Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Faye Hatch
Last updated 16th April 2024 | Next update due 16th April 2027

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a condition that has a number of symptoms, including extreme tiredness. CFS can have a big impact on the lives of those affected. Here we look at CFS in more detail and ask if hypnotherapy can help with CFS.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)?

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complicated condition characterised by long-term fatigue that can’t be explained by any other condition. Far from just being ‘tired’, this fatigue can limit everyday activities, gets worse after physical or mental exertion and doesn’t improve with rest or sleep. Other typical symptoms include brain fog, difficulty concentrating, dizziness when moving from lying down to sitting/standing, sore throat, muscle/joint pain and headaches.

According to the charity Action for M.E., the condition affects an estimated 250,000 people in the UK and about 17 million worldwide.

There are different degrees of severity of the condition and not everyone will experience CFS in the same way. The four levels of severity are:

  • Mild CFS/ME - Those affected can care for themselves but may need some support, may have difficulties with mobility and may have stopped leisure/social activities.
  • Moderate CFS/ME - Those affected will be restricted in what they can do day-to-day, though may have periods when they can do more. They may have stopped work and require rest in the afternoons.
  • Severe CFS/ME - Those affected likely can’t do day-to-day activities for themselves, they may use a wheelchair and may spend a lot of time in bed.
  • Very severe CFS/ME - Those affected will be dependent on care and may need help with personal hygiene and eating.

Every severity has an impact on the daily lives of those living with the condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome is also often misunderstood, leading to a level of stigma and disbelief that can be very difficult to cope with. Understandably then, CFS can affect mental health, leading to depression, anxiety and isolation.

While CFS is not a mental health condition, therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnotherapy can support the emotional impact.


Chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms

CFS can have many symptoms and they can differ from person to person. They may also fluctuate from day to day, meaning some days you’ll notice some symptoms and the next day you may notice others. Here are some chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms to be aware of:

  • fatigue (especially after physical/mental activity)
  • recurring sore throat
  • headaches
  • muscle/joint pain
  • sleep that feels unrefreshing
  • problems with concentration and memory
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • dizziness when moving from lying down to sitting/standing
  • flu-like symptoms
  • heart palpitations
  • abdominal pain
  • sensitivity to light and sound

Post-exertional malaise

A hallmark of chronic fatigue syndrome is post-exertional malaise. This means when you do physical or mental activities, whether it’s sitting at your computer to work or going for a walk, you’ll feel debilitated afterwards. Some call this a ‘CFS crash’. You may feel this immediately after the activity, or it may come on a couple of days after the event. 


Chronic fatigue syndrome causes

What causes CFS is still largely unknown, however, some potential triggers have been identified including viral infections, hormone imbalances, trauma and immune system problems.

Some people develop the condition after a viral infection and researchers suspect viruses like Epstein-Barr (EBV) and human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) as triggers, though no conclusive link has been found yet. Those with chronic fatigue syndrome sometimes also have unusual levels of hormones, but so far the significance of this is unknown.

Some people noted that their CFS symptoms started after experiencing trauma (physical or emotional) so this could be a trigger in some cases, though studies aren’t clear. Finally, those with the condition often have a slightly impaired immune system, though it’s unclear as to whether or not this could be a cause of the condition. 

Other risk factors that may increase your risk of developing CFS include your age (CFS tends to affect young to middle-aged people) and your sex (females are typically diagnosed more than men).


Getting a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome

Because chronic fatigue syndrome has a variety of symptoms, some of them may overlap with other common conditions like sleep disorders, anaemia, underactive thyroid and even mental health problems like depression. This means getting a diagnosis for CFS is often a case of ruling out other conditions first.

Your doctor will ask a range of questions to better understand your symptoms and how long they’ve been affecting you as well as undertaking tests to rule out underlying conditions. 

It can be helpful to do some preparation before your appointment, making a note of your symptoms (if you’re able to keep a journal of your symptoms, even better) and any questions you might have. If you find it difficult to absorb information or concentrate because of your symptoms, it may be worth bringing a friend or family member along with you to the appointment. 

If you get a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome, know that you’re not alone. Your doctor should be able to provide you with support, including adjustments you can make to accommodate the changes you’re experiencing. They will support you with a treatment plan and any treatment will aim to reduce symptoms and the impact they’re having. 

They may also recommend connecting with others in the CFS community for support. While this can help you feel less alone, it’s important to remember everyone is different in terms of what works for them, so avoid taking medical advice from anyone apart from your doctor. You may also be recommended mental health support. 

I stepped on stage to collect my first-class degree with honours. As I shook the Dean’s hand, I was bursting with pride. I was surrounded by the love of family and friends who’d stuck by me, I’d earned my degree, and I’d done it all while battling a vicious illness that nobody truly understands.

- Read Vikki's story

Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome

While there is no cure for CFS, there are treatments that can help to reduce your symptoms, tackling the most debilitating ones as a priority. As people are affected differently, your doctor should work with you to come up with a treatment plan to suit you. This may include a mix of medication, therapy, energy management and lifestyle changes.

Medication

Some medications can be used to relieve symptoms. These may include painkillers to help with pain-related symptoms and/or antidepressants to help with mood concerns.

Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often offered to those with CFS. This talking therapy aims to help you manage your condition by adjusting the way you think about it. It can be a helpful way of reframing what you're experiencing and developing healthy coping mechanisms. 

Energy management

Learning how to effectively manage your energy is key. This may involve monitoring your activities and your energy levels so you can see what adjustments may be needed. This could include taking breaks to recover after exerting yourself and/or resting up ahead of an exertion. 

Lifestyle changes

You may also be advised to make tweaks to your current lifestyle. This may include ensuring you’re eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of rest and sleep. An exercise plan may be appropriate for some people with CFS, however, ‘graded exercise therapy' (GET) is no longer recommended. 


Does hypnotherapy help with chronic fatigue syndrome?

The most common type of therapy recommended for CFS is CBT, however, some may benefit from exploring further approaches such as hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy can support those with chronic fatigue syndrome in a number of ways.

Hypnotherapists who can help with CFS

The therapy works with the unconscious mind to help change the way you think about your condition. Hypnotherapy can therefore help to ease any anxiety or depression you may have as a result of CFS, helping you to move out of negative thought patterns that lead to these feelings.

In this video, hypnotherapist Anne Gregory shares what you can expect from a hypnotherapy session and even shares a snippet of a client session so you can see what it's really like to go into a trance. 

If you find it hard to relax, hypnotherapy could help. Encouraging a state of deep relaxation, hypnotherapy for chronic fatigue syndrome brings about a sense of calm where you may experience relief from symptoms and the lowering of stress levels.

Hypnotherapy is often used to help with pain management too, helping you to reframe how you think about pain. This may not eliminate it, but it can help to reduce its intensity and impact on your well-being.

Many people with chronic fatigue syndrome struggle with sleeping and may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Hypnotherapy can help to rewire neural pathways and negative associations you have with sleep, so you can drift off more easily. 

Hypnotherapy for chronic fatigue syndrome won’t be for everyone, but it is an approach that supports you in a totally unique way. To learn more, reach out to a hypnotherapist who has experience in CFS today.

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