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Coping With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Help for the Self-Employed

Chronic fatigue syndrome is more than just feeling tired all the time. It’s a persistent and debilitating disorder that can change your way of life—sometimes permanently.

The disorder is characterized by an unnatural exhaustion that won’t go away after a nap or even a good night’s sleep. Patients also frequently suffer from:

  • Brain fog
  • Sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Unusual headaches
  • Plus a whole complex of other unpleasant symptoms

While a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome isn’t easy for anyone, it can be particularly devastating for the self-employed.

If you run your own a company and struggle with CFS, this report will help you understand more about the illness and find ways to cope while operating your business.

The Impact Of CFS On The Self-Employed

A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a quarter of people with CFS had to stop working because of their illness. Those who continued to work lost about a third of their income.

Researchers estimated those losses averaged out to $20,000 per person annually—and that doesn’t include losses from having to pay medical bills.

The stakes are much higher for small-business owners, whose livelihoods face extinction if their business goes bad because of poor personal health.

The emotional impact also takes a toll.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is difficult to diagnose because there’s no way to test for it. The symptoms are similar to those of a wide array of other medical problems, and doctors are required to rule out all of those possibilities first. Meanwhile, when patients can’t maintain their normal schedules, they often become overwhelmed and depressed, which can exacerbate the illness.

By definition, a CFS diagnosis can’t be made until the patient has experienced symptoms for at least six months. So on top of a host of physical problems, CFS patients have to deal with the psychological—and financial—ramifications of that long period of uncertainty.

Working Around Chronic Fatigue

If you or one of your employees struggles with CFS, there are a number of ways you can mitigate its impact on your small business.

  • Build as much flexibility into the work schedule as possible. If your main office is not at home, consider whether or not part- or full-time telecommuting is a viable option. If possible, scaling back business hours is another good option. If stamina seems to be a problem, work in blocks with time for rest periods in between.

  • Figure out a way to accommodate bad spells. CFS patients often experience their illness in waves. Planning workarounds can be tricky since symptoms frequently come and go without warning. In terms of the work itself, tackle the most difficult or important tasks when you’re at your best. Whenever you can, save routine busy work for the times you aren’t in top condition.

  • Try to keep the work flow as steady as possible from day to day. While it’s important to stay in tune with your body’s rhythms, avoid the temptation to push yourself on good days. Overexertion and stress can intensify CFS symptoms, which can leave you bedridden for a long period of recovery.

  • If your work requires strict deadlines, allow for extra planning. Plan as far ahead as possible to leave a cushion for unexpected delays. Try to always have a backup plan.

Lighten Your Load

If you find that your illness necessitates cutting back on your hours, you face a choice: Reduce the scope of your business or delegate some of the work instead of doing it yourself.

When streamlining your operations seems financially feasible and logistically possible, that’s probably your best option. It requires the least amount of work, and it’s usually possible to expand again later, when you’re feeling better.

If scaling back your business isn’t possible, the key to delegating effectively is to determine which areas of your business require your particular attention. Begin by making a list of tasks that are important to the survival of your business. Then decide which of those tasks actually requires your personal touch.

You’ll probably find that someone else can handle some high-priority tasks that aren’t at the core of your business. (Think time-consuming or laborious activities like shipping or accounting.) That way, you can spend your work hours focusing on the areas of your business that most need your attention.

While it may be difficult to relinquish control at first, you might find that narrowing your focus can be rewarding. Often, the aspects of your business that most require your input are the ones that will be in your wheelhouse, which helps make the work more enjoyable.

Find Help

If you have employees, you may be able to adjust the work flow in-house.

One option is to shift employees’ priorities to absorb the tasks that you can no longer handle. Keep in mind that if you ask someone to work long hours or assume more responsibilities over the long term, you should be prepared to offer a pay raise.

Another option is to hire new employees (temporary, part-time or full-time) or to outsource the work to an independent contractor. If the work you need help with is specialized or self-contained, independent contractors are often the best bet because they tend to offer the most flexibility.

Whenever possible, delay permanent hires until you have a good handle on your exact needs.

If you can’t find a way to farm out any of your work, look for assistance with other things in your life that sap your time and energy.

Pay someone to mow your lawn. A friend or family member may be able to help you with grocery shopping or other errands. You might even be able to hire someone to help with domestic tasks such as cooking and cleaning.

Whether it’s at work or at home, hiring help is obviously going to be an added expense. As you weigh your options, consider what will help offset financial losses as well as what will protect your health.

Whenever you’re dealing with limited resources, outsource the most important tasks first. Keep in mind that less important tasks might have to be put on hold or even fall by the wayside.

Stay Organized

Human beings are rarely at their best when they’re tired. We tend to miss things and make mistakes when we haven’t rested properly.

It’s no surprise, then, that CFS patients regularly report problems with memory and concentration.

  • To cope with memory problems, write down everything religiously. Use a notebook for lists and notes, and a calendar for appointments, deadlines and reminders. These tools will help you keep tabs on your work, and they will be invaluable to others if you need to delegate. If you work with others, make sure you use a scheduling tool that everyone can access and update.

  • To deal with concentration issues, avoid multitasking. Take one thing at a time and see each task through to completion. Deal with emails and voice mails in batches, and respond to each message as you go. When you’re sorting through paperwork, turn off your phone’s ringer. If you still find yourself struggling, take a break or switch gears and work on something else.

  • Clear out physical clutter. Organizing a messy workspace is another way to promote concentration. When cleaning up seems overwhelming, target the trouble areas one by one. Make sure that electronic files and hard copies of records are well organized and that any object you use frequently is easy to find.

Monitor Yourself

One of the best ways to make sure your business stays healthy over the course of your illness is to take good care of yourself.

CFS has no known cause, so there isn’t a cure. Nor is there a one-size-fits-all course of treatment that works for everyone.

Typically, doctors target each symptom individually. Since CFS symptoms and the course of the illness itself (its duration and intensity) vary from patient to patient, the treatment options vary widely.

Pay close attention to your body so you can give your doctor a full and accurate report of your personal experience with CFS. Try to keep a log of your activities and symptoms from day to day; you might notice that trends (such as things that trigger a symptom) emerge over time.

Record a few simple data points each day, including the number of hours you sleep and work. Rate your health each day using a scale of 1 to 10 and make a note of the number. A simple spreadsheet can help you track the data.

Assuming an active role in the management of your illness can help expedite your recovery. You’re more likely to stabilize or even eradicate your symptoms by working with your doctor to create a treatment plan that’s tailored to your needs.

Remember—whatever is good for your personal health is also going to benefit the prognosis for your business.

For More Information

Find more information on chronic fatigue syndrome at these websites.

The Mayo Clinic’s overview of CFS

The CDC’s resources on CFS

A collection of useful links from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services