be a tough pattern to not only recognise within yourself and then get out of, there are for sure some ways that have been proven to help with behaviour.
Communicate your limits to others. Sometimes we let people-pleasing and anxiety rule our choices and try to do it all. Sharing your struggles with people and letting them know that it’s not a no but a not this week, makes all the difference in those relationships. Don’t be afraid of asking for help with tasks that you a struggling to complete. Let your friends know if they have picked an activity that is difficult for you or if you’re forcing yourself to go nights out drinking when you would instead rather, meet for coffee or some food.
Mindfulness can really help with how connected you feel to your body and sensations. Both while taking quite practise time and out in the greater world. Taking little moments to check in with yourself can help to tell you when it’s time to give in for the day. Not every person takes straight to mindfulness and meditation, but studies find it beneficial to people suffering; chronic pain, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and much more. I personally recommend apps such as Calm or Buddify to start your mindfulness journey if you have never tried the practice.
Pre Planning your week can often help. Knowing just what energy I need to spend where and what chances I have to rest makes all the difference to my own energy levels. I tend to have set days for workouts, appointment booking and studying/ writing but as long as I know my limits, I can mix up my week’s events adding or removing plans where and when I see fit. Try online calendars or pen and paper diaries to keep up with what you have on so you can always refer back to it when making future plans as to not overbook your week.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a talking therapy using tools such as grounding techniques and thought mapping to help understand why you behave in specific ways or help to un-train the brain out of negative habits, such as boom and busting. I found my 7 – 9 months of CBT Extremely helpful and honestly wouldn’t mind a second round to help work on some of the issues I’ve discovered since leaving. There are many resources online to start understanding and doing CBT on yourself.
Try mapping out your own cycle of Boom and Bust behaviour, what kind of things you do and feel when you’re on a boom day/activity versus what you do and think in those bust periods. What pressures, ambitions or commitments push you into this pattern? Of course, professional help is recommended for people who suffer from chronic illnesses or those who struggle to get out of this pattern alone. Please speak to your doctor if you fall under either category.
Overall boom and bust behaviour can affect anyone and everyone. Any of us can go through phases in our lives where we are busier than usual and get fatigued. Supporting healthy energy levels is crucial in creating a stable foundation to grow upon. Without a healthy work, play to rest ratio we start to compromise the tasks we are doing andreally can’t live our lives to its fullest on a day to day basis. Which is really, what we are all striving towards.
Written by Freyja