Managing RA Flares: Discover Your Patterns

Patient Expert

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that reverberates throughout your body. Your attention is pulled towards the pulsatingthrobbingstabbingslicingpinching pain that beats a discordant tune in your joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. In some of your organs, too. You become all too familiar with fatigue, isolation, and disrupted dreams. It seems as if your body has betrayed you, and there's very little you can do about it. You can restore your sense of control by learning to pay attention to your patterns. As a result, you gain some predictability while living with an unpredictable disease.

It's difficult to find patterns if you're always stressed - whether it be due to noisy joints, a new symptom, or your struggles to get through the day. I've been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it. But, scars heal, and so can you. What would it mean to you to make peace with your disease? To find some small and not so insignificant ways of managing to live your life well, in spite of your diagnosis?

The Holiday Flare

Have you ever noticed that you seem to have a flare-up during a major holiday? I know I did. I brought a lot of emotional baggage from my childhood to the holidays. Memories that triggered the stress response.

Your experience may be different from mine. Perhaps you get caught up in the holiday merriment - doing too much, meeting everyone's expectations, but not your own. If you find that you usually flare during the holidays, you're now that much closer to finding ways to help yourself. In other words, it's hard to change something if you don't know what the trigger is.

The Grieving Flare

This is one I recently experienced after the death of a relative. I didn't make the connection, at first, but as soon as I gave it a name (grief), then worked on processing my feelings, along with doing my stress techniques, I began to feel better. Is there someone or something you're grieving? How are you being gentle with yourself?

The Doing-Too-Much Flare

Your life is full - too many commitments and not enough time. Too many choices, many of them good, which makes it especially hard to say no. But, something's gotta give, and it may very well be your body.

The Not-Getting-What-You-Need Flare

What you want may be very different from what you need. When you begin to respect your needs, you may notice that you begin to feel better, in almost imperceptible ways. You may have been conditioned to think that your needs are unimportant - that you'll get to them tomorrow, or maybe the next day, or on the weekend. However, your body has other plans - if you're not going to slow down, it may slow down for you.

Are you getting enough rest and recreation? Nutrition and hydration? Exercise and rejuvenation? Dig deep to discover whether you need to sleep or to eat. Look behind the curtains of your initial wants to view your emotional, mental and physical needs.

The Stress Flare

This one is the mother of all flares. I've found that as I continue to address and undress my stress, a lot of the other issues seem to melt away, as do the frequency and severity of my flares.

Positive Patterns

There are all sorts of symptom trackers that you can use to monitor your aches, pains, and changes in health. I also strongly recommend keeping track of the positive things in your life, so you construct some new patterns. Patterns that leave you feeling well.

Look for patterns that lead to:

  • Better sleep.
  • Less morning stiffness.
  • More energy.
  • Greater strength.
  • Increased endurance.
  • Enhanced feelings of well-being.

You can go further with this list, like I do. I suggest getting a pretty journal and at the end of each day, find and jot down five or ten things for which you feel thankful. You can record this on your computer, but I find there is something kinesthetic that tickles the senses when you write in a journal. This depends upon the condition of your hands, so you may wish to use a computer or a phone.

Appreciation is a good habit to develop. It's a powerful tool to help you address and undress your stress, which can then help you uncover those patterns. I've discovered that when you begin looking for events, people, places, and things to be grateful for, you tend to find them. There's an art and a science to appreciation. When you learn how it changes your chemistry, you begin to feel the subtle changes in your body. Changes that can bring some quiet to your joints and a greater sense of peace in your life. Those are patterns worth repeating, wouldn't you agree?

Have you uncovered any patterns?

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Marianna Paulson is known as Auntie Stress. On her website, you'll find links to her two blogs, Auntie Stress Cafe and the award-winning,  A Rheumful of Tips. She also publishes a mostly monthly newsletter called The Connective Issue. Sign up  here  to receive information, tips, and to learn about giveaways.