Weathering the Winter: Self-Care & Self-Love with Arthritis
The holiday season can be a difficult and exhausting time of year for people living with arthritis. Social engagements, gifting, travel, family visits, unhealthy eating and more can result in flares. It’s important for people living with chronic diseases, like arthritis, to prioritize self-care and self-love during the festive season.
Self-care and self-love are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct differences. Generally, self-care refers to meeting one’s physical, emotional, and mental needs. It involves engaging in activities that promote relaxation, rest, and rejuvenation. Examples of self-care may include taking a warm bath, practicing mindfulness or meditation, and engaging in hobbies that bring joy and pleasure.
However, self-care with a chronic illness, like arthritis, is different and can feel like a full-time job.
It might involve taking the necessary vitamins and minerals, seeking help for mental health, taking medications, scheduling therapeutic appointments for pain relief, or practicing meditation as a distraction from pain. It may also mean saying “no” to social engagements, even during the holidays, when symptoms are flaring. One form of self-care is reaching out to friends and family or seeking professional help for mental health support, as the chronic nature of arthritis can lead to anxiety and depression.
Give the Gift of Self-Love
Self-love encompasses a deeper appreciation and acceptance of oneself. It involves having a positive self-image and nurturing a healthy relationship with oneself. Self-love goes beyond physical care and extends to self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-respect. It means acknowledging one’s strengths and weaknesses and treating oneself with kindness and understanding – especially during stressful times of the year like the holidays.
A form of self-love involves replacing negative self-talk with realistic and supportive thoughts and recognizing the importance of treating mental health when negative thoughts arise.
Living with a disability can bring about feelings of guilt. It is common for individuals to blame themselves or feel responsible for their condition. However, it is important to let go of this guilt and embrace self-acceptance. Disability is not anyone’s fault and should not be a source of shame.
Celebrate your strengths and accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Remember that you are not defined by your disability, but by your resilience and determination. By letting go of guilt and embracing self-acceptance, you can create a positive and fulfilling life for yourself, despite arthritis.
Self-Care Catch 22
Chronic pain and stiffness caused by arthritis can significantly impact an individual’s ability to perform daily self-care tasks like dressing, grooming, and bathing. Arthritis can also affect an individual’s mobility, making it hard to cook and clean.
The limitations imposed by arthritis can have a detrimental effect on a person’s overall quality of life, leading to dependence on others for basic self-care needs. It is essential for individuals with arthritis to seek appropriate medical treatment and explore adaptive strategies to maintain their independence.
Relying on others for basic necessities can significantly impact a person’s ability to love themselves. The debilitating pain and limitations caused by this condition can make individuals feel helpless, frustrated, and even resentful towards their own bodies. Simple tasks that were once taken for granted, such as getting dressed, writing, or even holding a loved one’s hand, become arduous and painful. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a loss of self-confidence.
The chronic nature of arthritis often requires constant medical attention and ongoing treatment. This can disrupt one’s life, interfere with work, relationships, and daily activities. The dependence on medications, therapies, and assistive devices can make people with arthritis feel as though they have lost control over their own bodies and lives. Society’s emphasis on physical perfection and the stigma associated with disabilities only exacerbates these negative emotions.
Cold Weather Care
Arthritis symptoms – like joint pain, stiffness and inflammation – often worsen during the winter months. Colder temperatures, in particular, can cause joints to contract and become stiff, making movement more difficult and painful.
In addition, the lack of sunlight during winter can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which has been linked to increased joint pain for people with arthritis.
Dressing appropriately to keep the joints warm and engaging in regular exercise to maintain joint flexibility are important self-care strategies to implement during the winter months.
Labour of Self-Love
Improving self-love is key for personal growth and well-being and involves developing a positive relationship with oneself and cultivating self-acceptance. Self-care strategies can be used to enhance self-love.
Another important aspect is practicing self-compassion. This means being kind and understanding towards oneself, acknowledging imperfections, and refraining from self-judgment. Surrounding oneself with supportive and loving people can make a big difference. Building a strong support system and seeking help when needed can provide reassurance and guidance.
It is essential to focus on personal achievements and strengths, rather than dwelling on failures or shortcomings. Celebrating small victories help boost self-esteem and foster a positive self-image.
It is okay to not be okay sometimes and to seek help. Social workers, counselors, family physicians, rheumatologists and occupational therapists can help you develop healthy self-care and self-love skills. Research shows that individuals with depression and anxiety tend to have worse outcomes with their arthritis, so taking care of mental health is just as crucial as physical health.
Set yourself up for self-care and self-love success this holiday season.
View Episode 12 of the Arthritis Research Education Series: Living Well – Arthritis & Self-Care.