Ways To Handle Stress with RA

Many articles on our website talk about the relationship between stress and RA. In my personal experience, periods of high stress undoubtedly exacerbated my RA pain. Joints were stiffer, fatigue was more crippling, and getting everything accomplished in a single day was more cumbersome. Our bodies are already under enough attack from RA, so with the addition of the stressors of life, it is crucial to find manners to reduce the amount of stress you feel.

Recognize what's causing your stress

For me, the first step in feeling less stressed is recognizing what exactly is causing my stress. This involves two actions: being cognizant of stress triggers and how your body responds to them and making a concrete plan to tackle the problem. For example, if I find myself in more pain and feeling more anxious than normal, I take the time to reflect and ask what is causing the stress I’m experiencing. We’re much better at identifying problems in our life than we know.

After identifying what is troubling me—for the sake of this example, let’s say that I have a lot of graduate school applications on the horizon—then I sit down and devise a plan to tackle those applications. This includes scheduling time to work on them, writing down important dates, and making a timeline for working on the different components of the applications. On the surface, this might seem rather juvenile or like common knowledge, but it’s important to ground ourselves when we feel stressed.

Focus on reducing your stress

You recognize that you’re under a lot of stress, and you recognize the cause of that stress. You’ve started to work on alleviating it. What else can you do? In my experience, reducing your stress begins by being an advocate for yourself and your experience. This is a rather broad concept, but what I mean by that is you have to practice elements of self-preservation when you have a chronic illness. This can include something that I am still learning how to do: saying no.

As someone who constantly works and is a perfectionist, saying no to more work, social obligations, or other opportunities runs against the grain of my functional being. But my RA diagnosis taught me that the life I lead now is not and cannot be the same as it was before. Accordingly, if I’m overwhelmed and in pain, I’ve had to learn to say no to extra projects at work, to hanging out with friends and family, or to presentations and article opportunities. No, this does not mean I am missing out, it just means that I am prioritizing what is right for me and what will correspond well with my body. It’s easy to write about this notion, but much harder to enact it in real life.

Use stress as an opportunity

Finally, dealing with additional stress on top of having RA proffered an opportunity for me to search for what makes me happy and brings me peace. Part of this is driven by necessity; mostly it is driven by the need to calm down. Since being diagnosed, I’ve been exploring new podcasts and music, different genres of books, and new forms of exercise. I’ve taken the time to think about what I like and what brings me joy, something I had never been able to do before. RA has few positives, but if I had to name one, it would be this one.

Everyone's experiences with stress are different

The ways in which I deal with stress are not going to be directly translatable to everyone else’s experiences; however, I hope you’ve found something useful, something you could begin using in your everyday life as you continue along your journey with RA. Let me know the ways in which you handle stress!

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