Do you struggle with practicing good self-care? Mary Cross, rheumatoid patient and founder of Inflammation Vacation, shares her tips for people with chronic pain.
Practicing good self-care when you have a chronic illness or chronic pain can have a huge impact on your body mentally and physically. At a time when we are all at home in quarantine, this subject is even more relevant than ever. Sometimes it feels like a lot, trying to manage pain and illness and also practice self-care.
I used to see it as extra work to take on, to my already large load of stuff I was already dealing with. In the past few years, I have learned, it doesn’t have to be a task on your to-do list but just part of your daily life. Incorporating self-care doesn’t have to override taking medication and vise versa. Self-care is not something doctors use to talk to their patients about as much. It has been in recent years that doctors are having conversations with their patients about the extra benefits of self-care that can nurture your body.
Find the right kind of exercise
There are many ways to incorporate healthy lifestyle changes to improve your health. Finding a kind of exercise that doesn’t irritate or flare your chronic pain is a great one. It does not have to be an intense workout.
Start simple, by going out for a walk around the neighborhood or watching a YouTube video to guide you through a series of stretches. I recently found a video on YouTube, created by a woman with arthritis demonstrating how to do an arm workout using two water bottles as weights, so as not to hurt your wrists.
Low impact workouts are great for people with chronic pain because it does not damage your joints. Activities such as swimming and yoga are two that I have found to be easy on the joints and relaxing.
Find the right diet
Working on a healthy diet is always a great idea but people often jump in too fast. This does not mean, throw out everything in your pantry with sugar and never eat something fattening again. Try working on moderation. Not every meal has to be perfect. I once saw a chiropractor that instructed me at my first appointment to never eat anything with gluten in it again. Within a week I crashed and burned. You have to find what feels right for your body and someone else can’t tell you that.
Know when to say no
Something that took me a long time to realize and I still struggle with, is knowing when to say “no.” You know your body better than anyone and with an invisible illness, it can be difficult for your friends and family to know the days that you are feeling bad or in pain. I never want to appear unwell. I was terrified I would not get invited somewhere from assumptions that I would not be able to handle it or feel bad.
So, I hid any pain, I forced myself to walk fast when my feet were swollen and all this did was hurt myself. By the end of the day, I would be in more pain from having pushed myself too far, on a day when I knew I shouldn’t have. Your friends will not stop being your friends if you say no. While they may not fully understand your chronic pain, they do want the best for you and don’t want to see you hurt.
Manage your mental health
Managing your mental health is one of the most important things. The great thing is that there are so many ways to do this. Sometimes it’s just putting your headphones in and listening to your favorite music. Journaling is another great option but I’ll admit, I am not the best at keeping up to date. Finding a community that understands the same kind of chronic pain and illness you are going through is a great one.
I didn’t know anyone personally that was around the same age as me with rheumatoid arthritis until over 4 years after being diagnosed when an acquaintance from college that I had met briefly, posted on Instagram about being diagnosed. Reaching out to her and forming a friendship was a breath of fresh air, I didn’t know I needed. It was like a weight had been lifted eternally.
Finding a community with people who understand exactly what you are going through gives you support in a way you may never know you needed.
It's OK to take a day to stay in bed when you need it
Sometimes practicing self-care for chronic pain is as simple as knowing what provides you with comfort and eases your pain during a flare. For me, this is putting my rice pack in the microwave to heat up, turning on Netflix to one of my favorite shows that’s guaranteed to make me laugh, like The Office, and treating myself to a cookie or two.
You are allowed to have days where you stay in bed, feel sad, or even cry. It’s normal and it’s human. I spent years trying to bottle everything up and appear more than fine all the time, to everyone. You are only in for a bigger break down by doing that. Let yourself feel every emotion because that’s who you are.
It’s important to remember that when it comes to self-care, there is no one right answer. Everyone reacts differently, physically and mentally when practicing self-care. Sometimes you need to have a bowl of ice-cream or a glass of wine. Don’t beat yourself up. Self-care is letting your body take a break when it needs to with no regrets of what that entails.