Be Kind to Yourself
While recovering from a recent bout of illness, I was texting with a friend and commenting on how behind I felt on my many responsibilities. She replied, “It can wait. Be kind to yourself.” Her advice to “be kind to myself” really struck me. As my children are three and five years old, I spend a lot of time talking about kindness. During sibling squabbles over toys or whose turn it is for this or that, I frequently ask them, “Was that a kind thing to say?” I find myself constantly reminding them to “please be kind” to one another. Yet, it can be just as challenging, if not more so, to be kind to ourselves, and we aren’t always given reminders of the importance of doing so. For those of us dealing with a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis, being kind to ourselves can make the difference between disease activity that is at a tolerable level or that is flaring enough to completely disrupt our lives.
There are many ways that we can be kind to ourselves, and all of them revolve around taking some time to nurture ourselves. We can be kind to ourselves by caring for our physical bodies. This can include allocating the time and resources for medical treatments, eating a healthy diet, making the effort to get some moderate exercise, and allowing ourselves enough time to rest. However, in our go-go-go society, doing those things usually requires us to cut back on other responsibilities in order to focus on our health needs. It’s easy to feel guilty about being unable to do all the additional things that people without chronic health conditions may be doing. Yet, guilt doesn’t change the fact that people with rheumatoid arthritis do have some limitations that those without a disease may not have. Feeling guilty about our limitations is never fruitful, and indeed can add to our stress, which in turn can exacerbate RA symptoms.
Acknowledging the impact that stress and emotional issues can have on our RA symptoms and on our happiness is another area in which we can work to be kind to ourselves. Utilizing counseling services, support groups, and/or psychopharmaceutical treatment when appropriate are ways to support our mental health needs, which in turn support our physical needs. In the 15 years since I’ve been diagnosed with RA, I’ve come to realize how very strong the mind-body connection is. When I am in pain and unable to be fully active, it is easy to become depressed or anxious. Likewise, when I am stressed or unhappy I see an increase in disease activity. Being kind to myself sometimes means making the time and allocating the resources to tend to my mental health.
Another way to be kind to ourselves is to enjoy some physical luxuries. This can include hot bubble baths or soaks in a whirlpool or hot tub, getting a massage, or receiving acupuncture treatment (some people hate the thought of needles, but I always find acupuncture to be extremely relaxing). Our bodies endure so much pain and inflammation that allocating some time and money toward some physical luxuries is a way to honor our bodies. Sometimes I feel at war with my body, as the pain it creates makes my life so much more challenging. Yet, when I decide that my body deserves some luxury, I feel as if I am partnering with it as a close friend and ally, instead of viewing it as the enemy.
Whether it’s spending a little extra money at the grocery store on fresh and/or organic produce, taking the time to go to a yoga class or a counseling session, soaking in a bubble bath, resting for twenty minutes, or just cutting ourselves a little slack and not judging ourselves so harshly, there are dozens of ways we can be kind to ourselves. Making an effort to do something kind for myself each day enables me to simultaneously support my health and my happiness.