Minimizing Stress

Last updated: October 2021

For me, fatigue is one of the most difficult things about rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It isn’t a symptom, it isn’t a side effect, it doesn’t have a treatment and there is no way to prevent it. And, it’s ALWAYS there.

Fatigue comes and goes as it pleases

It’s the extra baggage rheumatoid disease brought when it moved right into my body. The fatigue just sits and percolates in my body. It comes and goes as it pleases like it owns the place and I just want it out!

Actually, it kind of reminds me of a ghost that used to live in my house. The house I grew up in was built in the '60s. The attic was a small crawl space only accessible by a ladder that came down through the study closet.

Fatigue reminds me of a this ghost

There was a very grumpy old ghost who lived in the attic. Its bed was right over my bedroom. My father used to travel for work a lot and when he was gone, this ghost would come home every night, trudge across the floor in its heavy steel-toed boots, sit wearily on the bed, take off said boots, and throw them across the room.

Oddly, having the ghost around was quite comforting. Now that I think about it, maybe this ghost was just angry that it had to "babysit" me! It wasn’t really around when my Dad was...

Anyways! My fatigue reminds me of this ghost who stomped around, kicked cans, and was in generally bad humor. So, how do I get rid of it?

Perfect RA management is challenging

Easy answer: manage my disease. Theoretically, if my RA is controlled then the symptoms that cause the fatigue are controlled; thus, no fatigue.

Do you see a problem with that? I sure do.

RA is not something you manage perfectly from day to day. Sometimes it flares, sometimes it's okay, and sometimes it’s the worst possible feeling.

Should I attempt to control my stress?

So, I sat down and thought about this all for a second. My fatigue is tied to my disease activity. My disease activity is exacerbated by stress.

Since I cannot control my fatigue or my RA, maybe I should attempt to control my stress?

Stress is like gasoline on the fire of RA

Stress is like gasoline on the fire of RA symptoms: a drop of stress can send my RD into overdrive.

Over the years, I’ve calmed down, slowed ma roll, and just learned to go with the flow. This has helped me manage at least 1 factor in my overall disease management.

The problem, though, is that stress is inevitable. Life is not predictable and things come up (at the moment, I can’t really think of anything specific).

Lessons from my cat

But, there are things! There is no way to avoid stress completely, but there are practices that have helped me manage it a bit better.

I learned I had pretty severe arachnophobia after I watched the second Harry Potter film (iykyk), which has persisted since 2002.

One evening, a few years ago, I watched a spider scuttle across my cat, Marmalade. She felt it, looked at it, and then went back to sleep.

It dawned on me that if Marmalade didn’t care that Satan’s plaything tap-danced across her back, then I should not be so scared of them.

But, I also got something else from that - Marmalade was calm. Something weird happened to her, she acknowledged it and went with it.

Letting go of things I can't control

I took a leaf out of her book. I will always say to acknowledge feelings, whether good or bad. Because if I don’t, those thoughts fester and slowly ignite the fuse of stress that then rolls down the hill collecting momentum.

Like a duck, I let the water hit me and roll down my back. I don’t make mountains out of molehills. I deal with things as best I can and let go of things I cannot control. You get the point.

I can’t say I’m a whiz at keeping stress at bay, but I am pretty good at compartmentalizing and not letting it affect me.

How do you manage stress? What are your tips for managing those inevitable stressors?

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