I have read and heard first-hand accounts of RA flares being precipitated by periods of extreme stress. These are not scientifically documented instances. Rather, they are just stories shared by others on the web, and accounts by a few people I have talked to who do have RA.
One of the main causes of stress in our lives comes from difficult family relationships. A lot of us have at least one relative who is always in a "crisis". We have one of those in our family. This relative has called for money many times over the years. She always has some strange story about why she needs the money, and there is very little truth in the yarns she spins.
This relative called recently and was in tears........again............and in another money crisis. This woman has stolen from other family members and has burned her bridges with every one of them that I know. She seems to have the ability to cry on cue. So, I told her, "No." No more money was going to be coming from us. I also told her she needed to make better choices in life and start taking responsibility for herself and her family.
I could hardly believe the words that came out of my mouth. I was calm, but firm. Those of us with RA have a limited amount of energy. When I get caught up in family drama, especially this type of family drama, it drains me. Inevitably, following one of these episodes, I lose sleep and end up sick and in pain. I have chosen to not go down this road again.
I imagine a lot of you have stories you could share. Personally, I find that if my work or family life gets stressful, my pain level increases. Is there anything we can do to help stop the stress before it gets too intense and causes a flare?
The first thing we have to do is learn to say, "No". This can be extremely difficult. I am yet not an accomplished "NO-er", but I am working on it!
Here are some things that may help us alleviate stress when it does come barging into our lives.
Take A Mental Health Day
I occasionally use my sick leave for what are commonly called mental health days. Sometimes it helps to just step back and isolate oneself from the stressful situation. I do not view this as running away from the problem. I view this as retreating for a short period of time in order to regroup and rest. It is a time out from the stresses of everyday life. I don't do this often, but when the telltale signs of stress rear their ugly heads, I step back and take a day to build myself up so that I can better face the current life challenge.
Take A Hot Bath
Sometimes a hot bath is just the ticket to drain stress from the body and give one a sense of well-being. I like lots of bath beads in my water. Warm water seems to soothe the body and the soul. A little light jazz playing in the background doesn't hurt either!
Stretching exercises, especially if done in the morning, always help my day go better. They work out the kinks, and help ease my pain. You might want to consider doing this, especially if your mornings are tough. I find Tai Chi an excellent exercise for stretching muscles and relieving stress. Water aerobics are also highly recommended by many of the doctors I have seen.
I am definitely not an expert on meditation, but even I, with no training, am able to gain relief from my amateur form of meditating. I do this when I am in a lot of pain and nothing else has worked. I go to my bedroom and close the door, so that it is perfectly quiet. I don't know about you, but when I get up to a level 8 or 9 pain level, I feel better if I can get away from the "noise" of life. I lay on my bed and consciously clear my mind of all thoughts. When I reach that point, I consciously think of things that are soothing to me. I visualize the sun setting on the ocean, and the waves gently lapping at the sand on the beach. I can even hear the sound of the water rushing in and out. This conscious direction of my thoughts toward pleasant experiences drains the stress from my body and eases my pain.
Share Your Journey With People Who Understand
Apparently, there are not a lot of support groups for people with RA in most sections of the US. Thankfully, there are sites like the one sponsored by Health Central, that give us the opportunity to share our stories, trials and triumphs. We know that we are not alone. That is a huge comfort to most people with a chronic, painful illness. Some of us may tend toward social isolation when we are in pain. Being part of a support group seems to lessen this danger.
Consider Adopting A Pet
Pets seem to bring out the best in people. They love us and are there for us regardless of how we look for feel each day. Taking care of pets nudges us out into the world. It keeps us going, even if we just want to lay on the couch. After all, a puppy or dog needs to go outside from time to time. A kitty needs brushed and fed and watered. Meeting the needs of our pets is a distraction from our pain. The best thing of all is that pets give love unconditionally. They also seem to sense when we do not feel well. I have kitties that just cuddle up next to me and purr when I am having a tough day. That is such a comforting thing.
Do Something For Someone Else
I made a New Years Resolution this past January. My goal is to do something kind or buy a small gift for someone every day. Being kind every day should be a given, but we all get busy and are rushing around in our modern world. I just try to take the time to say a kind word to a store clerk, a person I see in a convenience store, a coworker, or any stranger I may meet who looks as though they may need a boost. I find this tool for fighting stress especially rewarding and effective.
My orthopedic doctor's NP told me that our bodies cannot tell the difference between physical and emotional stress. It reacts the exact same way to both. Anything we can do to keep stress from adversely impacting our health is worth a try.
Do you find that stress increases your pain? What do you do to combat stress in your life?
Published On: May 16, 2011