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Managing fatigue at work

28th January 2021

Most people with MS have experienced the overwhelming sense of tiredness that is MS fatigue. As over 80% of you will know, it can sap your energy in an instant and stop you from completing tasks you had set out to do. So, it can be particularly hard to manage in the workplace.

In addition to some key lifestyle changes like a balanced diet, regular exercise and sleeping well it is possible to manage, or even reduce, MS fatigue. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to managing MS fatigue as it affects everyone differently. However, our Occupational Therapists have provided eight practical suggestions for managing MS fatigue in the workplace. Give one or all of these strategies a go and see which works best for you. You can even apply them in other aspects of your life too.

Recognise your fatigue patterns

Get to know your own patterns of fatigue so you can plan your work around them. For example, if you are more alert in the morning, plan to do activities that require a higher level of concentration or effort in the morning and leave lighter tasks for the afternoon. This can also allow you to plan for rest breaks during the day.

Some people choose to keep a fatigue diary for a short time to help them understand the ways they experience MS fatigue. By looking at your fatigue diary, in addition to your general health and any medications you might be taking, you might begin to see a pattern for when you feel most fatigued in the day and certain things that make your fatigue worse. Download a great fatigue diary template at msif.org/fatigue

Prioritise tasks

Prioritise your time and determine the tasks that MUST get done, and those that can wait. If MS fatigue means that not everything can get done in a day, then concentrating on the most important tasks can help. Consider if there are any tasks that you can get help with or that can be divided up over the day or week.

Take regular breaks

If you have a desk job, get up and move away from your computer every 45-60 minutes. Stretch your body and move for a couple of minutes to give your brain a rest from concentration and looking at a screen. If you have a physically demanding job, break the heavier tasks up into shorter chunks, or alternate with lighter tasks.

Consider planning out your day to factor in rests. If you have a particularly tiring task that day, make time for a rest before and after. Take a longer break if you need it, or smaller breaks throughout the day might work better for you. If you know your MS fatigue makes you feel tired at a similar time each day, plan a rest. MS fatigue should not be ‘pushed through’ – listen to your brain and body, and rest when needed.

Avoid a noisy work environment

Noisy environments are tiring. Try to set yourself up in a quiet space with minimal distractions. In the workplace, noise can come from everywhere including other people, machines, music or traffic. If you cannot control the environment around you, some people find noise cancelling headphones incredibly helpful.

Conserve energy

Alter the way you do a task so that you conserve energy. Consider sitting rather than standing. Avoid prolonged over-reaching or stretching as this takes more energy than working within a closer range to your body. Keep items that you use regularly within easy reach to avoid getting up and down.

Manage the temperature

Heat is a common cause of increased fatigue. Use air conditioning, if it is available, or a fan. Consider cooling products like cooling vests and have cool drinks nearby. Page XX has some great tips for keeping cool in the heat.

Ask for support

If you feel comfortable, talk to your manager and colleagues to explain your situation so they understand how they can support you and set realistic expectations of your workload.

It can be complicated to describe MS fatigue as it is an invisible symptom and it can affect everyone in different ways. Our employment team at Multiple Solutions can help you prepare for this conversation and provide MS education to your employer.

Celebrate what you can do

It’s easy to be negative and focus on what you can’t manage. So, it is important to be kind to ourselves and recognise the contributions you can make in your own time and way, because everyone is different. This positive mindset and self-talk will have flow on effects for your wellbeing and mental health.

You can contact our MS Occupational Therapy team for individually tailored support to manage MS fatigue.

Sources: Fatigue: an invisible symptom of MS, MS International Federation

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Managing fatigue at work