10 Things You Can Do to Live Better With RAby Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R. Patient Advocate
If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you are no stranger to its marauding gang of symptoms: aches, pains, brain fog, fatigue, insomnia, and stiffness, to name just a few. When you take care of your mind, body, and spirit, you might just find that your RA symptoms improve. Here’s how you can live better with RA.
Develop Strategies to Reduce Stress
My journey with RA is definitely better since I've become Auntie Stress, almost 13 years ago. I often joke that I am my own best client. However, neither RA, nor stress, are jokes. Both have a direct influence on each other. Stress can increase inflammation. RA can increase stress. If you want to live well, it's imperative that you learn strategies that help you break out of this cycle. A little self-care can go a long way.
Choose Foods That Make You Feel Good
Or at the very least, choose to eat better. Unlike arresting a habit, such as nail-biting (one I gave up in the 8th grade), you can't just stop eating. Small dietary changes can help you build a healthy relationship with food, which can lead you into making even bigger ones. Feed your body what it needs to thrive. Pay close attention to how you feel when you eat certain foods. Not only can certain foods trigger a flare, but “mood by food” can set you back. In other words, food can impact your mood, leaving you feeling irritable after too much sugar, or sluggish after too many carbs.
Exercise to Target Inflammation
The last thing you may feel like doing is moving, when even talking hurts. The adage “move it or lose it” applies, especially when you have RA. If you're concerned that you are doing more damage, consult a physical therapist for appropriate exercises for RA. The right amount of exercise can help kick inflammation to the curb. I always notice a huge improvement in mobility, particularly after my swim.
Practice Better Sleep Hygiene
Relentless flares, disease-related anxieties, family issues, bills, noise, frustrations — these all can keep you up at night. Not getting enough sleep can create a snowball of increasing sleeplessness, wreaking havoc on your RA. With a few important but relatively small changes, you can learn to cultivate good sleep habits, which may lead to a better night’s sleep.
I was recently reminded about the healing power of laughter. I had injured myself doing some leg exercises with weights, which were too heavy. (It's a reminder that I'm more delicate than I think I am!) One evening, I watched a number of YouTube videos featuring this great observational comic, whom I found to be laugh-out-loud funny. The next day, I felt significantly better. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. Find what tickles your funny bone and indulge.
Stay Positive to Improve Your Health
We're hard-wired to scan our environment for danger. Unfortunately, for some, our experiences have us performing this operation far too often. In one study, optimistic subjects had increased cell-mediated immunity, whereas a drop in optimism showed a decrease in immunity. Other studies show that an optimistic attitude about aging can people live longer, and optimistic cardiac patients are less likely to be readmitted to hospital. One way to flip your perspective is by practicing gratitude.
Build a Better Healthcare Team
When you have RA, you may have a tendency to figuratively withdraw and move to an “island,” but don't. Your healthcare team is an important part of your journey with RA. Choose them with care. Doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, naturopaths, nutritionists, coaches, therapists, and friends all have a role in your health and well-being.
Use Tools and Gadgets to Limit Strain on Your Joints
Tools and gadgets may seem extraneous, but to a person with RA, they are lifesavers! I use them constantly. They allow me to be independent. They save my joints and often, my energy and frustration. There are so many reasonably-priced tools and gadgets available today.
Learn to Listen to Your Body
What do you need? Rest? Better nutrition? A walk in the park? A good laugh? A heart-to-heart with a friend? Learn to tune in to your needs; they are often quite different from your wants. For example, I often reached for a sugar fix when I was feeling sluggish. I now know that I sugar-coated what I really needed, which was a nap, or at the least, a restorative time-out.
Live Your Life
Shift your focus so that it's not always on your RA. This can take some work, as RA has a way of demanding your attention. Placing your attention on other people, places and things, especially ones that make your heart sing, can be the way out of suffering. Again, it's important to listen to what you need. When you succeed, your life will be that much better.