Never a morning person, living with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease [RA/RD] shifted the start of the day from non-preferred to a downright challenge.
Experiencing RA morning stiffness
Morning is often a hard time for people with RA/RD, as a common symptom of this disease is morning stiffness. Joints often feel a little achier and stiffer upon waking, and the length and severity of this symptom ebbs and flows with disease activity. Some mornings I feel just a little stiff, whereas upon waking during a flare I need to do range of motion exercises in my bed in order to help lessen the stiffness.
Difficulty getting rest due to joint pain
This would make it harder to get out of bed even after a good night’s sleep, but RA/RD can make it really tough to sleep well. The pressure of lying in one position can incite protests in those joints, leading to lots of tossing and turning. It’s also hard to relax into slumber when in a lot of pain. When I am in a flare I usually take a muscle relaxer, and occasionally take a prescription pain medicine, and the side effects of these drugs coupled with the inadequate sleep make for groggy mornings.
RA fatigue is also an issue
Fatigue is also a problematic symptom of RA/RD. Even if I’ve managed to get adequate rest, fatigue can make me feel tired all the way to my bones. Caffeine does little to cut through the heavy fog of fatigue, and forcing myself to push through a day while fatigued feels painful in and of itself.
The combination of these factors, sometimes occurring in isolation and at other times all piling on at the same time, have made mornings my least favorite time of day. If I had a choice, I would stay in bed for at least an hour after waking. However, that doesn’t fit into my schedule as a full-time working mom who has to get herself and her kids ready and out the door by 7:30 am each weekday.
How I make mornings better
Music has long been my morning ally as having loud, energetic tunes help me shift gears from “neutral” to “drive,” albeit not in “zero to sixty miles per hour” terms. In addition, over the past few months I’ve found a new morning strategy that helps the rest of my day go more smoothly: a morning reset.
How does the morning reset work?
Here’s how it works. Step 1: Get through my morning routine. Step 2: Reset.
Step 1: I wake up, often hitting “snooze” a couple of times, and then spend another 20 or so minutes in bed, trying to shake off the mental cobwebs by checking email and news on my phone and trying to ease the physical morning stiffness by rolling ankles and wrists, bending and straightening knees, curling my toes and opening and closing fists. Then I get out of bed, make coffee and if I’m not in a lot of pain, do a few yoga stretches. Once my coffee is made, I wake up my kids, crank up the tunes, and set about trying to ensure the three of us are presentable and have whatever items we need for our day at school/work. I drop them off at school and arrive at work, often feeling flustered from the rush of morning activity when my body really wanted to remain in bed.
Step 2: Reset. In the past, I would park and get out of my car and into my office as quickly as I could. Still feeling flustered from the morning, I’d start my workday feeling off-kilter and hurried. A few months ago, I started using a meditationapp (I use Headspace, but there are many options for highly-rated meditation apps). It includes guided meditations in various lengths, with the shortest being only three minutes long. Now, once I arrive at my parking spot, I take a moment to celebrate the achievement of getting through the morning. Next, I do a three-minute meditation (unless I’ve somehow managed to arrive at work early, in which case I may opt for a five-minute track). I sit in my car, close my eyes, and go through the guided meditation.
The benefits of taking time to pause
Taking this time to pause has made a huge difference for me. Now, when I arrive at my office I have a sense of calm, purpose, and control. I used to feel that I was just surviving by making it through a morning, but now I feel empowered and give myself credit for completing my morning routine. I don’t feel frenzied, and rather feel more clear and ready to begin the workday.
It’s amazing what a difference three minutes can make, but I’ve found this is because each time I practice meditation it deepens the impact that even a short session can have. While I can’t control how much inflammation or pain I wake up with, I can control whether or not I take a moment to feel the weight of my body, listen to the sounds around me, feel the air on my skin, and pay attention to my breath. In choosing to take this time to reset each morning, I reclaim some control over my life. In feeling calmer and at peace, I am far more prepared to take on the rest of the day.
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