Self-Care Tips to Make a Bad Rheumatoid Arthritis Day Better

by Lene Andersen, MSW Patient Advocate

Bad days are inevitable when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Between the pain, the intense fatigue, and general feeling of being unwell, sometimes it can be challenging just getting out of bed. Treating the disease with DMARDs or biologics can reduce the amount of bad days, but rarely eliminate them. Somehow, you have to find a way to cope.

First Aid Kit

Pain Management Toolkit

Make sure you have a pain management toolkit for the times when your bad days involve aches and pains. Talk to your doctor about which pain medication is right for you. Add ice packs and heating pads, pain relieving creams, splints, and massage oils. Then take a timeout to give it all a chance to work.



Meditation is a powerful tool to help you cope with chronic illness. You can learn how in books, recordings, or classes. But at its core, it’s as simple as this: sit quietly in a comfortable chair with your eyes closed. Stay there for 20 minutes or so. Don’t talk. Your thoughts may be active, but just let them flow by like a leaf in a stream.

Woman reading a few books on the floor

Visit Another World

If you’re having a crappy day, why not visit another world for a while? We’re not talking time travel, but watching a movie or reading a book. Pick an old favorite, or something new that you’ve been wanting to dive into. Curl up on the couch with a blanket and a snack and take a mental trip to somewhere far away.

Woman washing her hair

How to Feel Like a Real Person Again

Take a shower and dress in clothes that look good. Sweats may be comfy, but they’re far from attractive. Nothing can make you feel more like a real person than a shower, especially if you’ve had several bad days in a row. If you don’t have the energy, dry shampoo can help you feel refreshed.

Notebook on Wooden Table - Gratitude Journal

Practice Gratitude

A positive outlook can reduce depression and enhance well-being. One way of nurturing optimism is to practice gratitude. Switching your focus from what makes your day unpleasant to little things that give you joy can, over time, make you feel better. Start by making a list of three-five things you enjoyed every day.

Woman shopping in NYC

Take a Walk

Leaving the house when you’re having a bad day can help get you out of your head and feel less isolated. Take a walk if you can, or if you’re having a really hard time, just sitting on your balcony or porch in the fresh air and listening to the birds can do the trick.

Phone call

Talk to a Friend

Bad days are often accompanied by the impulse to hibernate and not talk to anyone. This is a bad idea — isolating yourself only makes you feel worse. Pick up the phone and have a nice chat with a friend. You can also go online and connect with others in a chronic illness community for support and commiseration.

Art process

Tap Into Your Creativity

Creative expression can help work out your feelings, make you feel better, and even help you build a more positive identity with chronic illness. What you do doesn’t matter—painting, writing, coloring, knitting, woodworking — and you don’t have to be any good at it. What matters is that you do something you enjoy.

Pile of various cosmetics

Put on Some Makeup

Just as it can help to have a shower and get dressed in “real” clothes, putting on a bit of makeup can make a difference. Instead of a pale, drawn face looking back at you in the mirror, now there’s a polished person with sparkling eyes. You may still feel like crap, but looking good can make you feel better emotionally.

Healthy lunch - man eating salad with avocado

Eat Something Healthy

When you don’t feel good, comforting yourself with junk food can be very tempting, but it can also make you feel worse. Stock up on healthy snacks and ingredients for easy and nourishing meals to prepare for days when you need to help your body heal.

Woman Sleep on Sofa

Have a Nap

People with RA need more sleep and chances are you aren’t getting enough. Whenever possible, and especially on rough days, try to build a nap or even just a bit of downtime into your day. Giving your body the rest it needs can help you recharge and feel better physically and emotionally.

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, She is also one of HealthCentral's Live Bold, Live Now heroes — watch her incredible journey of living with RA.