When you live with a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it can be easy to fall into a cycle of negative thinking. This can contribute to your stress levels, which can make your RA symptoms worse.
Learning to appreciate small wins might help you develop a more positive outlook on life. In turn, this may help you keep your stress and RA symptoms in check.
Positive thinking can have a real impact on your health and well-being. A study published in the journal Self and Identityfound that self-compassion was linked to more effective coping and lower stress levels in people with arthritis. Another study published in the journal Health Psychology found that gratitude was associated with lower levels of depression.
When you face difficulties related to your condition, it’s important to treat yourself with kindness and acceptance. Sometimes you might need to adjust the expectations that you set for yourself. Try to recognize when you’re pushing yourself too hard, and give yourself credit for small victories in your day.
On days when your symptoms flare up, it can take strength and courage to simply get out of bed. Other small wins might consist of:
- getting dressed
- leaving the house
- going for a short walk
- making a nourishing meal
- reading or writing something
- calling someone you care about on the phone
These are activities that can be challenging to get through when you’re in pain or severely fatigued. But when you achieve them, they can make a positive difference to your mental and physical health. They’re small victories that are worth celebrating.
Larger victories might include:
- developing a good rapport with your doctor
- finding a medication or other treatment that
helps keep your symptoms under control
- making a modification to your home or workspace
that helps you cope with your symptoms
- learning how to do an ordinary task in a new way
that causes less pain
- getting through a challenging day of work
- having a day with few or no symptoms occurring
Consciously registering moments of beauty and pleasure in your life might also help you get through difficult days with RA. Try to cultivate a sense of awareness and appreciation for such moments. For example, take a few minutes to focus on:
- the flavors of a good meal or hot cup of tea or
- the feeling of a pet’s fur or a family member’s
hand beneath your fingers
- the sound of birds outside your window, your
favorite song, or a loved one’s voice
- the relaxing heat of a warm bath or hot shower
Even small pleasures can provide comfort and motivation.
To develop self-compassion, researchers from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, recommend treating yourself like you would a good friend. Rather than acting as your own worst critic, extend the same sympathetic support to yourself as you would to a loved one. It might also help to write yourself a supportive letter, or take a moment to mindfully reflect on a challenging situation and the importance of self-compassion.
Expressing gratitude for things that make your life better may also help you develop greater resilience. The Greater Good Science Center offers several exercises that can help you tap into the benefits of thankfulness. For example, it might help to keep a gratitude journal where you write down things for which you feel thankful. These may include small things, such as a tasty snack that you enjoyed or an enjoyable conversation that you had with a friend. They can also include larger things, such as the birth of a new family member or a breakthrough in your treatment plan.
RA can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being. But there are steps that you can take to develop resilience and maintain a positive outlook on life. Appreciating small wins, savoring small pleasures, and cultivating greater self-compassion and gratitude may help you find the strength and comfort that you need to live life to the fullest with RA.