Fatigue, Flares, and Festivities – How a Rheumy Copes

December 20, 2018

The festive season usually means joy to all, last minute mania to get gifts for everyone on your list, epic grocery shopping, and to culminate it all: an even more epic cooking session on Christmas day. Don’t be shocked if your rheumy friend (or friend suffering from any other kind of autoimmune disease) is all Bah Humbug for the festive season. We really don’t mean to be, but the festive season can be a bit taxing and flare-inducing for someone suffering from an autoimmune disease. As chronic fatigue often goes hand in hand with autoimmune diseases (but note that everyone experiences different intensity and frequency of fatigue), you can begin to see how tiring the season can be for a Rheumy. It’s important to note that the fatigue that I talk about for autoimmune disease sufferers is more than just tiredness. Fatigue can be a debilitating symptom to cope with and affects us even carrying out the simplest of tasks.The following five tips are my tried and tested ones that I use to help me cope with the stresses that the festive season brings. It’s not a comprehensive list but these are definitely the top five for me and ones that I wanted to highlight.

Don’t Skip Meals!

This can be tempting to do as we tend to get so busy around this time of year. Not to mention sitting in traffic for long periods of time can see us missing the time we usually have our meals. But skipping meals can cause you to feel more tired. Plan your healthy snacks (fruits, almond/peanut butter, carrot sticks, paleo snacks etc.) for eating throughout the day. Make sure to pack some in your bag to have on the go for those stuck in traffic moments. Also, eat regular, healthy meals to keep your energy up. Try to limit your junk food intake as junk food can contribute to a slower metabolism.

Engage in Stress-reducing Activities

Stress is a major trigger for flare-ups. Over the years, especially in the early stages of my diagnosis, I tended to put the above tip to the wayside in order to get EVERYTHING done for my family and I to enjoy the festivities. However, I learned the hard way (cue terrible flare-ups over the festive season) before I began to re-introduce stress-reducing activities to help stave off flare-ups. Whatever makes YOU relax, do it. For me, that includes an early morning walk each day before the madness of family life and other activities ensues. This not only helps to boost my mood, but also helps to relieve that dreaded morning stiffness that so many people with Rheumatoid Arthritis suffer from. Other activities that help to reduce stress are reading, listening to music, gentle yoga, meditation, or creating art. Whatever relaxation looks like for you, engage in it to help reduce flares.

Practice Energy Conservation

For people who experience fatigue with their autoimmune disease, it’s a different kind of tiredness. As I’ve mentioned before, fatigue is more severe than just being tired. Fatigue can hit at any time and can affect your ability to perform easy tasks. It’s important to practice energy conservation at all times, but particularly around the festive season.

Tips for Energy Conservation
  • Prioritize tasks. I’m a big believer of making lists. Make a list of all your tasks for the day/week and prioritize which are the main ones you need to get done. From this list, delegate what you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
  • Take note of when you feel more energetic and schedule your main tasks around that time. That way, you can save your energy to deal with fatigue if/when it hits around a certain time.
  • Pacing your activities is a great way to help you conserve energy. The key point to pacing is breaking up tasks so that you do them in short periods and have scheduled rest breaks in between even if you don’t feel tired at the time. For larger tasks, you may want to break them up into smaller tasks over a few days. For instance, instead of one epic grocery shopping, plan ahead with your list to go shopping for only several items over a few days.

Develop Good Sleep Habits

Although it’s true that chronic fatigue doesn’t necessarily respond to rest, getting enough sleep (at least eight consecutive hours at night) and maintaining a good circadian rhythm, can help to fight fatigue. This is because sleep plays an important role in the immune system. When we sleep, our bodies release proteins called cytokines. Certain cytokines help to fight infections and will need to be increased during stressful times or flare-ups. Have you ever noticed that you tend to get sick around times when you’re not well-rested? Getting a good nights sleep will help to fight infections and make you feel better overall. If you’re having problems falling asleep try to limit your caffeine intake at least 2-3 hours before bedtime, turn off your phone (or at least put it out of reach!), try a sleep/calm app to play relaxing sounds for you to fall asleep to.

Be Kind to Yourself

One of the things that people with autoimmune disease suffer from is guilt; guilt for canceling plans at the last minute because fatigue or flare-up strikes; guilt that you can’t do EVERYTHING you had set out to do; guilt that you lack motivation and that people may think that this is you being lazy. Be kind to yourself. The first step is acknowledging your limits now with whatever autoimmune illness you have and however that presents in you. Setting realistic expectations will help to alleviate the feelings of guilt. Also, don’t compare yourself to others with autoimmune disease, even if they have the same one(s) as you. Everyone presents differently. Only YOU know your body and are experiencing the symptoms. Be kind to yourself. Explain to friends and family that you may need to cancel at the last minute depending on how you feel. They will understand, and if they don’t, that’s ok too. Don’t feel guilty about that. Strive to educate and not be irritated by any response(s) you don’t appreciate. Be kind to yourself. If you force to push through, you may suffer the consequences with longer periods of fatigue and flare-ups. Be forgiving to yourself, you deserve it!

What other tips do you use to manage your fatigue and/or flare-ups over the festive season?

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