A triangle with restless legs in the middle and each point of the triangle pointing to an image of a hot thermometer, a person sitting, and a stressed brain

My Trigger Trifecta: Heat, Stress, and Exercise

Sometimes I wonder how the simple things escape me. I mean really obvious things that should hit me like a bus sometimes drive on by. I have 3 restless legs syndrome (RLS) triggers that are so obvious even strangers in the grocery store know what they are.

Knowing your triggers and how to manage them makes life more comfortable. Heat, stress, and exercise are my trigger trifecta.

1. Heat is most worst trigger

I’m a native Floridian. It just makes sense that I should be able to handle hot weather. Nope. Not even a little.

Heat is one of my most significant RLS triggers. It activates a sensation deep in the bones of my hips that I call crawling, but that doesn’t adequately describe the feeling. It washes in like a wave and becomes progressively more and more intense until I’m in tears.

2. Stress is an unpredictable trigger

Stress is another trigger. The thing about stress is, I never know when my body is going to process something as stressful. Even happy, exciting activities cause a certain amount of stress. When stress creeps in that wave of crawling comes over me.

When stress is the trigger, the discomfort washes in slowly so I often don’t notice it building. I’m so used to being uncomfortable that I subconsciously block it out as long as I can.

3. Exercise (or lack of) is a trigger

Or lack thereof. Before I was even diagnosed with RLS, my regular doctor told me to walk. She explained that walking makes nerves behave properly instead of misfiring or whatever other nonsense they participate in that causes crawling.

On the flip side of that coin is sitting. Sitting to read, to watch tv, at the computer, at work; all those activities requiring stillness are the exact opposite of exercise and they cause my nerves to crawl like a pile of ants.

Tips for controlling triggers

Having identified my trigger trifecta I was able to devise some tricks for managing them. Hopefully, some of these will work for you as well.

Heat

  • Cold packs placed where the blood flows close to the surface of the skin is a good option. The back of the neck and the small of the back work particularly well for me. I bought the fabric-covered gel packs from the drug store.
  • Frozen drinks and popsicles help lower body temperature. The rub with these is the calorie content or artificial sweetener.
  • Hop in the pool. We didn’t have a pool so we bought the blow-up kind designed for kids and a cheap pool pump. It looks ridiculous but works fine. Anytime I’m outside working I hop in that thing if I start to crawl. Works like magic.

Stress

  • I made a list of my obvious stressors. For each item on the list, I decided if I could eliminate it, manage it or if it was out of my control. I make it sound easy, but this was a painful process for me. It required that I be very honest with myself.
  • Any stressor that could be eliminated went right out the window. For example, I no longer vacuum the floor. I got a robot that vacuums for me. I know it sounds small, but our 4 pets create a lot of dust bunnies and I constantly felt the pressure to keep the floor clean.
  • For each stressor that could be managed I made a plan relevant to that stressor. The hard part is sticking to my plan.
  • For those stressors that are out of my control, I use mindfulness techniques. It took some practice before I experienced relief, but now I consider it a basic life skill like breathing. There are many Apps and organizations that have mindfulness resources for free or a small fee.

Exercise

  • I use simple tricks to work a little extra walking into my everyday routine. I park at the back of parking lots. I also walk the perimeter of the grocery store once before doing my shopping.
  • For me, the best exercise solution was a used elliptical machine. I use it for 15 minutes first thing in the morning while I check my email on my phone. Totally (almost) painless. If I find myself participating in an activity that requires a lot of sitting I’ll do another 15 minutes later in the day.

Managing my symptoms is still a work in progress and probably always will be. I can accept that because having a plan gives me more control and less discomfort.

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