How to Judge When to Take a Sick Day with RA

Personal Day. Mental Health Day. Sick Day. When you work and have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), any one, or all of those titles might apply to your decision to take a day off work.

Working full, or even part-time, can challenge even the most able-bodied amongst us. Beyond the regular daily living tasks such as grocery shopping, food preparation, and all that is required for family time can eat of time and energy. However, throw in a diagnosis of RA, some heavy-duty medications, which come complete with side-effects, appointments with doctors, regular lab work, and the time required to maintain your joints and mobility with proper exercise, and your schedule (and you) may very well collapse.

My experience

I was fortunate that when I was teaching full-time, the principals at the various schools I worked at, cut me some slack. They saw that I struggled just to walk into the classroom. Perhaps I should have gone on short-term disability, but instead, I chose to work. It wasn't easy, but I had strategies in place to help me get through my days. I would use a small rolling suitcase to transport my marking and lesson plans between home and school. I used a high stool at the front of the room when I was teaching formal lessons. I trained the students to come to me at my desk when they had questions during work periods.

Fortunately, I had a group of dedicated students who loved to help me create my learning aids and put up my bulletin boards. Even with those compensations, sometimes, the only way through is to recognize that I needed a day or two away from work.

When you want to work

Not everyone is fortunate to have employers who understand the importance of work for those who are struggling with RA. Being able to support oneself financially and enjoy health benefits, along with the sense of camaraderie, and support of colleagues you like and respect, is vital for well-being. If you are doing meaningful or interesting work, it can help to ease some of the stresses of working with a chronic illness. As difficult as your days may be, work can provide a necessary distraction from the pain of living with a chronic illness.


It is up to you to judge whether or not you wish to disclose your medical condition. If you were like me, my body revealed it for me. Uncontrolled flare-ups were pretty hard to disguise. To this day, I am grateful that I worked with people who were compassionate.

Dependent upon the relationship you have with your employer, you may choose to explain that from time to time, you will be taking a Personal Day/Mental Health Day/Sick Day. If you feel that an explanation will only make things worse, you may be better off citing a sick day and leaving it at that.

You may need to take a sick day when:

  1. You are exhausted, whether mentally, physically, or emotionally. The thought of spending a full day at work makes you want to cry, scream, or moan in agony.

  2. You have no patience whatsoever. You find you're snapping at everyone.

  3. You are making more mistakes, aren't as creative as you usually are, and/or exhibiting signs of presenteeism. (Presenteeism is defined as the action of an employee who comes to work despite illness or injury and as a result, performs below standard.)

  4. You're flaring.

  5. You feel as if you're coming down with something besides your regular RA symptoms, whether it be a cold, infection or the flu.

  6. You have a medical appointment. Since they always tend to run late, it may be in your best interest to take it easy that day.

  7. You're a caregiver to young children or aging parents and you're finding the urge to care is evaporating.

  8. You need a day to sit and do nothing, knowing that you will be in a much better position to be more productive the next day.

Are you able to add to this list?

As the adage goes, a change is as good as a rest. Sometimes, all you need is a change in your normal work schedule. A day away from work can help you feel better so you can get up the next day with a fresh face and if you're fortunate, a little more oomph in your step.

Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R.
Meet Our Writer
Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R.

Marianna Paulson is known as AuntieStress. On her Auntie Stress website, you’ll find links to her two award-winning blogs, Auntie Stress Café and A Rheumful of Tips. When she is not helping clients (and herself) address stress, she keeps active by swimming, walking, and taking frequent dance breaks. She takes steps in a number of different directions in order to work on being a “Superager.” She may have RA, but it doesn’t have her! “Choose to be optimistic. It feels better.” - Dalai Lama XIV