How do you maintain control when you have a disease like arthritis that can flare up unpredictably? How can you commit, weeks ahead of time, to hosting a holiday party or going to a wedding reception when you don't know how bad your arthritis will be or how much energy you'll have? The key is to plan ahead and to be aware of your limits once the event arrives.
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When strength and stamina is limited from arthritis, it is important to
carefully plan your activities and conserve your energy.
In addition to preparing for the actual event, you can also prepare -- both mentally and physically -- for the possibility that your arthritis may flare. Try to be flexible in your thinking. Consider ways that you can still participate even though your arthritis is acting up.
Rather than having to miss the event, perhaps you can simply go for a shorter period of time. Perhaps you can reserve special seating ahead of time in case your arthritis should flare on that day. Or maybe you can arrange to have a quiet room set aside where you can rest for short periods during the event. Try to have some backup plans in place so that you will not have to miss out on all of the enjoyment because of arthritis discomfort. Keep your thinking and your plans flexible, and you will be able to maintain greater control.
As mentioned previously, most people with arthritis experience fatigue -- a feeling of extreme tiredness or exhaustion -- at least occasionally. The fatigue may result from coping with pain, from depression, or from simply overdoing it. Fatigue may be a side effect of certain arthritis medications. For example, muscle relaxants or tranquilizers that may be part of your treatment can induce drowsiness. And, with certain forms of arthritis, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, the disease process itself may be causing the fatigue.
Fatigue is a symptom that you should pay attention to. Fatigue affects people in different ways, but it usually makes you feel as if you have no energy; you may even feel an overwhelming desire to sleep. Fatigue is also frequently associated with increased sensitivity to pain, a "cranky" attitude, and decreased patience and attention span. As such, it can aggravate your arthritis symptoms, making you more uncomfortable, less alert to possible hazards, and less able to protect your joints.
If you are experiencing fatigue, you need to stop and rest. However, you can also take steps in your daily life to prevent fatigue from knocking you off your feet in the first place or at least keep it from constantly interfering with your life. The way to do that is to always be alert to ways that you can conserve your energy and sneak rest into your daily routine. The following suggestions may help you start thinking in terms of joint-healthy living:
- Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to cues that indicate the environment may be tiring or irritating. For the person with arthritis, uncomfortable temperatures, uncomfortable furniture or equipment, constant noise, or stressful conditions affect the levels of fatigue and pain that are experienced. Try to eliminate or modify these conditions, or be prepared to cope with them. If you have a long drive to your workplace, consider keeping the radio turned off and using the silence as a means of relaxing and decreasing outside stimulation. If you frequently find yourself in buildings or rooms that feel chilly to you, learn to keep a sweater with you wherever you go.
- Look for ways to ease strain. If you're waiting for a bus or waiting to enter a theater, turn it into an opportunity to rest by taking a seat on a nearby bench or even leaning against a wall. Be imaginative and creative. One older gentleman who has arthritis did just that during a trip to a flea market with his family. When he started out, he felt fine. About halfway through, however, he began to feel tired. Rather than calling it quits or pushing himself to the point of pain, he improvised. At a nearby booth, he noticed a wooden walking stick for sale. He haggled with the seller over it, bought it for a few dollars, and used it to ease his trip through the flea market.
- Simplify your routines and activities whenever possible. Spending a little extra money on a labor-saving device or taking some time to rearrange your environment and tools can be more than worth it if it allows you to prevent fatigue and pain.
- Try to keep psychological stressors to a minimum; they are a drain on your resources, as well. The benefits of emotional rest have been documented, so a mental health day -- or even a few mental health minutes -- now and then can truly help boost your energy reserves.
- Decrease your use of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and tranquilizers. These all contribute to fatigue when used over time. Also, over-the-counter items like diet pills contain caffeine that may interfere with sleep and mood.
- If fatigue persists despite efforts to combat it, consult your doctor. Anemia or poor nutrition can also cause fatigue.
Whether your arthritis results in major limitations or minor annoyances, you can benefit from getting organized. Organizing your home, your work, your chores, and your thoughts can help you to do the things you need to do more efficiently, thus helping you conserve energy and prevent fatigue. And by spending less time and energy doing things you need to do, you'll have more to spend resting or doing things you enjoy. Here are some tips to get your life organized:
- Make lists. Your friends may call you anal-retentive, but getting into the list-making habit can help you focus and keep you from being overwhelmed. Make a list of things you need to get done each day, each week, each month.
- Prioritize. Once you've written down what you need to accomplish, decide which tasks are most important, which can wait another day, and which can be put off until you have more time or energy. Don't expect to do everything on your list; prioritizing can help ensure that you get the most important tasks done.
- Combine errands. Check your "To Do" list. Maybe you can get your banking done at the drive-up window on your way to the grocery store. At work, get coffee on your way to the copy machine.
- Eliminate clutter. Clutter forces you to go through extra steps -- and waste needed energy and time. Visit a store that specializes in home organization, or check the housewares section of your local variety store for containers, shelves, and the like that can help you organize your clutter. And as you sift through that clutter, don't forget to throw out or give away stuff you know you'll never use.
- Keep supplies together. Make housework easier by putting your dustcloths, polishes, and cleaners in an apron or lightweight basket you can take from room to room. If your home has more than one bathroom, keep a set of cleaning supplies, toilet paper, soap, and towels in each. When bills arrive, put them in a central location where you also have stamps, envelopes, pens, and checks.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.