12 Ways to Get on Top of Your RA

by Lene Andersen, MSW Patient Advocate

Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and all that comes with it can be overwhelming. Every day you manage symptoms and medications, juggle medical appointments and tests, and somewhere in between there are also the demands of the rest of your life. That leaves little time and energy to get ahead, to live better with your condition. But what if you approached it one step at a time—maybe just taking on one change per month over the course of a year? Here are 12 things you can explore to help you live better with RA.

Anxious woman talking to her doctor.
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Make a Plan With Your Rheumatologist

When you build a house, you start with the foundation. It’s the same with the journey to build a better coexistence with your RA. Talk to your rheumatologist about your goals in life—for your RA, and beyond — and what is holding you back from achieving that. Do you feel that your current treatment is not controlling your condition as well as it should? Are you thinking about exploring surgery to function better? Are there ways you and your doctor could work better together? Start now to create a solid base.

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Eat Healthy

The healthier you can be, the better for your RA. This includes taking a look at your eating habits. Make sure you are eating foods that will support your efforts to treat your condition. Some people experience a worsening of their symptoms when they eat certain foods—perhaps an elimination diet could identify some of your flare triggers. Some are also interested in exploring different diets and their effects on general health, specifically RA. Ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian who can help you transition into a healthier diet.

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Review Your Finances

Having a chronic illness can be a serious financial strain. Take a look at your finances to identify areas for improvement. This doesn’t just mean whether you are able to save money for retirement or paying off debt. Review your medication list and talk to your pharmacist about accessing financial assistance programs or finding other ways to save on meds. It may also be a good idea to consult a financial advisor or an accountant to identify whether there are ways to reduce your taxes.

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Create a Self-Care Routine

Despite the increasing focus on self-care, most of us are pretty bad at actually doing this—something or someone else always comes first. Include self-care in your plan for your day. It can be something as simple as soothing your aching body in a bubble bath, watching a television show or movie with your family, puttering in the garden, or making sure you have some alone time, if that is what recharges you. The important thing is that self-care is on your to-do list every day.

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Deal With the Rest of Your Health

When you have a chronic illness like RA, the rest of your health can take a backseat. It’s called diagnostic overshadowing, meaning basically that RA takes up a lot of room. Make an appointment with your family doctor for an annual physical, and make sure that they are on top of what needs to be done to stay ahead of any of the systemic effects of RA. This can include a referral to a preventative cardiologist, bone scans to monitor for osteoporosis, and other preventive health measures.

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Ommm … Meditate

Stress. We all have it and deal with it more or less badly. Stress can be a trigger for autoimmune disease flares, so learning to manage it can be very important when you have RA. One way to manage stress is by learning to meditate. Studies on the topic have shown that meditation can reduce your pain, depression, and anxiety. You can find classes in meditation in your area, or learn through books and audio programs.

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Make Room for People

Having a chronic illness can be very isolating. Fatigue and pain have you staying home more often, cancelling on friends and family members because your RA takes over. But you don’t have to go out to spend time with the people you care about. Instead of going to dinner and a movie, do take-out and a DVD at your place. Be honest about your needs and limits and talk about alternatives. Sometimes, staying in touch can be as simple as a regular phone call.

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Explore Alternative Treatments

Many people with RA supplement their Western-based treatment with alternative medicine. This can include massage, naturopathy, acupuncture, and others. If you’ve been thinking about trying different types of alternative treatments, do some research to make sure you’re making wise choices. You should also make sure to tell your rheumatologist about any alternative treatment or remedy.

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Start Moving

You’re probably a little tired of being told to exercise because it’s “good for your RA.” But it actually can make a significant difference in your mobility and pain levels. You can start by taking small walks, or try different types of exercise, such as modified yoga, aqua fit, or even Zumba and kickboxing to see what you enjoy. If your RA is acting up too much for you to feel comfortable doing this on your own, ask your rheumatologist for a referral to a physical therapist who can help put together an exercise program that works for you.

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Ask for Help

You don’t have to do it all alone. It’s normal for people with a chronic illness to work harder to do it all—when you are very conscious of what you can’t do anymore, you do what you can to the max. But asking for help can be the key to reducing stress in your life, getting more done, and even spending time with others. Asking for help can be a gift of kindness to the people who care for you, who very much want to help, but may not know how.

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Try Gratitude

When you have RA, it can be easy to get lost in the everyday frustrations. Shift your focus to a more positive way of living by practicing gratitude. Making a plan to every day specifically look for something beautiful, joyful, or that which makes you thankful gradually creates a habit that will help you become a happier person. When you do experience something hard, gratitude can help you cope better and support you in finding a way out.

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Embrace Good Enough

In this world of perfection, having a chronic illness that limits you can be frustrating, even devastating. It can help to remember, for instance, that social media and magazines contain selectively curated moments, but don’t reflect actual life. Instead of aiming for perfection, embrace the concept of good enough. This will allow you to have energy left over to play games with your kids, be silly (or sexy) with your partner, or read a good book.

Lene  Andersen, MSW
Meet Our Writer
Lene Andersen, MSW

Lene Andersen is an author, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. Lene (pronounced Lena) has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was four years old and uses her experience to help others with chronic illness. She has written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Lene serves on HealthCentral's Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral on Facebook page, facebook.com/rahealthcentral. She is also one of HealthCentral's Live Bold, Live Now heroes — watch her incredible journey of living with RA.