Life with ankylosing spondylitis is full of ups and downs influenced by good days and bad days, endless fatigue, doctor’s appointments, and the general trickiness of managing a chronic illness with life’s other demands. The unpredictable nature of fatigue accounts for missed days at work and canceled social gatherings. There’s also the pain itself, which can make you cranky (OK, a bit more than cranky) and put a damper on just about everything.
There are some things we have control over, though. If privileged enough, we can use medication. Many of us also can turn to mobility movements and, if we’re lucky, daily exercise. Plus, we can implement smart dietary decisions. These are all doctor-recommended ankylosing spondylitis management tips — and it’s likely that most of you actually already know this!
But what else can we do? Self-care. You might be familiar with the term “self-care,” a trendy phrase that has taken over most health and wellness blogs — and with good reason. Self-care techniques have proven to have a beneficial effect on mental and physical health. I know it works for me. When I’m in a flare-up or suspect that I could be in a flare-up because I’ve been working too hard or playing too hard, I impose self-care rules onto … myself!
Here are some of the things I do to get a handle on those hard ankylosing spondylitis days when I feel more like an unoiled Tin Man than human.
Take a night to focus on my hobbies
I always carve out one night a week to focus on my favorite hobbies — writing, journaling, painting, or reading. I turn off my phone, set aside a block of a few hours and simply exist in the moment. By doing this weekly, I know I always have a set time during which I will feel no (or limited) stress. The reduction in stress usually helps me feel a little bit better and prevents a flare-up from getting totally out of control. The stress and flare link is well-known (at least anecdotally) and is something to be mindful of. The more stress, the more aches and pain. Reductions in stress usually at least help me focus and feel more empowered, even if they don’t directly reduce my physical symptoms.
Focus on the positive
The truth is, there are a lot of reasons to feel down, discouraged, stressed, and upset when dealing with ankylosing spondylitis. It’s a chronic illness with peaks and valleys, and oftentimes it has a mind of its own! Even when we have a supportive community — such as online support groups for fellow AS Warriors — hearing other people’s negativity and resignation can wear us down, too. You want to support folks, but sometimes it’s at the expense of your mental health.
That is definitely the case for me; sometimes I have to make an effort to stay positive, and it helps. It inspires me and others around me. I try to focus on one positive element each day: It might be my level of mobility or the fact that I did something I’m proud of, like swim for 30 minutes or take some time out to do something I love. It may sound small, but it’s important. I keep this in mind, and I often spread the positivity to others; it’s contagious!
Do something nice for your body
I like to pour a hot bath for myself. I fill it with Epsom salt (which I find helps to soothe muscle pain and stiffness), a little essential oil (like lavender, for relaxation), and some hydrating bath liquid. I light a candle and simply enjoy the experience. For you, it might be a swim or a gentle walk or a pre-bedtime stretching session. The point is to do this a few times per week, and to make a ritual out of it, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Remember that your body and mind are connected. Self-care and being deliberate with your time and energy can make all the difference.
Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.