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Friday, May 13, 2011

Stress, good or bad can cause an RA flare

     Stress, good OR bad, has a significant effect on Rheumatoid Arthritis.  We all react to stress both physically and mentally.  We have all been there.  Things get hectic, the demands pile up,  sleep evades you because you are juggling far too many things and WHAM!  A flare is born!
     Stress, by its very nature, produces a reaction that you feel both mentally in the form of heightened emotions and reactions and physically.  Physical manifestations include headaches, heart palpitations, stomach upset and pain (can you say ulcers?), muscle weakness and pain in various body parts, etc.  
     For those of us with RA, it means flares - that is - a period of disease activity characterized by painful, inflamed joints and all the other charming symptoms of RA from poor sleep to fatigue to depression.
     I have a very demanding full-time job directing three elder service programs.  I supervise staff, develop and launch programs, write far too many grants, manage budgets, serve on local, state and national associations and boards, etc.  I love my work and am very passionate about what I do as lots of folks can tell you.  I tell you this because at first read, you would think that the stress associated with this (and believe me it is significant) would mean that I must continuously be in a flare, right?  Wrong.  
     There was a time, and there still are, when I definitely have flares that I can directly attribute to the stress of my work and life demands.  But, and this is a big one, I have learned by and large how to relieve the stress so that it does not get the best of me, mentally or physically.  Exercise is one way.  Talking it out with family and friends is another.  Taking a break from the demands, however short lived it may be is really helpful...go to a movie for instance.  Simply step back and even walk away when you have to.  I also love guided imagery.  I have CD's that I listen to that literally allow me to mentally relax and escape to another place, relieving the pressure of the moment.  That is sometimes all it takes to halt or at least lessen the flare that might very well progress to a much worse level. 
     In terms of my RA, it really does not matter if the stress is good or bad.  So even if it is around a fun time like a great trip or holiday preparations, stress is stress is stress and so handling it is even more important if you are going to truly enjoy your life and, say it with me, "manage RA".  
     Recognizing the truth about stress and how it impacts RA is half the battle.  The other half is determining how best to work with the stress in your life, what can you do to offset or reduce it and its effect on you and the resulting flare that may come with it despite your best efforts.  There is no way to eliminate it from your life unless you decide to go in seclusion somewhere (there are times when this seems like a viable choice to this day) so the best thing to do is manage it by finding out why you have it, can I reduce it, and how?
     Once again, I discovered that developing strategies and tools to deal with RA, in this case stress, are the ultimate way to have the quality of life I deserve, demand and can absolutely achieve.  
Laughing is a great stress reliever so watch a great comedy with a friend or loved one this weekend, cuddle up and have fun!

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