You've just been diagnosed with arthritis, and the future might feel uncertain and overwhelming. While arthritis can be a life-altering diagnosis, with daily management and care you can still have a full and healthy life. Below are some first steps to help you thrive as you manage this chronic disease.
Learn to read your body.
When symptoms of arthritis flare up, they can be disruptive and feel largely out of your control. However, you can influence some external factors that may contribute to the severity and frequency of your symptoms. Stress, for example, can aggravate arthritis symptoms, and so can changes in barometric pressure (yes, your arthritis may give you the power to predict the weather!). Being attuned to your body will help you take better care of yourself. While this is not an exact science, and flare ups may not be entirely avoidable, this information can help you predict some flare ups and give you a better understanding of why they may happen. Record your symptoms in a symptom journal along with any factors you think might be relevant, such as your activity level, any exercise you do, the weather, your stress level and how much you sleep. Understanding your body's sensitivities is a key part in managing and taking control of your life with arthritis.
Pay attention to what you eat.
The Greek physician Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine and your medicine thy food." With a diagnosis of arthritis, it’s more important than ever to eat a wholesome diet, one that supports feeling well and a healthy weight. Managing your inflammation can also be supported by paying attention to the effects of certain foods on your body.
While the current scientific evidence is conflicting, anecdotal evidence suggests that what we eat may increase inflammation, at least for some individuals. People living with arthritis may be eager to share that they are sensitive to sugar, dairy, nightshades or meat, but it is important to figure out how you respond to what you eat. Add this to your symptom journal, if you keep one. An elimination diet can be a helpful way to test what foods might aggravate your symptoms. However, before you decide to eliminate anything from your diet, talk to your healthcare professional about your plans, and don’t forget to keep track of how you feel. Afterwards, try adding the foods that were giving you trouble back into your diet and note any changes in your Food and Mood tracker.
If you make any long-term changes to your diet, talk to your doctor and a nutritionist to be sure you are still getting the nutrients you need.
Enjoy taking care of yourself.
A new diagnosis is stressful and chronic pain can make managing work and family commitments difficult; but it’s important to take care of yourself first in order to take care of others. Give yourself the time and permission to look after yourself. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation to calm your mind. Pamper your joints in warm baths or visit a pool with a hot tub. Get enough sleep. Take pleasure in cooking yourself food that makes you feel good. The time you spend taking care of your health is never wasted time.
Keeping active and strong is an important part of managing your disease. However, intense forms of exercise may not be realistic or beneficial for you in the long term. If you don’t already participate in some form of low-impact activity, this is an opportunity to try something new.
Yoga, for example, is a gentle, full-body exercise you can do from home. Swimming and aquafit are great low-impact, full-body exercises as well, and the water can feel soothing on inflamed joints. If you have access to a pool with warmer water, that’s a bonus! Aquafit classes are not only a great form of exercise no matter how old you are, but you’ll likely meet other participants living with some form of joint pain. Never underestimate the community you will find through shared understanding!
Keeping your muscles strong helps support your joints, so you may want to talk with a physiotherapist about exercises that target areas weakened by flare ups. Participating in a form of activity that you love is the surest way to support your health in the long-term. Just be mindful of how this activity makes you feel, and don't push yourself through pain.
Be your greatest advocate.
Taking an active role in your care can include:
- Educating yourself about your arthritis diagnosis.
- Learning about the medications you’re taking and talking to your pharmacist about any possible interactions with other treatments
- Asking questions about your condition.
Being knowledgeable about your disease will help you feel in control and will lead to better health outcomes.
Focus on the possibilities, not the pain.
As you go through life with arthritis, you will face physical limitations. You might feel frustrated at times and that’s okay, but there is power in positivity, so keep your focus on what you can do, not on what you can't. You’ll gain new perspectives and opportunities as you navigate life with arthritis because this disease will alter your body, which can in turn alter your relationship to yourself and to the world around you. Celebrate the small victories, and the days when you feel great. And above all, be patient with yourself and kind to your body.