10 Non-Tech Ways to Manage RA and Other Chronic Illnessesby Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R. Patient Advocate
From healthcare to banking, there's no doubt that we're heavily reliant on technology. However, not everyone wants to live in the digital world. Some people are simply not comfortable with it, while others wish to spend less time tethered to their technological devices. Click through for 10 simple analog ways to manage your chronic illness.
The information you record in your symptom diary can help your healthcare team customize your treatment plan. Use a notebook or pretty journal to keep a record of how you are feeling. Things you may wish to track: Your pain (severity — pain scale 1 to 10 and pain descriptor), morning stiffness, medication, supplements, exercise, food, quality of sleep, energy, stress. Jot down your impressions. Include questions you might have. What do you think worked for you and what didn't.
Make use of an old-fashioned calendar to keep track of your appointments and other important dates. Display it in a prominent place in your home and remember to check it on a regular basis. I recommend doing it on the weekend, and also before you go to bed each night to see what's up for the next day/week. You may also wish to carry a little agenda book with you, which ironically, is a lot faster when it comes to entering appointments. Just open it to the appropriate date and enter the details.
Organize your pills
Transfer your medications and supplements into a dosette, or pill keeper (pictured), to ensure you stay on your regular dosing schedule. I use separate ones for each time of day. Alternatively, you can ask your pharmacist to put your pills into a blister pack, where the medications are organized by time and day and sealed into little foil-backed compartments.
Attend to the physical aspects of sleep
The stress and pain of a chronic illness can negatively impact your sleep. Be conscientious about your sleep hygiene. Keep your bedroom cool and dark, and ensure that it is a technology no-go-zone. Get a mattress that suits your sleep style. Top it with linens that are soothing to you. I love crisp bedsheets and a feather duvet. My husband says I've created a nest with all the pillows I use to support my neck, arms, and legs. Test your sleep smarts to see how sleep savvy you are.
Attend to the mental aspects of sleep
Learn to manage your mind in order to slip into sleep. Here are two strategies:
Do the “cognitive shuffle.” (No, it's not some kind of new dance move.) First choose a word without repeating letters, such as “doze.” Then, list as many words as you can for each individual letter. Chances are you'll be asleep before you reach the final letter.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), is proving highly successful. In CBT-I you learn how to address the negative thoughts you have around sleep.
Pain management: hot and cold
Cold and hot packs are my first line of defense in the management of pain and inflammation. Depending on the type of pain, I'll turn to one or the other. Sometimes, I'll alternate between ice and heat.
Keep an assortment of different-sized ice packs in the freezer. Remember to place a cloth underneath to protect your skin. Or perhaps heat is what is needed to soothe your muscles and banish your aches. Listen to your body and you'll know what you need.
Maintain, retain, and sustain your mobility, strength, and endurance with exercise. You don't have to spend a lot of money on exercise or equipment to enjoy the benefits. There's no need for bells, whistles, and trackers to record every step, breath, and heartbeat. Sometimes you get more out of exercising if you do it for the simple joy of moving your body.
Mind over matter
There are lots of devices available that will help you keep track of things, but outsourcing your memory work may cost you. Ward off digital amnesia by exercising your brain just as you would any of your other muscles. Work on remembering phone numbers, birth dates, appointments, and other things that are important to you, instead of relying solely on your apps and social media updates.
Friends and family
It's easy to hibernate when you're feeling a lot of pain and fatigue. Prevent the urge to hide from becoming a habit by implementing a self-care strategy that nurtures your relationships. Buffer your stress, get support, and have fun by doing something you love with your nearest and dearest. When you get together in person not only do you pick up information from non-verbal clues, but you also get to bask in the warmth of a smile, or get comfort from a hug or the touch of a hand.
Thunderstorms, crashing waves, bird calls; whatever tune nature is playing, it's been packaged and sold. Make time to get a dose of the real thing. Engage in some forest bathing (the Japanese practice of being in the presence of trees), beach combing, or even a mindfulness exercise . Spend time in nature to have a positive impact on your mood, cardiovascular health, and immune function, which can protect you from viruses and infections. Go outside and let nature work its magic.