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Fatigue-Busting Tips for Ankylosing Spondylitis

When I'm in the throes of an ankylosing spondylitis (AS) flare-up, the fatigue is through the roof. We're talking about getting up to get a cup of water and immediately have to sit down again tired. You probably understand me, right?

AS fatigue is a deep, heavy malaise that sits in the inside of my bones, making me feel like I'm walking through molasses. Some days it's worse and some days it's marginally better — but it's ever-present, like a ghost constantly trailing you.

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And when I'm not in the throes of an ankylosing spondylitis flare-up, I'm still pretty fatigued. I think anyone with chronic illness gets so used to the roller coaster ride that is flare-ups and downs that you can't help but be exhausted at all times. After all, the immune system is overactive in AS, running like a crazed engine in the background, never taking a break. There's also some research that says the fatigue itself changes our brains.1 In short, it's not all in your head (even if it's in your brain).

After living with AS for years and watching my energy slowly dissipate, like an upside-down hourglass — its sands disappearing — I've come to an understanding with my fatigue. Here's what I've learned.

Accepting the fatigue is pretty much part of the deal

I used to try and solve my fatigue — figure out exactly what to eat, how to exercise, when to sleep, when to move, when to work, in order to resolve my fatigue issues. It dawned on me at some point that even when I do everything "right," I still feel exhausted. Therefore, we can mitigate our fatigue as much as possible but sometimes it just comes down to having a chronic condition.

Movement is your friend

The phrase "movement is medicine" can really feel ableist at times, but as I understand it, movement can be anything — and it can be done while sitting, standing, or walking. I like to keep moving every day, even if it's just a dance session, a short walk outdoors (or with a walking workout on YouTube), or a yoga session. It's important to me to keep it up, daily, because it teaches my body a routine, revs up my metabolism, and it builds a self-care routine into my day. Nine times out of 10 it boosts my energy for hours afterward. If I remain still and without movement, I always pay for it by losing even more energy. The energy it takes to get moving can be hard to come by, but it pays dividends in the end.

Sunlight helps, too

There is a lot of evidence that sunlight can drastically improve mood, energy, and fatigue levels (hey, we're natural beings too!). These are all things that people with chronic illness experience, according to this community (and people I've spoken to). According to a study in Depression Research & Treatment, "Over time, all subgroups improved following ten days treatment in a light room. Conclusion: Fatigue, excessive daytime sleepiness, and health-related quality of life improve in a similar way as depressed mood following treatment with bright light."2

Seek joy

Build moments of joy, art, creativity, and hope into your day. Seriously, there is nothing more draining than not embracing the things that inspire and energize you. If you can add 30 minutes of painting or dancing or blasting your favorite music or whatever it is you love into your day — each day — you will nourish your soul, which can help improve your mood, which can help your energy. It's all connected. We are complex, magical, nuanced beings and we need to be nourished in all sorts of ways. Our body appreciates our care.

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