Imagine feeling good one day and waking up in debilitating pain the next. For people living with inflammatory arthritis, this is an experience they know all too well: the onset of a flare.
It’s a period of increased disease activity where heat, pain, stiffness and fatigue intensify. A flare can last days or even weeks and can really disrupt a person’s life.
Julia Chayko is a member of Arthritis Research Canada’s Patient Advisory Board. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her thirties. Over the years, she has learned that prioritizing her health and well-being is key to getting through flares and living a full life with inflammatory arthritis.
“You won’t get better if you continue to push when you aren’t feeling well,” she said, “During a flare, I ask myself, ‘How much can I do today to still be productive and not put my health at risk?’”
She compares managing a flare to continuing to overdo it when you have a cold or the flu.
“Your body is telling you it needs a break,” she said. “You don’t want to increase the pain or make your flare worse by pushing yourself beyond what you are capable of doing.”
She acknowledges that flares can be frustrating. They throw off plans, make working hard and can even be isolating if you need to stay in bed. But self-care can go a long way in managing and preventing them.
Julia uses the following coping strategies when dealing with a flare:
Even though flares can be difficult to deal with, they are a reality of life with inflammatory arthritis. It can be tempting to panic and call your doctor as soon as you start to experience symptoms. Take a minute to relax. Stress is only going to make the flare worse. It can really help to have a coping plan in place ahead of time in case you can’t see your physician right away.
Plan your days by scheduling all the tasks you need to accomplish and make sure to leave room for unpredictability. Then, rank your tasks in order of importance. Ask yourself, “Which tasks can I do today and which ones can wait?” Try not to do everything at once.
Remember to relax
Rest and breaks are extremely important – especially during a flare. This can be as simple as sitting down and not thinking about anything for five minutes – like a mini-meditation session. Just breathe and let the stress go. Not everyone can work naps into their days, but if you can, go for it. They can make a big difference.
Mild distraction is a great tool for taking your mind off a flare. Get into a movie, read a book or occupy yourself with something that engages your mind but is easy on the body. Try not to focus on the flare or the pain itself. Flares can be mentally draining, especially when you fixate on the pain. Distraction can help reduce anxiety and prevent depression.
Go with the flow
You might have plans, but let them go out the window. You need to be mentally okay with bumping tasks and saying “no” when you don’t feel well. Most importantly, push any guilt aside when you have to reschedule with friends and family. People will demand time from you, but you can’t do it all in one day. If they are really your friends, they will understand.
Home spa treatment
Pretend you are at the spa. Take a hot bath and use ice packs. If you have a paraffin dip at home, it can relieve joint pain and stiffness in your hands, feet and elbows.
And remember that for energy levels and mental clarity, it is important to take time for yourself during a flare so you can function and be productive. Tell yourself, “This time is for me and I’m going to recharge and start again tomorrow.”
Rheumatology nurses often have great ideas/advice for dealing with flares. You can make an appointment with a nurse through your specialist.