It’s pretty easy to forget about looking after ourselves some days, especially if we have a lot of things going on, or we are having a bad health day. A chronic health condition certainly makes this a little harder than ‘normal’, and the stress of daily living can get on top of you. But it’s super important to take time out for yourself and do what you need to get yourself feeling up to tackling life again. Check in with yourself often – how are you feeling? Do you need to do anything to help yourself today?
Here are a few things I find helpful to keep me going and deal with any stresses:
I always start my day but getting up and dressed, no matter how crappy I feel. Even if it takes an hour and I’m in severe pain, I have promised myself not to stay in my pyjamas after 8.00am. If I do, I find I just don’t feel good, and that’s not something I need to exaggerate, as RA can make me feel like that some days anyway. I get up, get dressed, wash my face (I shower at night, as showering saps all my energy and isn’t the best start to my day), and put on a little make-up. If my feet are sore I put on some running shoes. This small routine helps me feel fresh and human, and quite motivated to tackle my day.
Take a power nap
Getting enough sleep is super important. One thing I’ve discovered on my RA journey is that I get fatigued quickly. It’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of sleeping several hours in the afternoon and not feeling rested afterwards. Doing this often completely upsets my sleep routines, and throws my body clock out. If you’re feeling fatigued and your schedule allows, take 20 minutes out of your day for a power nap. Find somewhere comfortable, set a timer and close your eyes. You may feel that it’s not long enough but you’ll be surprised how great you feel afterwards. Don’t be tempted to nap longer! Get up and make a cuppa and get on with your day.
This is one of my favourite things to do. My feet are one of the worst affected parts of my body, so soaking them in some nice warm water, with peppermint foot soak for 30 minutes is bliss! With the amount of study and work I am doing at the moment, I am finding less and less time for ‘me’ time… so, I combine the two. As I type this, I’m having a foot spa, and jotting down assignment brainwaves as they randomly come to me. I’m the queen of multitasking! (Ok, not really… I suffer serious brain fog… hence the paper to jot the notes, but multitasking queen sounds much better!)
Write a journal
Keeping a journal of your journey and how you’re feeling can be a great way to get things off your chest. Sometimes just the act of offloading everything you feel onto paper is all that’s needed.
Mindfulness is a particularly powerful tool, especially when you feel everything in life is crushing you. Its basic principle is about refocussing your attention onto things that are happening in the moment. It’s very grounding, and I find it extremely helpful when I feel as if I’m losing control.
Go for a walk
Fresh air is the most amazing thing. When I’m feeling tired, sore, or a little down, getting out and going for a walk is one of my favourite activities to lift my mood. I also find short walks really help my pain levels. If you are having a bad flare, and aren’t able to walk around much, just try to get outside. A nice cuppa or a cool drink, some sun and a good book does wonders!
When you’re feeling really bad, it can be hard to remember the good things in life. Many years ago, shortly after diagnosis, I was lying on the couch in tears. I was in so much pain and wondered if I would ever be able to stretch again. It was awful. My kids were really young then, and I felt like a terrible mother.
Then I remembered just how lucky I was to have them. We had a roof over our heads, and food in our cupboards (even though I couldn’t cook it). I went to bed thinking of all the good things, however small.
That night that my entire point of view changed; I woke up the next morning, still very sore, but much more positive about my future. Write down (or type if it’s easier) all the things you are grateful for and look at them every time you need the reminder. We all have days where we need it – I sure do.
Some days you just need things to make you feel a little more human. Soak in the bath, moisturise all over, put on a face mask, and paint your nails! I like to paint mine outlandish colours with lots of patterns to distract people from the weird shape of my hands. Pampering applies to us all, so, men – you need to take care of yourselves too. If you can afford to, and your body is up to it, book yourself in for a nice massage. Hmmm… bliss!
I try to keep reasonably organised, especially in feeding my family and making sure we have what we need on hand. I plan ahead by keeping many homemade meals in the freezer for nights when my health or busy routine don’t allow me the energy to cook a healthy meal. This has saved heaps of money on takeaway foods, which we now rarely buy, and also saves me heaps of energy and time. The general rule here is – use some of your good days to prepare for your bad ones.
Ask for help
If you’ve tried many things and you’re still feeling stressed out, don’t be afraid to ask for help and support. Remember – you are not alone! Reach out to a support group; there are many online, particularly on Facebook. I belong to a few myself and they are invaluable. Talk to friends and let them know how you’re feeling. If you’re still feeling isolated, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help:
Arthritis New Zealand: 0800 663 463
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or txt 234
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 or txt 4202
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Healthline: 0800 611 116