Taking Care of Your Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2011
December of any year is traditionally the time where media of all kinds focus on what has happened in the past 12 months and if you read my Month Ahead post, you know that's coming. However, just to mess with tradition, I'm starting my posts this month by talking about the future.
We have big plans for 2011 here on MyRACentral and our focus for next year will be on helping you live better with RA. As part of that, here are 10 things you may want to consider including in your plan for 2011 and beyond.
Be Nice to Yourself
When the last time you did something nice for yourself? Took the day of for no reason other than you needed to finish reading a good book, had a massage or a pedicure - men, too! Why not? - or sat on a bench with a cup of tea and listened to the birds. We are very good at being nice to others, but most of us are terrible at doing something nice for ourselves. Maybe it's that Puritan heritage, but it's time to kick it to the curb. Life with a chronic illness is hard and making time for yourself, even if it's just 20 minutes to meditate, nap or play with the cat can do wonders for your ability to face the day.
Learn to Say No
As we hurtle through our days, making sure the kids are fed and watered, that extra deadline met, groceries bought, chores are done, volunteer commitments have been completed and sure, we can do that extra little thing for parents or a friend. Just as we tend not to be very good at being nice to ourselves, saying 'no' can be virtually impossible and we end up making commitments that send us into energy bank overdraft. A couple of years ago, I discovered a nifty trick. When asked to do something, I say "I'll have to check my schedule and get back to you." This gives me time to assess whether I have the time or energy, as well as think about whether the energy I have should be spent on something else.
Assess Your Physical Health & Fill the Gaps
How are you feeling in general? Do you have any weird symptoms that you've meant to ask your doctor about, but haven't yet? Are you up to date for your vaccines for influenza, pneumonia and tetanus? When's the last time you had a physical? Part of managing RA involves making sure you're as healthy as possible and although it can seem overwhelming to deal with your regular health on top of all the appointments related to your RA, don't procrastinate on this. Preventative maintenance works for people, as well as cars!
Solidify Your Medical Care Team
Living with a chronic illness requires more than just a good family doctor, it needs specialists like rheumatologists, orthopedic surgeons and pain specialists and physical and occupational therapists, just to mention a few. Do you have access to the people you need? Are they good ones who work with you and understand that you are in charge of the team? If not, talk to your family doctor about your concerns and consider getting second opinions when needed.
Check out Alternative Medicine
At this point in time, Western allopathic medicine is the best choice for getting your disease suppressed. However, supplementing your "regular care" with alternative treatments, such as a licensed naturopathic doctor, acupuncture, massage, etc., can help you build your general health, as well as be an important tool in managing pain. Make sure you check out the qualifications of practitioners and remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Clean up Your Diet
I know. Everyone says you should eat healthy, but it can be difficult to put in the effort when you're low on energy. A healthy, balanced diet will help you get more energy and make you stronger and later this month, Lisa Emrich will write about nutrition to help get you started thinking about it. Just remember one thing: being virtuous 24/7 will make you cranky, so have a chocolate bar every now and again.
Find an Exercise Program That Works for You
Exercise is a good idea for everyone, but staying as active as possible is even more important when you have RA. To keep your mobility, you need to use your body as much as you can. It's important to not overestimate your abilities - if exercise makes you hurt, you're not going to do it. Ask your doctor for a referral to physical therapist who can help suggest exercises that can keep you moving without putting too much stress on your joints.
Learn to Meditate
Meditation can be a terrific tool to help you feel centered and at peace. Many pain and stress management programs include lessons on meditation from a mindfulness perspective and it can be very useful in learning how to cope with pain. Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness for Beginners is a terrific audio program that introduces you to the concept of mindfulness and includes lessons in different types of meditation.
Nurture Your Friendships
Being healthy isn't just about your physical well-being, it's about your emotional well-being, as well. Mind and body are linked and if you're happy and feel loved, you feel better in general and have better coping skills. Make your friendships a priority. Spending time with friends, doing something you enjoy or just sitting around chatting can take you out of your head, make you laugh, give the people who love you an opportunity to support you and all of a sudden, you don't feel so alone.
Express Yourself Creatively
Finding a way to be creative can be a wonderful distraction from pain and stress. Writing, journaling, painting, gardening, knitting, making jewelry, photography or other forms of creativity can also be healing. Expressing yourself creatively can help you to process your feelings about having RA, being in pain and all the other aspects of living with this disease. And as a bonus, it can make fantastic presents for the people you care about.
What are your suggestions for things we can do to live better in the new year?
You can read more of Lene's writing on The Seated View.