Living with RA: 10 Tips for Building & Maintaining Energy

Patient Expert

It feels as if somebody's pulled your plug. As if you're enfolded in a lead lined comforter, weighing you down with every step. A 2011 study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases stated that 70 percent of people with RA experience a healthy dollop of fatigue, sometimes a level of exhaustion as profound as in chronic fatigue syndrome. It can make it impossible to do your job, take care of your family, or just get through the day. Even when you're responding to treatment, sometimes that makes you tired, too. Today, I'll be looking at tips for building and managing your energy.

1. Get treatment. One of the best ways to combat RA-related fatigue is to treat the disease. Often one of the first signs that the medication's working is that you start getting more energy. Even if you're not able to fully go into remission, finding a medication that reduces your RA symptoms will help reduce your fatigue. Ironically, certain medications, such as prednisone, can cause insomnia and if that's you, talk to your doctor about options to help you get some sleep.

2. Pain Management. Pain makes you tired and uncontrolled pain can make you exhausted. Having good pain management is an important part of improving the quality of your life, as well as increasing your energy levels. Many of us feel hesitant about taking pain meds, waiting until we can't stand it anymore. That only results in always being behind the game in terms of the pain. Taking your pain meds as prescribed on a regular basis, will ensure that you always have a certain level of medication in your system and therefore less pain.

3. Give your body the rest it needs. Getting enough sleep is essential for people who live with RA. Go to bed when you're tired. If you stay up past midnight despite having to get up at 6:30 AM, it's bound to contribute to your fatigue. Some people manage by going to bed earlier every night, others go to bed right after dinner once a week. Nap when you can, whether it's a full-on crawling under the covers or a snooze in a comfy chair. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, you may want to talk to your doctor about sleep aids.

4. Proper sleep environment. The quest for energy starts with restful sleep. Make sure your bed and your bedroom are conducive to sleep. This can include darkness, quiet and the right temperature — not too hot, not too cold. Make sure you have good sleep posture by having a supportive mattress (Tempur-Pedic is getting good word of mouth). You can also use pillows to support joints and limbs that hurt.

5. Get a checkup. Ask your doctor to check your iron, vitamin D and B12 levels. Being deficient in these can contribute to fatigue. Vitamin D can also help improve your pain levels and many people find that adding more vitamin D to their daily routine can make them feel better in general. While you're seeing your doctor, also ask them to check your thyroid — fatigue is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism.

6. Look into other energy boosting supplements. In addition to iron, vitamin D and B12, there are a number of supplements that can help boost your energy. Discuss this with your doctor or a licensed doctor of naturopathic medicine before diving into a supplement buying spree. Make sure none of them interact with medication you're already taking.

7. Manage your energy. Working well past your limits every day is a recipe for disaster, leading to flares and having to sit quietly on the couch and heal for days. Doing less allows you to still have energy left over at the end of the day, and means you'll be more likely to be able to do what you need to the next day, as well. Learning to manage your energy can take a while, but has a huge payoff in the long run.

8. Exercise. A recommendation to exercise seems ironic if you can barely get through the day. However, being as fit as possible in your circumstances can help build energy. Remember that exercise doesn't have to mean going to the gym and jumping around. Making a cup of tea or doing gentle range of motion exercises count. Walking in a pool or going down to the corner means you're moving, as well. Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist who can help you put together exercises that won't strain your joints and which you can do, even on bad days.

9. Talk to other people. Sometimes the more quiet you are, the more tired you get. Talking to friends and family can be very helpful. You can share your frustration and in so doing, feel the burden lightened. You can talk about the great book you just read, laugh about what happened on Dancing with the Stars or Real Housewives, or discuss the headlines in the paper. Talking about things that are funny or interesting can be invigorating and if you do so on the phone, you don't have to get up from the couch** 10. Do what nourishes you**. Activities you enjoy don't just take away energy, they also give you more energy. Being reminded that there is more to you than RA and being tired can help you turn outward and be nourished by the world around you. Sitting on a park bench in the sunshine can help you connect to beauty and joy. Engaging in a hobby, such as reading, knitting (if your hands can handle it), jigsaw puzzles, woodworking, or gardening can help make you happier and thereby give you more energy (just remember to work within your limits!). Feed your soul - it'll make you feel better.

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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.