Meditation and mindfulness exercises can calm a system in ME/CFS that is commonly overactivated

“In the practice of mindfulness a CFS/FM patient is neither in the past nor the future – only in the here and now […] Focus on the now, the present, is not associated with frightening ‘what if’ future thinking, the negative experiences of the past […] It’s a time to simply be – a moment of acceptance, an awareness of life.” Dr. Alison Bested, ME/CFS doctor and author.

Scientific studies describe an illness with an overactivated ‘fight or flight response’ and underactivated ‘rest and digest’ response. Patients describe the unsettling feeling of being ‘wired but tired’ in which rest, which used to refresh, no longer does so.

A constant state of ‘arousal’ leading at times to precipitous and sometimes long-term crashes is a common theme and a plethora of mind/body techniques from CBT to the Amygdala Retraining Program to the Mickel Process to Reverse Therapy to the Lightning Process have sprung up in an attempt to combat it. Some people benefit greatly, others not so much and others not at all but the scientific evidence suggests this is the kind of a disorder in which they might be helpful. Meditation/mindfulness exercises are commonly used in ME/CFS’s sister disorders such as fibromyalgia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

The Mind/Body Pages on Phoenix Rising

Meditation/Relaxation Exercises May Help in ME/CFS/FM Because They Can……

Help You Breathe Better and Feel Calmer

  • Meditation results in slowed, deepened breathing. Some studies suggest some ME/CFS patients often have shallow, rapid breathing and/or are ‘breath holders’. Both result in lowered breath CO2 levels and impaired oxygen delivery to the tissues. The evidence suggests that over time meditation may able to retrain the nervous system so that you automatically breathe at more optimal rates.
  • Check out Phoenix Rising’s Simple Breathing Exercises page.

Turn Down An Overactivated Stress Response

  • There is evidence that the ‘stress response’ is activated in ME/CFS and the ‘relaxation response’ is inhibited. This can lead to shortened breath, racing heart, constricted muscles, fatigue, etc. Meditation enhances the ‘relaxation response’ and turns down the stress (‘fight or flight’) response. Enhancing the relaxation response can lead to more energy, better digestion, slowed heart rate, better sleep and reduced pain.
  • Meditation gives ME/CFS patients a ‘time-out’ from the many stresses and worries of their everyday lives.

Reduce Muscular Tension

  • Meditation practices can ease the muscular tension commonly found in ME/CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) and fibromyalgia (FM) which can make it difficult to get to sleep and achieve restful sleep.
  • Check out Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Reduce Your Prescription Drug Use

  • Dr. Friedberg, a clinical psychologist with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), has found that some of his patients are able to reduce or even eliminate prescription use for sleep and pain problems.

Reduce Sensory Overload and Feelings of Being Overwhelmed

  • Some researchers believe that inadequate ‘information filtering’ causes too much information to flood the higher levels of the brain in ME/CFS. Many patients have difficulty in information-rich environments and seek out quiet places to rejuvenate themselves. By training ones mind to focus on a single point or object meditation may be able to help train the brain to improve its information-filtering properties.
  • On a similar note studies suggest that chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) patients have a reduced ability to ‘turn off’ or disregard innocuous stimuli. Healthy brains are able to quickly assess whether they should monitor or ignore things such as background sounds, lights or odors. This suggested it’s more difficult for people with ME/CFS to remain in a state of concentrated focus. (No surprise there!). Since meditation ‘works the focus muscle’ it may be able to assist in this area.

Help Your Ability to Thinking

  • Studies show that meditators can increase their ‘working memory’ – a cognitive process that is often inhibited in ME/CFS


Alison Bested MD and Allan Logan ND. 2006. Hope and Help For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. Cumberland Press.


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