Rheumatoid Arthritis and Relationships: Communication Counts
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis involves treating the physical and the emotional toll that RA can take on a person. It can be difficult to communicate your needs when you are busy trying to figure all of this out for yourself at the same time.
In addition, rheumatoid arthritis treatment can be time-consuming, co-pays can add up, and canceled plans can dampen even the most optimistic friend or family member.
Taking time to practice self-care may seem difficult at first, but it sets in motion how the rest of the day will most likely go. You will need to make your health more of a priority than ever before. Even if you were very health conscious to start with, the changes and modifications you need to make to manage the pain, limited mobility and fatigue of RA take time to adjust to.
Some popular suggestions for self-care include:
- Getting enough sleep: chronic pain and stiffness can disrupt your ability to get a good night’s sleep. You may have to be more proactive than you’re used to in order to make sure you give yourself the best chance. Remove electronics from the bedroom at least an hour before going to bed; keep the bedroom dark and cool; avoid caffeine later in the day; finish eating at least a few hours before going to bed. There are some nights the pain may get the better of you. If that’s the case, watch something funny to lift your spirits and then try again. You may need to talk to your doctor if your sleep is so off that you are not able to function well during the day.
- Epsom salt baths: you can get Epsom salt at the grocery store in the personal care section. Epsom salt has magnesium, which relaxes tight muscles. Taking a hot bath before going to bed can help ensure a good night’s sleep.
- Heating pad: some are electric and some you can heat in the microwave. If you use one with an electrical cord, remember to unplug it before going to bed. Applying heat to sore joints and muscles helps them (and you!) relax.
- Attending a community/support group: if you are religious, you may find attending church helpful with managing the stress of living with RA. There are also numerous social groups to participate in if you are not interested in attending religious services. Participating in various events can help lift your spirits, improve your mobility and help keep you active in your community.
You will need to tell your family members and friends what you need and not take for granted that they know. Try to set up a time to share with them the information given to you from your doctors and give them a chance to ask questions.
You may need to be more assertive than before or may need to learn how to set boundaries for your treatment plan. If you find this process especially stressful, be sure to reach out to a trusted friend or therapist for more specific suggestions.
It’s not always easy for the people around you to adjust to your diagnosis, so the more they learn from you, the easier it will become in time for everyone.
Your Best Is Good Enough
Do what you can to manage what you have control over. Plans may need some adjustments to be successful.
For example, if you’re in the midst of a flare and can’t go to the movies, invite a friend over to watch something at home. If you are honest with someone about why you can’t attend and they are dismissive of your explanation, don’t take it personally. You have to guard your health at the cost of someone’s response. If they are rude and not willing to accommodate you, that reflects more on them than you. You will be surprised how many people are willing to help if you just tell them what you need.
It may feel like an effort at times, but it is so important to stay connected with other people as much as you can. If you find you are home a lot from either prepping or recovering from another procedure, you can join an online support group. Make an effort to stay connected to people in other ways, such as texting, video chat or phone calls.
Keeping your mind occupied on something else can provide some comfort from RA symptoms, even if for a short time. Take some time to discover a new talent, or develop one you didn’t know you had. Spending even a few minutes learning something new can help keep you focused on something besides your achy joints.
Beating yourself over what you can’t do on any given day will definitely not help, so be sure to be kind to yourself when you are unable to participate.