Having lived with RA for a decade now, first trying to balance graduate school and RA, and now trying to balance a full-time job and RA, I know how easy it is to let self-care fall by the wayside. But as I’ve come to learn, self-care is “must care.” Without it, living with RA, or living at all, can be quite difficult.

It’s essential to take time for yourself and unplug, even if it’s just once in a while. Allowing yourself to recharge and renew can be extremely beneficial.

Don’t we all need a little bit of chocolate from time to time? While I try to follow a healthy diet as one of the ways I manage my RA, there are definitely times when comfort food or desserts are just the thing to raise my spirits. I try not to make myself feel guilty when I enjoy these treats. In fact, I’ve found that moderation is better than elimination. Otherwise, I might eat ALL the cupcakes!

A cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate really can do a lot to bring me back to center when I’m feeling extra stressed or tired. The warmth can be comforting. I make sure to always have a variety of teas on hand.

Growing up, and throughout my adult life, I’ve been very devoted to school and work. My mom would sometimes nudge me when I was in school, and ask if I needed a mental health day. When I was younger, I never took advantage of that.

But as an adult, I’m struck by the fact that I didn’t realize how valuable a mental health day could be. I don’t necessarily skip work or take a day off just because, but I try and allow myself some free weekends when I can hunker down, stay inside, and lay low.

Similar to mental health days, I find that I definitely need to step away from blogging and other social media from time to time. As a blogger, and someone who spends a lot of time on social media, these moments of being unplugged are essential, if a bit unnerving. While being active on social media has been very rewarding, it can also become all-encompassing. So a break once in a while is certainly warranted.

I’ve become one of those people that gets a haircut every six months. It’s usually when my hair has gotten long and too hard to manage with my RA symptoms. I’ve also gone from the frugal practice of getting really inexpensive haircuts to upgrading to a really nice salon. Going somewhere a bit fancier makes getting a haircut an experience.

In my everyday life, I’m lucky if I have the time or energy to shower, let alone take a bath. So every once in a while, I set aside the time to take a relaxing bath. I always include some amazing bubble bath that elevates the experience. It’s amazing how you can transform your bathroom into a private oasis, if only for a little while.

I am a voracious reader, but I don’t get the time to sit down and read as often as I would like. When I do get these moments, I cherish them. A good book gives me the chance to take some time away from my own life and step into the world of someone else’s journey, whether it’s real or imagined.

For some of you, this might be going back to basics. Perhaps some of the things I’ve suggested are things that you do often, without a second thought. For me, though, it has always been and remains a challenge to take time for myself, even when I need it.

The fear of missing out can be overwhelming, and I think that is part of what leads me to let self-care get sidetracked. But the older I get, and the more fast-paced life becomes, the more important self-care becomes. If I want to be the best girlfriend, daughter, sister, employee, and friend that I can be, I have to take care of me first. I think the first part of embracing self-care is realizing that it’s the opposite of selfish. Self-care allows you to take care of others too.

Leslie Rott was diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in 2008 at the age of 22, during her first year of graduate school. After being diagnosed, Leslie went on to earn a PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in Health Advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College. She authors the blog Getting Closer to Myself, where she shares her experiences coping with and living with multiple chronic illnesses, candidly and with humor. She is a professional patient advocate living in Michigan.