Tips for Getting Through Your Work Day When You Have RA
Marianna Paulson | April 19, 2016 July 24, 1995
When rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flares up, your energy wanes, while any sort of movement can cause excruciating pain. The simplest of activities like typing on a computer, turning a doorknob, or getting up off a chair require Herculean will. Not everyone has the benefit of a large inheritance, or is lucky enough to win the lottery. In order to survive, you need to work. To work, you need strategies.
In order to live well with RA, it’s important to get the information and help you need. Your healthcare team can include your doctor, rheumatologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, nutritionist, therapist and other professionals who can provide you with emotional, mental, and/or physical support. Your family, friends, colleagues, and employer may also see solutions where you don’t.
Know Your Rights
Get educated on employee rights in your state. If you work for a union, you may be entitled to further benefits. If it applies to you, you may wish to familiarize yourself with The Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are not familiar with legal language find someone who can help you navigate your way through the system.
There are so many conflicting theories about what to eat. Get curious about your food. Pay attention to what you eat and how you feel afterward. Do you feel sluggish? Does what you eat affect your symptoms? How about your energy levels? What about your elimination system? The answers to these questions can help you decide what to eat to allow you to function at your best. Remember to stay hydrated, as well.
If you’re going to get through your work day, you’ll need to make sure that you get enough sleep. A chronic illness such as RA taxes your system. Regularly practice good sleep hygiene. Go to bed and get up at the same time. No caffeine at night, nor late-night snacks. Stay away from your electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Create a sanctuary in your bedroom. Use room-darkening window coverings.
The right amount of exercise will help you live well with rheumatoid arthritis, and help you deal with the rigors of work. Ideally, you’ll want to improve your level of fitness, but at the very least, maintain what you do have. Talk with your physical therapist and doctor for some ideas that are right for you. Practice activities that will help you increase all aspects of fitness, such as swimming.
Tools – Use Them!
There are so many wonderful products available today. If you work at a computer you may need a special chair or keyboard. Consider speech recognition software. If your job requires standing, have a soft surface under your feet. Use a cart if you need to move materials around. Have ice and heat packs at work. Your occupational therapist can help you make adjustments in your work environment.
Unfortunately, stress and work often go hand in hand. Not everyone has an employer who cares for the well-being of the employees, so the onus is on you to do what you can to transform your stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, contributes to the inflammatory response. Learn techniques that can be applied right in the moment when stress is happening, so that you don’t stoke the flames of a flare-up.
Take them! Schedule get-up-and-move-and-stretch breaks. The longer you sit, the stiffer you’ll be. Do some range of motion exercises. Use a stretch band to build up your strength. During your longer breaks, consider getting outside for some fresh air. If you’re fortunate enough to be near a park, unplug, and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. If you’re tired, consider having a nap at lunch time.
It’s a difficult call as to whether you should inform your employer about your medical condition. You may be able to negotiate flex time, where you work from home part of time. Perhaps your place of employment allows you to bank hours in order to take them at a later date. Trading shifts with colleagues may be another option. A full-day may be too much to handle. Could you work a percentage of that time?
If the type of work you do is no longer possible, it may be time to consider retraining. The Arthritis Foundation, an occupational therapist, the career counselor at your local college, or disability groups are good sources of help. You may decide to work for yourself, which gives you more flexibility, but also presents its own set of challenges, including long hours, costly health benefits and uncertain income.
According to research, the average U.S. employee only takes half of their earned vacation time. Don’t be a part of this statistic. Ensure your productivity by taking time to recharge your batteries on a regular basis by doing the things that are important to you. Recognize that the things that help you maintain that sense of balance are often the first things you stop doing. Your values matter. You matter!