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Stress and RA Don’t Play Well Together

Last updated: July 2022

Hey, are you feeling stressed? Is life stressful? Is it the good kind of stress or the bad kind of stress? Does that really matter?

Confession: I’ve been feeling a lot of stress lately, unlike anything I can remember since the distress I felt when my mother passed away in 2019. Life is just piling it on big time.

Physical stress

Last year, I experienced a good type of stress. Undergoing and recovering from 2 total knee replacement surgeries was stressful. I had very positive outcomes so it was totally worth it, but the positive outcomes didn’t erase how hard it was to go through the process and I’m still healing at 8 and 10 months post-surgeries. However, I’d go through the process again in a heartbeat.

My body's reaction to overwhelming situations

This year's anticipated and dreaded life events have finally come to fruition, and it’s time to face them head-on. As a result, my stomach has been in knots, I’ve had diarrhea on and off for almost a month, I haven’t been sleeping well, I’m not eating well, and I’ve unintentionally allowed myself to become dehydrated a few times and feel sickly as a result. This type of physical and mental stress is definitely a bad type of stress.

Along with the current situation, I’ve noticed that my knuckles tend to get swollen more easily. I’m overly fatigued (actually any level of fatigue is over and above what I’d like) and I tend to fall asleep while I’m in the middle of trying to read, write, or even watch TV. In addition, I am either not eating or eating too much. Things feel all topsy-turvy.

I still feel like my RA is in near-remission. Nothing has occurred that has made me think to call my rheumatologist and I’m still happy with my treatment approach (Rituxan and methotrexate). There’s nothing I really want to change on the RA front.

How I overcome the stressful times

After talking about current events with my therapist, I was able to recognize some of the things I could do to diffuse some of the stress. By the way, I recommend that everybody should consider talking to a trained counselor on occasion. Our mental health is every bit as important as our physical health.

Working with my therapist, I learned a few things about myself and must recognize that I am an over-functioning individual. On the outside, I might look organized, detail-oriented, and totally put together. On the inside, I’m full of anxiety and tend to be overly concerned about the needs of the people close to me.

Don't overdo it

I have often viewed this concern as simply being considerate, respectful, and non-pushy or non-demanding. This doesn’t really do me any good because as a result, I tend to run myself ragged. My niceness turns into tremendous stress and anxiety.

Learn how to rest

No matter how hard it is to wait on other people to do things, I must. I must rest my body even when I know that if I pushed hard enough, I could do “just 1 more thing.” I tend to become obsessive and sometimes I run scenarios through my head over and over to find a solution to a problem that is impossible to resolve on my own. I can’t do everything alone.

Allow others to help me

So in short, I recognize that to reduce the effect of stress on my body, I need to allow other people to help take care of me. I need to take care of myself. I don’t need to take care of tasks just because I have the knowledge and skill to do so. Sometimes I must recognize that I have no power to change a situation and make peace with that.

Eat healthy and drink more water

Most likely, turning my problem-solving obsession into taking care of myself has made the biggest difference. Simply drinking much more water throughout the day has seemed to reduce the swelling in my hands. Eating more easily digestive foods and taking probiotics has helped to balance my GI tract. Allowing myself to cry my eyes out when I feel the need has helped to clear my mind.

I started to notice a difference!

Once I started to implement some of these ideas, my body began to relax. Well, after an extended period of exhaustion and downtime. Talking to my body and letting it know that things are okay, will be okay, or have actually been okay has helped to reduce the swelling.

I’m still a work in progress. Combating this type of stress will likely be a lifelong battle for me. I can’t pinpoint when it started and I won’t likely be able to know when it is resolved. But perhaps paying attention to the small changes in my body will help to keep me on track.

Stress and RA don’t play well together. Do you have any recommendations for dealing with stress that seems to affect your body in unexpected ways?

Be well,
Lisa

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