Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis can, initially, be devastating. But, it's important to remember that there are a lot of things you can do to manage your symptoms and continue to maintain a high quality of life.
If you've recently been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, consider incorporating these four lifestyle tips into your routine to help you stay on top of your pain and keep feeling well.
1. Get Plenty of Sleep
Getting consistent sleep is one of the best things you can do when you're dealing with an autoimmune disease. However, especially when you're struggling with a painful condition like rheumatoid arthritis, making sure you get enough sleep is easier said than done.
You can use over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids to help you ensure you're getting a good amount of quality sleep each night. But, sleep medication can come with undesirable side effects, including dizziness and an upset stomach. Many sleep medications are also habit-forming.
Before you turn to these kinds of products to help with your sleep, it's best to try natural methods, including:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
Take a warm bath, meditate, or practice yoga before bed
Try an herbal supplement like chamomile or valerian
Whatever you like to do before bed, make sure you have a consistent routine that you can stick to. If you're consistent with this routine for a few weeks, you're more likely to see your sleep improve.
2. Adjust Your Diet
Certain foods are much more likely to cause flares and exacerbate symptoms of autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Limiting consumption of these foods and incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet can help you manage your condition.
Some foods to consume on a regular basis include:
Leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach
Omega-3 rich foods like salmon, flax seeds, olive oil, and nuts
Foods to avoid include:
Many people with autoimmune conditions also benefit from sticking to a gluten-free diet. Gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, has been known to increase inflammation in the body.
It's also important to note that people with Celiac disease — an extreme form of gluten intolerance — are also more likely to be diagnosed with additional autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
3. Minimize Your Stress
Stress, which increases inflammation, has also been shown to exacerbate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Make sure you have strategies you can turn to that help you manage your stress and minimize it as much as possible.
A regular meditation practice is great for people dealing with chronic illnesses, as is gentle yoga.
Other great forms of self-care you can practice to minimize your stress include:
Writing in a journal
Painting or drawing
Taking a bath
Getting regular massages
4. Learn to Manage Flares
Sometimes, rheumatoid arthritis flares are unavoidable. But, you can make them a lot less unpleasant by knowing how to manage them properly.
The first step to learning how to manage flares is figuring out what triggers them. It might be certain foods, stress, or infections like the common cold or influenza.
In addition to knowing what triggers your flares, it's also important to catch symptoms early. As soon as you start feeling joint pain, stiffness, or any other symptoms, start taking steps to minimize them. For you, that might mean icing your joints, massaging them with arthritis cream, or taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen.
The sooner you catch a flare and start treating the symptoms, the less painful it will be.
Make sure you're communicating with your friends and family, too, to let them know when you're dealing with a flare. Letting them know that you might need extra help will take some of the burden off of you and give you the time you need to prioritize recovery.
It's easy to feel helpless after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. But, if you keep these tips in mind, you'll have an easier time managing your symptoms and won't have to worry about being held back by your diagnosis.