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The Stress Beast and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Stress should be a four-letter word. It is a very destructive force that can overtake our lives and seem impossible to break free from at times. This is especially true when you live with rheumatoid arthritis for a number of reasons - the most obvious being RA can cause severe physical stress on a daily basis.

Add the uncertainty this disease brings, the hefty financial toll, as well as the strain on relationships, and you are looking at a recipe for chronic stress.

Identify triggers to manage stress

Stress management is so important for my life and something I try to keep top-of-mind when I start to feel overwhelmed. Everybody reacts differently to stress and once you learn your triggers, it’s easier to stop and do something about it.

For me, it’s feeling nervous without being able to figure out what I’m nervous about and stomachaches.

I have one emotional sign and a physical one. If I feel either one, I know it’s time to stop what I’m doing and take stock.

Sometimes I’ll discover I have a niggling worry that is RA-related. Or I’m flaring more than I knew. Each of these things gives me information.

Action and acceptance manage stress

Sometimes, there is an adjustment I can make to my life. Talk it out with a loved one or friend, add extra rest time to my day, do a meditation or visualization exercise, or just take a few deep breaths.

Other times, more often than I’d want, there isn’t anything I can do. I have to accept a stressful situation or worry is going to be a part of my life. That’s when I know I have to start doing something to calm my mind or body on a daily basis.

I’ve learned from experience that if I just bury what is bothering me it comes out in ways that increase my suffering. I’ll stop sleeping, my joints will hurt more as a result, I’ll become irritable, and my usually resilient perspective becomes gloomy. This is no way to live.

Prioritize peace

Over the past few years, I have come through some extremely stressful periods, none of which I had much control over. What these years have taught me is that my life needs to be as calm as I can possibly make it.

This realization has made me think before I agree to anything that could add stress to my life. I do a cost-benefit analysis and sometimes the activity or obligation is worth the stress. Other times, I just have to say no. As I’ve started to do this more often, I’ve noticed that my life feels more comfortable.

Stress is normal, but don't suffer

Stress is a part of life, and isn’t going anywhere - the stress response is too important for survival.

Finding a way to work with the stressors in your life. Manage the stressors you can control and help your body through the physical and emotional reactions to the stressors you can’t are really good ways to improve your life, even if you can’t control your situation.

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