The Good Life
I was recently asked to reflect on how I have managed to live with RA for over 20 years, while being a wife of 41 years, a parent of 3 sons, working full time and staying active in my community. It gave me pause. I realized that most of what I do has become second nature and has taken years to assimilate but here are a few of my suggestions. These may or may not be right for you, because as we all know, only too well, the course of RA is very individualized. However, I know I was thankful for advice over the years, and still am!
The importance of sleep
First of all, when managing a chronic disease, do not underestimate how crucial sleep is to your success! I was not always a person who believed or followed this piece of wisdom. As a result, I do think there were times when a more consistent pattern of sleep could well have made my flares less intense or at least helped with my mood and brain fog. Sleep allows our bodies to regenerate and renew and that is of particular importance to those of us with RA. I now try to consistently get 7-8 hours a night (how much you need takes some experimenting) and I also try to get to bed at the same time which has been shown to be important to establishing a sleep rhythm and pattern. Of course, RA can make getting and staying asleep a huge challenge, so try taking a warm bath, meditating and or deep breathing to assist.
Managing your stress
Secondly, managing stress is not only helpful overall, but has been proven to lower inflammatory makers in RA patients. Stress exacerbates pain and pain is too often a constant companion of RA. Anything we can do to reduce it will make our lives better. Of course, carrying out this task is not easy! There are many sources you can look at for stress reduction techniques. For me, massage, meditation, low impact meditative movement like Tai Chi, as well as guided imagery, have been very successful. I also try to practice mindfulness which keeps me grounded and, in the moment, reducing the fear and worry that often accompanies RA.
Read your body’s signals
The third one to consider is what we eat and drink. Some folks with RA follow an anti-inflammatory diet and have found that to be successful. I have to say that has not worked for me, but eating a healthy, well-balanced diet has. I do know that when I eat a lot of starches or over indulge in alcohol or any other “rich” foods I do not feel well and that extends to my RA. Now having said that, it changes, just like every other aspect of RA! So, learn to read your bodies signals when it comes to diet. One thing you must do, I repeat, must do, is stay hydrated. Water is the body’s perfect elixir and we need to drink throughout the day to reduce toxicity and keep our fluids in balance. Given the amount of medication that many of us take, this is even more critical to our health.
Last but not least, getting some level of exercise in my life is perhaps the most significant need I have for successfully managing RA. I can say, unequivocally, that when I do not incorporate exercise into my life, I am not only not at my best, I am not well. It really is that simple. That is the part I hate most about the flares that are such a consistent companion to RA. To the point, that even when I am flaring, I will struggle to find some level of movement, no matter how small, to accomplish. While it may not, in that moment, make a difference physically, it does make a difference to me mentally and that is just as important. Exercise, when done regularly, is the gold standard to managing RA over time. It reduces stress, strengthens muscles and joints, increases range of motion, boosts your energy levels and releases endorphins, which are the feel-good brain chemicals released during exercise. I try to do flexibility exercises, strength exercises and aerobic exercise, giving me the blend and benefits of all three types. That said, you need not spend an absurd amount of time doing exercise. How much and how long I exercise are certainly influenced by the state of my RA at any given time.
Hopefully some of these lifestyle reflections will be of use to you as you move forward, always move forward, with your RA journey.