No matter how you look at it, living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) isn’t easy. For many of us, even the “good” days include at least some level of pain, discomfort, fatigue, or sickness. But there are still ways to live well even while living with RA — or at least ways to live as well as possible.
10 ways to cope
Here are 10 ways that I cope and manage my bad days while living with RA.
1. This too shall pass
On particularly bad days, I remind myself that a day only has 24 hours in it, and that this too shall pass. As cliché as it sounds, remembering that tomorrow is a new day and that RA flares are often temporary can help me get through the particularly difficult ones. I try to get some sleep as a respite, and hope that when I wake up, there is a better day awaiting me.
We aren’t defined by our bad days, and bad days are just that: bad days. Experiencing a bad day doesn’t mean that we necessarily have a bad life.
2. The gratitude attitude
I like to focus on my blessings and cultivate an attitude of gratitude. On bad days, I choose to think about the things I am grateful for. I realize that, despite my illness, I have a lot to be thankful about. And so I work hard to maintain that attitude of gratefulness, focusing on what I still can do versus what I can’t do anymore because of RA. And focusing on what I still do have instead of dwelling on the things that RA has taken from me.
Sometimes we have to try to find that silver lining. After all, every day might not be good… but there is at least something good in every day.
Self-care is vital for everybody, but it’s especially crucial for anyone living with a chronic illness or disability. Self-care can be taking a nap, indulging in a bubble bath, getting a massage, setting time aside to meditate or exercise, or just eating well. It might include a shower, taking a day off work, or taking a vacation. Whatever it means to you, taking time to practice self-care is very important.
4. Mindset and mantras
I think that having a mantra to fall back on can help us through a tough time. Think of these mantras as mindset-cleansing affirmations to repeat to yourself when you’re having a physically or emotionally difficult day.
A mantra I like to use is “RA is a chapter of my book, but not my whole story.” I remind myself of this on bad days, and it helps get my mindset right.
Think about what your mantra might be, and how you can apply it to life with RA.
5. Meditation and prayer
For me, meditation and prayer are important tools in my RA toolkit. Meditation can have calming and healing effects on the body, mind, and spirit. Prayer can do the same. Both are nice ways to calm our minds, relax our bodies, open our hearts, and think about gratitude, positivity, and healing.
6. Heat it up
Heating pads and infrared heat therapy are ways that I soothe myself on bad RA days. I like heat for muscle pain and stiffness. Sometimes it’s a hot bath or steam shower, other times it’s a microwavable heating pad or infrared light therapy. Occasionally, it’s an electric blanket. Anything to help me stay warm and cozy on a flare day is welcomed!
7. Cool it down
In addition to heat, ice can play an important role in managing a bad RA day. If I’m having a bad flare — especially if there is swelling involved — I like to put an ice pack on my joints. I’ve also tried ice baths and cryotherapy to “cool it down” when the inflammation is flaming hot!
8. Family and friends
My support system of family and friends definitely helps me through the difficult days. My husband and parents helped me a lot in recovering from my total knee replacement, and I’ve also had friends and family members help out on bad flare days.
Whether they are sitting with you at an infusion, tending to you after a medical procedure, or helping you with household chores or self-care tasks when you are in pain, a good team of supportive people is key to life with RA.
I have five pets: three dogs and two cats. While they admittedly have the power to drive me crazy sometimes, the love, affection, loyalty, and companionship that I get in return is well worth it.
Pets can be a lot of work, so be sure that you’re physically and financially able to care for a pet before getting one. But if you do get one, know that a furry or feathered playmate can be your best friend — and sometimes your only smile — on the most trying and difficult days.
10. Doctor, doctor
A good medical team is so important. I can’t stress this enough. Make sure that you trust your doctors and have good communication with them. A caring, competent, capable, compassionate, and kind team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, surgeons, physical therapists, and other specialists can make your RA journey go so much smoother.
We all cope with RA in different ways, so however you handle your hard days is up to you. No matter what helps you through the tough times, remember that we are all in this together, even if our journeys and experiences look a little different. Support groups, online communities, and Facebook pages about living with RA can help you to feel a little less alone, and can also provide additional resources about how to cultivate a better life with RA.
Remember, though, that RA is not all you are. On my bad days, that’s something I always keep in mind: I’m more than RA. It doesn’t define me. And I may have RA — but it doesn’t have me!
Ashley Boynes-Shuck is a published author, health coach, and patient advocate. Known online as Arthritis Ashley, she blogs at arthritisashley.com and abshuck.com, and writes for Healthline.com. Ashley also works with the Autoimmune Registry and is a member of the Lions Club. She’s written three books: “Sick Idiot,” “Chronically Positive,” and “To Exist.” Ashley lives with RA, JIA, OA, celiac disease, and more. She resides in Pittsburgh with her Ninja Warrior husband and their five pets. Her hobbies include astronomy, birdwatching, traveling, decorating, and going to concerts.