Following Up on the Connection Between Stress and RA Flares

Between changes in work, disappointments in my personal and academic life, and current events, I’ve been under an incredible amount of stress lately.

Stress is one of the biggest catalysts for RA flares for me. My joints become stiffer, fatigue increases, I have more muscle pains, and generally feel unwell. It really takes a toll on my everyday functioning and impacts how I live.

My experience with stress-induced RA flares

I’ve written a few articles in the past about the connection and relationship between stress and RA flares. I wanted to take this space to write a follow up to those articles, particularly as I have been dealing with more stress lately in my life.

Despite this, I’ve found some useful ways to mitigate that stress, and I want to share those today. It is my hope that by sharing them, other people might be able to use them and incorporate them into their own lives, thereby helping them reduce their own stress. Remember that this is coming from my own experience; you know what works best for you!

5 ways to mitigate stress-induced RA flares

1. Resting and sleeping more. For me, fatigue is the most prominent symptom of an RA flare besides joint pain. In this vein, when I feel myself amid a stress flare, I try to increase my sleeping and resting time. This includes letting go of things I would have done with the day—including not going for an extra walk or spending less time at the computer. While sleeping well can be troublesome to achieve when you have RA, I have found that even resting your body helps mitigate a flare.

2. Walking more. As paradoxical as it might sound, sometimes going for a walk will alleviate some of the pain of a stress flare. This is more the case when I’m experiencing more anxiety and stress symptoms rather than physical RA symptoms, although walking also helps relax and ease my joints. Of course, I must go at a slower pace on flare days.

3. Taking time for myself — listening to music, watching YouTube, journaling, reading, etc. This practice is more about grounding myself in things that I enjoy to temporarily distance myself from the pain/frustration/fatigue that I feel. Sometimes, however, journaling helps me understand the pain I’m feeling by helping me make sense of it. Regardless, taking care of myself comes at a time when I need to focus on my body and how it is responding to this flare.

4. Peppermint tea and other comfort foods. Curiously, I’ve found that peppermint tea—among other comfort foods—really helps me calm down and re-center amid a flare. Peppermint is colloquially known as an anti-inflammatory, and this is potentially why I feel some flare relief when drinking it. However, regardless of whether this is true or not, I enjoy the taste of the tea. Additionally, I will also indulge in some other comfort foods—cookies, ice cream, frozen berries, or some cashews (especially from Trader Joes!).

5. Refocusing to know that this pain/flare is temporary. This is perhaps the most idyllic practice, although one that I continually strive to accomplish. It takes time and understanding to recognize during a flare that this pain is temporary. That my flare will eventually go away. That this doesn’t define my life, just my current reality. That I’ve been here before and will be here again, but that I have also gotten past a flare before.

I hope these are helpful in some way; please let me know what you are doing to alleviate stress-induced RA flares!

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