The Activity Hangover

Last updated: April 2022

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.

When I experience an RA activity hangover

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.

Extreme fatigue and stiffness

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.

Fatigue after social events

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.

Traveling also induces these "hangovers"

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 be 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 the 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.

How I manage them

Planning the timing of social gatherings

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.

Accepting help from others

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.

Scheduling time to rest or recharge

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.

Living my life in spite of RA

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.

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