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How to know which advice to take: to rest or not to rest?

Hearing advice and recognizing it as smart is one thing; following that good advice is quite another. Here’s a different conundrum, though: how do you know which good advice to take?   How do you weigh the different pieces of advice to decide what’s best for your health in the moment?

I have migraine disease and psoriatic arthritis. Both illnesses play off of each other, meaning if I am having an arthritis flare I may get run down more easily, leading to a lower threshold for migraine (putting me more at risk for ongoing pain and discomfort).

Sometimes I feel tired. Really, really tired.  Oftentimes it’s related to migraine (fatigue has been proven to be related to migraine—you’re not alone there!). For me, this fatigue sets in most notably before and during my period.  Due to my arthritis and due to ongoing effects from a car accident a couple of years ago, my lower back hurts on a low frequency every day, starting out on a higher level in the morning when I hobble out of bed like a person fifty years my senior.

Here’s the thing, though: on days when I’m feeling exhausted and achy, it’s hard to know what the best course of action is.  On the one hand, chugging a glass of water and lacing up my walking shoes may be exactly what I really need to get my joints lubricated and my head clear.  Oftentimes, a brisk walk is just what the doctor ordered. On the other hand, though, perhaps my body is tired and achy because it needs rest. Deep, abiding, uninterrupted rest.  How do I interpret these signals?

Oddly enough, it’s the most mundane of illnesses that has me clueless as to which path to take: the common cold throws me for a loop each time.  Whenever I get a cold (two or three times a year at this rate), I honestly don’t know if my general health (including migraine) would be better off if I were to exercise and go about my day as usual.  I wonder if resting too much will lead to a migraine triggered by oversleep and/or interrupted sleep. Will lying in bed all day, ignoring work, help me rest up or set the table for a sore back and doubly stressful day once I’m back feeling good again?

As I described it to my partner Jim the other day, “It’s hard to know when to baby yourself and when to just buck up.”  He himself deals with chronic pain and migraine disease, so he’s a good guy to have on my team.  He faces this choice whenever he gets sick: should he rest up and take it easy, or should he get on his feet and get some exercise?

The best advice I’ve been able to give myself is, unless I’m feeling really bad, to get hydrated and go for a walk.  If I start feeling rough (too dizzy or exhausted), I can turn around and walk back home after a few minutes.  If I feel okay, I can push myself to walk (gently! no running!) for a longer amount of time to get my heart rate up and to experience that sweeping rush of endorphins that kicks in after thirty minutes or so.

How do you decide what type of self-care is best for you in the moment?  When you have an acute illness (cold, flu, etc.), what do you do to take care of yourself while also trying to make sure you don’t trigger a migraine? When do you baby yourself, and when do you decide to try to push through? 


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Luna
    5 years ago

    It is important for me to stay on my daily routine. So I get up and go for it. Then if I need to lay down again I can. There is no way to get the morning back by staying in bed. And many times what I need to do is get up and change the neck or lower back/hip position to feel better. Chronic migraines, osteoarthritis and back/shoulder injuries are a challenge to manage.
    “When you have an acute illness (cold, flu, etc.)” Haven’t had any illnesses in so long can’t remember them.

  • Jules2dl
    5 years ago

    If I have a migraine that’s 7 or under I do as much as I can. I stay in bed with ice at anything over a 7, as it has been my experience that if I push myself at that level of pain I’m likely to end up in the ER.
    Whenever I have an acute illness with a fever I always get a very bad migraine with it, so I rest up.

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