There’s a lot to consider when you’re living with a condition like rheumatoid arthritis, from medication to improving sleep hygiene, handling stress, and reducing caffeine.
We understand that trying to achieve all these objectives and more while maintaining your emotional well-being can feel overwhelming. So how do you incorporate valuable self-care into daily living without risking burnout?
We’re here to help. We’ve put together a guide to support your emotional well-being, including top tips on mindfulness, self-care, and avoiding self-management fatigue – all built on science and informed by people with similar experiences.
Rheumatoid arthritis and your emotional well-being
First, it’s crucial to consider the emotional impact living with rheumatoid arthritis can have on your mental health and know that you’re not alone. Studies suggest that there is a close link between arthritis and depression, especially for those over 50.
There will be good days and bad days, and that’s okay. Having self-compassion and accepting difficult emotions are key parts of good self-care.
Identifying the types of emotional responses you might be having and understanding what triggers them will help you manage your physical health in a way that is personal to your needs and lifestyle. Some common emotions that people with arthritis experience are:
A little stress is part of a normal, healthy life, but too much stress can be harmful, particularly for people with chronic conditions. Equally, we know that living with rheumatoid arthritis can cause stress. So, stress is both a trigger and a side-effect, meaning the cycle between the two things can loop on repeat.
Specifically, inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis is partly caused by cytokines – chemicals released by stress. So, increased stress leads to increased cytokines and inflammation in your body.
Thankfully, with the help of tools like mindfulness, healthy eating, and regular exercise, we can all learn to manage our stress levels and significantly reduce their impact.
Sometimes, the unpredictability of rheumatoid arthritis gets in the way of planning. What’s more, having to rely on the people around you to get up and dressed in the morning, complete tasks around the house, or just open a jar of pickles can be very frustrating.
Most days, my mum had to help me get in and out of the bath as the handrail wasn’t enough, wash and brush my hair, and even help me walk around the house. Now, at the age of 24, sometimes I still have to get her to help me with these things. Luckily, I’ve learned to accept my condition and my limitations now.
Small adjustments like learning to manage your expectations, leaving yourself plenty of time, and using assistive devices will all help to facilitate your independence and make life a little easier.
When shaking hands with someone causes considerable pain, or the walk to and from the train station leads to a flare-up, making arrangements and sticking to social engagements can end up being very difficult.
Although taking a break from socializing is often necessary and unavoidable for people living with rheumatoid arthritis, it can be isolating and lead to feelings of loneliness.
While loneliness is a very real side effect of living with rheumatoid arthritis, there are ways that you can find balance by making the most out of your support network. More on that later.
Mindfulness and self-management
Self-management and lifestyle changes are crucial to building and sticking to a treatment plan. But sometimes, squeezing that extra yoga class in – on top of dealing with symptoms like joint pain, fatigue, and a struggling immune system – can feel like a little too much. That’s where self-care and mindfulness come in.
Mindfulness is based on the idea that we are present in the here and now in a nonjudgemental way. By developing your skills in mindfulness, you can become better able to self-manage. One of the benefits of regular mindfulness practice is that you can learn how to accept and deal with your pain better.
Meditation and other mindful relaxation techniques can help you reconnect with your inner self, objectively observe the impact rheumatoid arthritis has on your daily and long-term experiences, and begin to move away from stress and negative thought patterns.
How to build the best rheumatoid arthritis self-care plan
There’s no one-size fits all approach to rheumatoid arthritis treatment. Everyone’s experience is unique, so each person with the condition must identify the path that best suits their individual needs.
One thing all people living with rheumatoid arthritis can do is learn the techniques that best support their ongoing self-management plan and emotional well-being. These self-care tips will help you to navigate the highs and lows.
Name that feeling
Low moods and negative feelings are a part of life, especially for those living with chronic conditions. Accepting this and, most importantly, acknowledging your emotions is crucial to processing them effectively.
Knowing whether you feel angry or sad will impact what action to take – do you need to remove yourself from the situation and focus on your breath? Or reach out to a close friend for a chat? Transitioning into a more positive mindset will help you to alleviate both emotional and physical symptoms more quickly.
Make time for self-love
It can be difficult to be kind to yourself if you’re going through a hard time but slipping into self-loathing only worsens things. You’re much more than your condition and have lots to offer, even on difficult days.
Take a deep breath and remind yourself of your best qualities – perhaps you are a great cook, a supportive friend, or have a brilliant sense of humor! Making time for self-love could help you reduce stress which, in turn, could reduce physical symptoms like inflammation.
Give yourself some credit
One effective way to increase your well-being is to train your mind to pay attention to the good things in your life and how you contributed to them. Reflecting on what you did is vital here – you’ll soon start to notice that your happiness depends more on you and your actions than other external factors.
This sense of control can be very empowering. It can help you respond to your triggers in a healthy way and will allow you to take positive steps toward building and maintaining a treatment plan that works for you and your lifestyle.
Did you know that the more grateful a person is, the more likely they are to enjoy better physical and mental health? Practicing gratitude can help you deal better with adversity and become more self-aware.
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading scientific expert on gratitude, has found that practicing gratitude can boost your mood, reduce physical symptoms, and improve sleep quality – all of which will help you feel stronger daily.
Challenge negative thoughts
How we think influences our physical state, and negative thoughts can be particularly harmful when it comes to sleep hygiene. Emotions such as anxiety or frustration mobilize the stress response, strengthening the wakefulness system and weakening the sleep system.
What’s more, most of our negative thoughts aren’t based on hard facts and are often either exaggerated or wrong! When faced with negative thoughts, think objectively about what proof you have for them and focus your effort on what can be changed. Your body will be well-rested and more resilient for it.
Be open and communicative
Consider how being open and honest about your experiences might be beneficial. Do the people in your life know how rheumatoid arthritis affects you? Do they feel empowered to support you?
Discussing your specific needs with friends and loved ones will change your quality of life for the better – strengthening your support network with empathy and understanding will mean you can more easily work together, leading to more joy and well-being all around.
Identifying your triggers, committing to self-care, and getting the right support is invaluable when living with a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis.
Explore our other content on rheumatoid arthritis and learn how to manage your condition on the go. Also, check out these inspiring stories of real people living with RA.