The Activity Hangover

The Activity Hangover

Everyone knows about hangovers, where one indulges in too much alcohol and then pays for it the next day in headaches and nausea. Those of us with rheumatoid arthritis are familiar with a different kind of hangover, “the activity hangover.” This happens when we overexert ourselves, and pay for it the following day with increased pain, inflammation, and fatigue.

I’ve had more activity hangovers than I can count. Sometimes they come on the heels of an event I’ve hosted, such as a holiday get-together or a birthday celebration for one of my children. Throwing a party involves errands, cooking, cleaning, and many trips back and forth from the kitchen and time spent on my feet during the actual event. The next day, I feel the impact of all that extra strain on my joints. I wake up begrudgingly due to the increased fatigue, feeling far more morning stiffness than usual, and go through day feeling swollen and achy.


Activity hangovers can also take place after simply attending parties or special events. Often social functions involve increased time standing up even when I’m not hosting. In addition, these are the times when I might gamble with my comfort and take the risk of wearing shoes with a low wedge heel. If I’m feeling really well, I may even take a spin on the dance floor at a wedding or celebration. However, the next day when the party is long over, I still feel the effects by way of achy joints, puffy knees and ankles, and intense fatigue.

Another common cause of activity hangovers is traveling. While being on my feet for extended periods of time can be very physically demanding, even sitting can by hard on my body. If I spend hours in a car or plane, my body feels it. In addition, traveling that requires any sightseeing often involves a lot of walking, sometimes even on cobblestone streets, rocky terrain, or other uneven surfaces. While movement is good for our joints, the combination of sitting for too long and then walking for too long can cause activity hangovers that obliterate my itinerary.

While the activity hangover is frustrating, planning for it can help. For instance, I try to only host social gatherings on Saturdays. That way I’m not adding the strain of hosting to the toll of a Friday workday, and I have Sunday to indulge my activity hangover, resting as much as possible. To that end, I never plan anything for the following day after a big event. I also have learned to accept help. There is always at least one friend who, as the party is winding down, will say, “How can I help?” Years ago I would insist my guests do nothing other than enjoy themselves. Now I’ve learned to take them up on their offers by asking them to bring dishes to the kitchen, take bottles out to recycling, or help me put leftovers away.

When it comes to traveling, I always plan my trips so that I have at least one day of rest before returning to work. I now build itineraries with flexibility in mind, so that if I have to abandon one or more activities it doesn’t throw off the entire trip. In addition, I’ve come to love scenic routes and overlooks. There are times when I just can’t commit to long hikes in the mountains or strolls on the beach, but there are often ways to enjoy beautiful scenery by just parking my car or taking a longer, but more visually appealing, route.

There are many infuriating aspects of life with RA, and the activity hangover is one of them. However, while I wish I didn’t have to experience the increased symptoms of RA the day after a big event, it’s worth it to fully experience the world and the people around me. With a little extra planning and lots of additional rest while the activity hangover passes, I can still live a rich and rewarding life.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (25)
  • tinap
    2 years ago

    Omg, this article is awesome. I shared it on my Facebook page so my inlaws may read it and finallly understand why I don’t visit very often. It’s hard to work all day and then sit in a car for 5 hours on a Friday, visit Saturday and then have to drive 5 hours back on Sunday and still get up and go to work Monday!!! They don’t get it, I’m not trying to be mean but I just physically cannot.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi tinap,

    I’m so glad you found the article helpful. Of course I wish you didn’t go through these same struggles, but if the article can be of any use in helping others understand that these are indeed your struggles then I’m very glad.

    As you mention the discomfort of driving, I thought you might relate to this article as well: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/ra-daydreams-robot-chauffeur/.

    It is so hard to balance meeting other people’s expectations while also meeting our bodies’ needs, which are increased by RA. It’s been an ongoing challenge for me, and I won’t say I’ve mastered it, but as time goes on I just find the price is too steep if I ignore what my body needs. So I am right there with you on not wanting to spend 10 hours in a car over a weekend, especially if I’m supposed to be able to function at work the following day. It’s just too taxing.

    I wish you all the best, and hope you will continue to share your thoughts and experiences whenever you feel so inclined.

    Gentle Hugs,
    Tamara

  • Teresa Turner
    3 years ago

    This article describes me to a T! I try to make my husband understand how every action can put a toll on my body. We have had lots of storms and rain the last three weeks and my hands and ankles have been hurting bad. When it comes to chores I have to divide up activity based on standing, holding/gripping with my hands etc. When it comes to the bathroom I have to do the shower over 2 or 3 days. Gripping the sponge and the movement of cleaning makes my hands so weak and painful the next day. I wish we could transfer the pain for an hour to someone to show what we go through all the time.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Teresa, Thank you for sharing your experiences! Yes, it is so hard for people to understand what we go through, and it would be great if we could magically implant that knowledge in their heads! I’m sorry to hear you’ve been dealing with so much pain. As you mentioned storms, I thought this article might be of interest to you: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/sorry-cant-today-barometric-pressures-changing/. I’m wishing you some comfort and relief!

  • tulugaq
    3 years ago

    I figure I can do one thing each day. Shopping? That’s it for the day. Trip to the doc? That’s it. Book club?….You get the picture.

    The last time I tried to have company for a “nice” dinner, I was too exhausted to eat when we all sat down. Now, on the rare times I do have people over for a meal, it’s family style. My friends and family understand.

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    3 years ago

    Lynn,

    Those are some great ideas, thanks so much for sharing. We are happy to hear your friends and family understand.

    We are glad to have you part of our community.
    Best,

    Lauren (Community Manager RheumatoidArthritis.net)

  • 1ggibff
    3 years ago

    I sometimes experience event hangovers even if the event is cancelled at the last minute. It’s like the stress of worrying (How am I going to feel? Will I be able to participate? Can I hide how I feel?)

    I end up feeling almost as bad as if I attended the function.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I definitely notice the impact stress has on my disease activity, so what you say makes sense to me. Thanks for being part of the conversation and our online community!

  • Karla
    3 years ago

    I have one today as a result of making cookies all day yesterday! I passed out at 8:30 and slept until 6:30 but I am at work and still need a nap. Besides my hands are killing me, and I work on a computer all day, ouch! It might take a few days to recover. My boyfriend was so sweet though, he asked when I started, as I was holding a wooden spoon “Karla, are you sure you have enough spoons for this?” I did, but barely! Like you Tamara, I still do the things I enjoy, but I am choosy about which things I use my energy on….

  • jaide winn
    3 years ago

    I agree with you, I have become very choosy about what I do. I can’t do it all, so I pick the best.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, Karla, and sorry you’re having a hard day today! Cookie making has done it to me in the past as well, so I’ve started doing low-maintenance holiday baking that isn’t as hard on my hands and wrists. You might want to check out this article in which I provide these easy recipes in case there are any you’d like to try next year: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/friendly-holiday-cookie-recipes/ I hope you enjoy resting once you make it through the day – reward yourself with a cookie! Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • Jana
    3 years ago

    I know exactly what you are talking about. I’ve just never heard anyone describe it. I often make a decision to do things full well knowing I’m going to pay for it the next day or week or two. Sometimes I just refuse to be limited by RA and do what I need to do provided I’m able.

  • Jana
    3 years ago

    I know exactly what you are talking about. I’ve just never heard anyone describe it. I often make a decision to do things full well knowing I’m going to pay for it the next day or week or two.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, Jana!

  • jyodh
    3 years ago

    I was diagnosed with RA 4 weeks ago and so am only just beginning to notice post-exertion flare. However, I get it usually within an hour of exertion (not a hangover). Last week I cleaned 3 bathrooms and that triggered it. Yesterday, I started putting up the Xmas lights for about 20 min (didn’t even finish) and half hour later I felt achy/feverish etc.. Is this typical for it to come on so fast? I don’t know when I’ll get back to Xmas lights!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m sorry to hear about your recent diagnosis! I’m so glad you’ve found this site and our online community though. Hopefully we will be a source of information and support for you. Unfortunately RA symptoms, which can include pain (in the form of achiness or other pain sensations), fatigue, and sickness sensations, can pop up during activity. They can even occur without any antecedent you can link it to. As you’ve only been diagnosed for a month, this may be more likely to occur, as most RA medications take weeks to months to reach full efficacy, and doctors start with DMARDs before adding biologics (insurance companies won’t even cover biologics unless other medications have been tried first). Once you and your rheumatologist find a treatment regimen that works for you, you will hopefully have more stamina and longer periods of time between flares. Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • June
    3 years ago

    Thank you. This was helpful because I am so tired after the rushing around for Thanksgiving. Even though my husband does the Turkey, Stuffing, and potato’s, I’m still super tired from all the cleaning and preparation.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m so glad you found the article helpful, June. I had a post-Thanksgiving activity hangover myself, so I know exactly what you mean. I was so beat, I didn’t get the wine glasses washed until Saturday! Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • Anita
    3 years ago

    I like to say that I have a “mileage limit” on any given day. Sometimes it’s really small, other times it isn’t, but once I exceed it, I know I’ll end up paying for it later. It’s the kind of tradeoff we all end up dealing with: determining whether an activity is worth the resulting pain we’ll suffer in payment. Vacations and special events are big culprits in this, but I’m sure I’m not alone in being stubborn enough to want to enjoy such normal activities from time to time.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Anita, I like your mileage metaphor! Yes, I also push past my limit for special occasions (I can tell I’ll likely have an activity hangover after Thanksgiving). But at least we can have these special experiences! Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • RHPass
    3 years ago

    a trip to the specialist (rheumatology, ortho or dermo) involves a 90 minute drive each way plus the normal added activity of doctor appointments. taps me out totally for that day. i lose the entire remainder of my day and plan accordingly. and depending on what the appts. entail sometimes it adds a day to my recovery.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I used to have a similar drive and very long wait with my last rheumatologist. It’s frustrating to get an activity hangover by seeking treatment for the very condition that causes them!

  • Rachel Faye
    3 years ago

    I was just looking for people’s experiences with this. I gardened for a short time this weekend (after having a decent few days with symptoms I felt bold) even though past experience hasn’t been good. The next two days were very painful and I wondered whether people, knowing they’ll have repercussions, take on an activity anyway?

  • jaide winn
    3 years ago

    Rachel, I would like to say that I just push on through, and I used to. However, I stayed very frustrated because a one day excursion meant that I was down 1-2 days (usually 2 because I overexert myself while I am out. I don’t get out much, so when I do, it is just so fun that I don’t want to stop). But, I was noticing more frustration then lead to depression because of my times out (ex: quilting group where you had to carry machine and supplies). I cut back for about a month and only did the essential that were outside of the home, and I started focusing on the small details of home and cooking for my husband and me. I saw that the pain was much better, I had more quality time with him, I was able to take care of myself with diet and exercise, etc. So, I elect not to get out much except for the necessities, and if I am running errands I try to get my husband to go with me because that conserves a lot of my energy just by not having to drive. But, I have also learned to enjoy and be grateful for my time at home and being a better wife for him and a better friend to myself. And, one last thing, I have learned to NEVER commit. If I commit, then something happens that I have to cancel. I am not good at cancelling and don’t like having to do it because most people don’t understand. If I don’t commit, then I don’t disappoint others nor myself.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Rachel, thanks for sharing! In terms of your question, yes, I routinely go ahead with projects, travel, and social engagements in spite of paying for it later. However, I am more selective about what activities I’m willing to pay this price for.

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