When you live with a chronic, debilitating disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, it can be downright difficult to step into life - joints ache and deform, muscles tighten, ligaments and tendons loosen and organs can be involved. And that's just on the physical side. There's often a huge emotional and mental price tag, too.
I've lived with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for well over half of my life. Those years included a number of different drugs, numerous flare-ups, a great deal of pain and inflammation, deformed joints, too many surgeries, loss of recreational activities, career change and what seems like a "villageful" of healthcare professionals and para-professionals.
Over that time, I've tried an A-to-Z of things to help me ease and overcome this disease, but none have been as effective and empowering as my number one tip - it's the one that led me into a new chapter of my life - the one that allows me to experience fewer flare-ups, enjoy better lab results, sleep more soundly and feel calmer and more confident.
Transform Your Stress
Stress is your perception of external events that causes internal distortion and strain. The way you think and feel is extremely important. Soaking in negative thoughts and emotions can cause a very different physiological response - one that triggers the stress response. 1400 chemicals, including adrenaline and cortisol, flood the body, preparing it for flight or fight.
Until I began practicing the techniques I now teach, I wasn't aware how much time I was spending worrying, which would then lead to frustration and anger. I thought how I was thinking and feeling was normal. Normal isn't natural though. Natural is the way in which we are meant to be, before you began cycling through the stress response at an increasingly faster rate.
If you were to repeat that cycle often enough you run the risk of resetting your nervous system, setting up the scene for illness, puncturing holes in your problem-solving skills, mutating your memory, crucifying your curiosity and/or many other unwanted and unpleasant scenarios.
It is empowering to know that by using the power of the heart, you can disengage from stress-producing thoughts and emotions. By regularly practicing these techniques, you begin to restore balance to the two branches of your autonomic nervous system. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and yes, the more you do it!
Acceptance gives you peace of mind. When you have peace of mind, the stress response is not triggered as often. This allows you to feel better emotionally, mentally and physically. You are then in a better position to be proactive, doing what you need to do in order to look after yourself, including making adaptations to the way in which you live your life.
Learn to Be Flexible
When I was first diagnosed, a lot of the products that are now on the market weren't available. You either had to do without, live with it or get it made by someone else, usually an occupational therapist. Fortunately that is improving, but there are still times when out-of-the-box thinking is required.
Out of necessity, you learn to be resourceful. Physically, you may have lost some flexibility, but you may have gained more mental flexibility; you look at how you do things and how they can be adapted so that you can continue to do the things you want to do, for as long as you can do them.
Fortunately, if you get stuck, your support system can help provide you with the traction to get you going again. You also develop good planning skills - thinking ahead to what you might need on your travels, whether it's to work, to school or from room to room.
On A Rheumful of Tips, I provide a daily tip on how I move through life with rheumatoid arthritis, accepting, adapting, adjusting, learning, practiscing and sharing.
Develop Your Support System
This can take many forms and can change as your needs change. Your support system can consist of your friends and family, your medical team, colleagues, a spouse.
Your support system is like a good pair of shoes; flexible, well-cushioned and supportive. It allows you to go further for longer.
Knowledge is wonderful. However, it is important to know how to put that knowledge to work for you. Learn. Read. Talk. Share. Blog. Practice.
Listen to Your Body
Your body speaks to you, but are you listening? Do you need to rest? Better nutrition? Some or more exercise? A night out or a night off? Perhaps you're being distracted by the things that are stressing you, so you're not listening to that quiet whispering of what your body needs.
For a greater sense of well-being, it makes sense to look after as many of these factors as possible. You put your best foot forward by becoming aware of how you do things, gain knowledge and then put it altogether in practice, with lots of practice!
Life may not always be a walk in the park; sometimes you're stumbling along on concrete. Eventually, the concrete ends and you're back in the green. For me, green signifies a place where you can take advantage of Forest Bathing and better coherence.