Feeling Better by Helping Others

I find it healthy to remind myself when I’m feeling terrible and achy that there are a lot of other hardships in the world beyond myself. While I may struggle with my rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I’m very fortunate in many aspects of my life. And despite my disease and subsequent disability, there are things I can do to help others.

Somehow I forget my pain and stiffness a little bit when I can give to charity or volunteer my time. This season my husband and I gave a cart of groceries to a food pantry, purchased several toys for Toys for Tots, and recruited donations for a charity raffle to benefit a local nonprofit.

We’ll be traveling to visit family over Christmas and we’ll have a good time feasting and exchanging gifts. But I feel better about celebrating because we’ve hopefully made a difference in lifting the burdens of others during the holidays.

Especially during the winter, my RA can be all-consuming. I spend extra energy trying to stay warm and manage joint pain while continuing my usual schedule. I’ve trained myself pretty well to set aside my pain and concentrate on activities, such as work. Being busy actually helps to keep my mind off the RA.

But when my symptoms are stronger in the winter, my concentration slips. When I feel worse about my RA, this can lead to negative thoughts and the lure of too much self-pity. In fact, feeling bad about my illness can actually make my symptoms worse.

For me, charity work is a great way to get beyond myself while also helping others. While I need to be thoughtful about what I can contribute, no matter how bad my RA feels, there’s always something I can still do.

  • Thoughtful donations—In addition to donating food and toys, we also donate clothes and linens. Professional clothes can be a great item to donate. It’s also helpful to contact your local charity to find out what items may be most needed. Some places are also looking for used cars and electronics.
  • Volunteering—I’ve greatly enjoyed volunteering for local organizations. Not only is volunteering a great way to give back, it can be good for meeting people and keeping busy. Giving your time and expertise can be a big help to others. A lot of nonprofits are short-staffed so helping out with some hours can make a difference in getting tasks done. Additionally, if you have a skill that may be helpful, this can be even better.
  • Monetary donations—I can’t think of any charity that couldn’t use more funds. With such great need, the way to focus may be where you have the most personal interest. For example, giving to local organizations or those that help directly in your community. Make choices that are meaningful to you.
  • Raising awareness—Spreading the word about a good charity or cause that needs support can also be a great way to help. I enjoy telling people about my charitable giving and volunteering to spark interest in others. Building awareness also helps build community.

Giving of myself, I find, is another way to help manage my RA and my emotional spirits. I can’t dwell too much on my own disease without sinking into doldrums. While understanding and acknowledging my RA and the painful limitations of my experience with it, looking outside to identify where I can help others is a great lift to my attitude.

This holiday season and throughout the year, charitable activities is another way for me to feel better about my RA while making a difference.

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