Stress is bad for you and really bad if you have a chronic disease. Interestingly, the link between stress and failed resolutions is pretty strong. The folks at Mango Health asked me to provide some tips for keeping on track with resolutions. With spring being a perfect time for renewing those resolutions you made at the first of the year, I hope these will help you out. The article can be found on the Mango Health site and on their Facebook page:
Like many RA patients, there is often a gap between how I feel and what my lab results or other tests actually show. This is compounded by the fact that I am R factor negative, meaning that a standard test for diagnosing RA comes back normal (even though I’ve lost three major joints to the disease). Therefore, whenever I get physical evidence about a condition that correlates to what I feel, it feels like a victory.
I recently made the difficult decision to leave the workforce. I’m still struggling a bit on whether to describe myself as “retired” or, as I left largely to deal with my health, as “disabled”. I’m not much of one for labels of any kind so I’m ignoring the discussion at the moment. I’ll figure it out later when it becomes important to things like disability claims.
One of the things we all know is that stress is not only an issue unto itself, it generally magnifies other issues you may have. For someone with RA, it can trigger flares and increase fatigue. I wear a Fitbit HR which, among other things, tracks my heart rate which is a pretty clear indicator of stress.
In the picture to the right, the recorded resting heart rate of 101 bpm (which is extremely high by any standard) was my final Friday at work when I was scrambling with my team to get a major project out the door. This high heart rate is a direct reflection of the amount of stress that I was under leading up to my “retirement”. (You can see the upward slope leading to that final day.) Since that time my resting heart rate has dropped steadily. Yes, it’s still high. However, the dramatic decline headed back to more normal levels once I eliminated the stress of work from my life is amazing. To me, this is just visual proof that I made the right decision.
My immediate focus is to get my health back into reasonable limits. I am working on my weight, my heart rate and stress levels. All these things will positively impact not only my RA, but also my blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Being more physically fit will increase the overall quality of my life.
I wish there were Fitbit monitors for other aspects of my life that would automatically track the pain in joints, the number of times my fingers are swollen, or other indicators that my RA is active. Someday there very well be. Until that time, I’ll use the tools I have to help track my progress and celebrate victories like this one.
Wishing you victories both large and small in your life today. Thanks for checking in.
I’ve done some interesting things in my life, but probably one of the most rewarding (personally and for others) was teaching a stress management class. This was several years ago, but the lessons learned through that process have served me well in the ensuing years. I am a type-A, micro-managing, perfectionist (rhymes with witch), which means I create a lot of my own stress. Learning how to manage that which I create as well as the stress that is thrust upon me, has saved my sanity over the years as well as probably avoided having me jailed for assault and battery. (Just kidding, my temper isn’t that bad, and I don’t believe in hitting people.)
Stress management techniques have also come in very handy as I not only deal with my day-to-day stress, but now also contend with the various medical issues that come with RA. There are some nuggets in the stress management course, and I thought I would share some of these with you in the coming blogs.
The first is STP.
STP stands for Stop, Think, Proceed, and it works wonders for mini-crisis management as well as dealing with longer-term issues. When a situation hits, it’s very human nature to react (i.e., run screaming out the door when someone yells fire). Many times that doesn’t result in the best outcome. It’s better to stop (take no action); think (make a plan); and proceed (carry out the plan). Even if it’s a short check list, any plan is better than no plan.
A few years ago, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner for various friends and had a full house. I had set the table the night before, which took a bit of effort squeezing everyone it, and it took every china plate and good silver setting I had. About 10:30 on Thanksgiving morning, when I was in the midst of cooking, one of the people who had initially declined the invitation called to say that he would be joining us after all. Of course I was delighted, but I had no place to put him at the table and I was already stressed to the max trying to get everything cooked and out of the kitchen on time. STP thinking to the rescue. I put my cooking on hold for a minute and quickly thought about what we needed to do to accommodate another guest. I then recruited my husband, who rearranged the table, found another chair, and gave my place setting to our newcomer. I ate off the everyday plates and mis-matched stainless, and no one was the wiser.
The thing that STP thinking does best, I think, is make you prioritize what really needs to get done and helps you with a plan to make it happen. In the above example, I didn’t need to make more food, but I did have to find a place for my guest to sit and eat it. It works with RA, because living with RA is all about dealing with priorities.
Several blogs that I visit have discussed the subject of dealing with a flare. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve only had a couple of times when I absolutely did not feel well enough to get out of bed. But when that happened, STP came in to play. The first thing I did was make a list of what I had on my calendar that day and figure out which ones I could handle remotely, which ones I could postpone or cancel, and which ones required creative handling. Then I added some planning on taking care of myself for the day — big jug of water by the bed, Tylenol and TV remote close by, etc. That done, I was able to effectively handle what I needed to, then focus on taking care of myself.
I believe that stress contributes to so many illnesses. The hormones it releases can create havoc on the body, and while I personally haven’t read anything linking stress and RA, there is evidence that stress can make you more susceptible to illness. Anything we can do in our day-to-day lives to reduce or manage our stress will go a long way in improving our lives and our health. So while you may not use STP to help manage your RA, try it in other parts of your every day life, and reduce your overall stress.
Thanks for checking in.