Dealing with the unexpected when managing CFS/ME

In my previous post :What activity management means to me in dealing with my CFS/ME I talked about the methods that I use for activity management to ensure I pace myself. Carefully planning out my activity for the week.

But things don’t always go to plan, inevitably things pop up that you didn’t plan for so do you deal with these and try to avoid the push crash cycle?

The 5 Steps to problem solving:

These steps are widely used for all sorts of problem solving from business to personal and can be used in these exact circumstances to:

Step 1 – Identify the problem

The problem could be anything from a family emergency, urgent work project, car problems the list is really endless.

But they all have various aspects in common, they tend to be unexpected, stressful, urgent and often the expectation from yourself and/or others to get it done.

When these things come along it is much easier to cut out your rest / low activities than anything else, and just adding this new task on to what you are all ready doing, basically pushing yourself which is likely to cause a crash which throws your plan out for the day, week or even longer.

Worrying about having to do this extra thing can almost zap as much energy from you as the extra task itself!

So start by identifying exactly what the problem and its implications:

Problem 1:
An urgent piece of work comes in that you estimate will take an hour longer than your scheduled day.

Problem 2:
Your child wakes up and has a fever, so is unable to go to school and may need to go to the doctor.

By thinking of the problem and what you need to do, helps very much in the next step.

Step 2 -Brainstorming

At the time the problem occurs once you have identified the problem you can brain storm for potential solutions:

Problem 1: Urgent work task

  • Tell your manager you cannot do it
  • Explain that you may have to not do regular tasks whilst you do this piece
  • Work late regardless of the consequences
  • Talk manager and explain that as you may have to work late you may have to come in late the next day
  • Work late but have several rests breaks through the day


Problem 2: Poorly child

  • Squeeze in looking after child round other activities & suffer later
  • Look at your day and evaluate what things you could cut out i.e. house work, coffee with a friend
  • Rest when child is resting
  • Plan rest around doctors appointments
  • See if a family member or partner can help.

These aren’t an exhaustive list but give you an indication of some ideas, also remember this is meant to be a quick process don’t make this stressful and add extra problem.

It is also useful to have a few ideas like this prepared in advance so that you can refer to them when they happen.

Step 3- Choose your action

What actions you choose from step 2 will ultimately depend on the circumstance and is likely to compose of a couple of them, you should avoid where ever possible actions like: do the work in addition regardless of the consequences and squeeze it in and suffer later.

Problem 1: Urgent work task

Talk to your manager explain that you are able to extend your hours, however need to have more rest breaks during the day and that you will have to push some of your regular work until the following day.
Problem 2: Poorly child

Cancel coffee with friend or don’t do the housework you had planned, to free up some credits to look after child and take them to the doctor and rest when you can around when your child is resting/sleeping

Step 4- Do it

After you have chosen an action which both fits in with what you need to do and limits the effects on your health the most stick to it!


Step 5- Evaluate

Once the day or week is over evaluate how you did and how it effected you.

Regardless of whether it is due to an issue like this or your standard planned week, evaluation has been key for me. It helps to evolve your activity management and help you to identify where things effected you more or less than you expected.

Writing out weekly plan is crucial for me & obviously it can be fluid for examples like the above, I write out my plan at the beginning of every week or the night before in on colour and then when I go to bed I go through in a different colour and write what I actually did and what credit amount I think it should be after doing it. For example

I put 10 credits down for watching TV but turned out it was actually quite a difficult watch involving more concentration I would then put it in as 15.

I put seeing a friend as 30, but it was really relaxed and calm I might put it down as 20.

Over time by having the predicted credits and actual you get a much better picture.

Preparing in advance for the unexpected

If we know that as part of life we have to deal with the unexpected there are several things we can do to prepare ourselves for them before we even know what they are.

Keep a list of previous brainstorms

This means that you can defer to one of your previous brainstorms in step two, and know how it will effect you.


By cutting out rest out we are saying it’s not important but it’s key for us!

If you have one or two big rests a day it is really easy to fill them up with these unexpected issues, so if you plan lots of small ones into your day it is better as it is easier to keep them in your day when you are busy.

In a previous post (Link), I used the following  illustration that I really liked, which showed that rest should be like the punctuation in your day. It is both essential for your day to work or do other tasks, but also it can come in various shapes and sizes and so can rest.

Comma Do a 30sec mindfulness exercise at desk, put feel firmly on the floor and take 5-10 deep breaths
Full Stop Get up from desk to get a drink
Semi Colon 5-10 Minute guided meditation using Buddify or MP3 (Link), in a quite private space.
New Paragraph Lunch Break
New Chapter Lie down/ 20 min power nap


Share your plan

By sharing your plan with someone else, be that family/friends, partner or work, you are communicating to them what it is you can and cannot do.

This communication is key, as it helps to manage the expectations of those around you and can help lower stress levels for both yourself and them.

It also has the benefit of them helping to re-enforce it, for example my partner now tells me if he thinks I am doing too much that I need a rest and when I was first starting to return to work the girls on my desk bank and my manager would tell me to go home when my hours were up.

This then helps them know how they can help you but also helps you as you feel less guilty about only doing a small amounts of hours or that you have to go home after an hour at a social function.


Adding in a contingency when planning your week can also be a very helpful tool. So for example when planning you medium/high activities you actually under plan so only plan 50-70% so that you have spare capacity to fit in these unexpected events.

If you enjoy this post and found it useful you might enjoy:

Or for more CFS/ME related posts check out my CFS/ME Index

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