We all know that stress does not cause the disease of arthritis. But we do know that stress and all the extra activity that we take on over the holiday season can bring about an increase in symptoms related to the disease. Since we are right in the middle of the holiday season, I thought it would be a good time to discuss some pointers on how to make it through the holidays and keep your arthritis symptoms in check.
Combining rest and activity is a good starting place. During the holiday season we try to double our workload, run more errands and spend more time shopping and fixing meals than any other time during the year. All this increased activity usually comes at the expense of proper rest. So we are doubling the stress on our bodies when we don’t balance rest with activity. One way we can keep this balance is through proper planning. Try to get a little more organized and plan a little further ahead than you usually do. Spend some time prioritizing your tasks. Once you have made a list of the places you need to go or things you need to get, put them on a list according to geographical location. Try to plan errands on each outing that you can do in the same geographical area. In between each stop take a few minutes to sit in your car and have a snack or drink some water and listen to Christmas music. Try to limit the amount of time you spend in each store. Use a shopping cart even if you only have a few items to get. This will relieve stress on your hands or shoulders from carrying a purse and lighten the load of the items you get. If you are getting an item that is heavy to lift into your basket, ask a clerk for assistance. If you need help with the items out to your car, ask for help with that also. Most store managers will be glad to help, but you have to ask for it.
If you are planning a day or half-day of shopping then you also need to set some time aside for rest when you return. Plan this right into your schedule just as you would another task you need to do when returning home. That way you won’t feel like you are taking time away from chores that need to be done. A short half-hour rest with your feet elevated and in a relaxed position is all you need. You don’t need to go to bed for a couple of hours. The main thing is to make sure you are comfortable, warm and not disturbed. It is also important to get the proper amount of sleep at night during the holiday season. Oftentimes our regular schedules have to altered to meet the increase in social activities during the holiday season. Socializing is important, but not at the expense of lost sleep. Our bodies do repair work while we are sleeping, and if we don’t allow enough time for sleep there is no time for this to happen. If that happens night after night our entire body starts to react by feeling fatigue and an increase in symptoms. So, enjoy your social activities, but also pay attention to the amount and quality of sleep you are getting.
Another survival tactic is staying on schedule with your regular medical therapy. If you are routinely taking medication for the treatment of your arthritis, then you must not miss doses or take medicine in a way that wasn’t prescribed for you. Trying to combine over-the-counter medication with prescription medication for an occasional flare-up from overdoing things can disrupt how your body reacts to the normal course of treatment. The ideal situation is to prevent yourself from getting into situations that will cause unusual fatigue, pain and stiffness. If you can do a little preventative work, then you won’t have to over-medicate yourself. Most medical therapy taken for the treatment of arthritis is designed to work most effectively when taken without adding or subtracting medication that isn’t prescribed.
Traveling over the holidays can become a big obstacle for people who have arthritis. If at all possible it is important to travel when your medication is at a level most beneficial to you. Choose a means of transportation that you will feel the most comfortable. Pick the shortest route. If you must travel for long periods of time, stop every hour and stretch or walk around. (If you are in an airplane keep moving your legs and ankles around and get up often and walk through the aisles.) Change positions often and keep the circulation moving. Also always stay well-hydrated during travel. It may mean a few more stops in the car or trips down the aisle to the bathroom in the airplane, but your body needs to be hydrated even while sitting. You might even consider breaking up your trip into a couple of days instead of trying to travel a long distance all at once. This will prevent your joints from becoming stiff and swelling up. Take items that will insure your comfort while away from home. Taking your own pillow and having certain grooming tools that will make getting ready for the day easier will help insure a good night’s sleep and a great start to the day. If you are going to help with food preparation, you might want to take along some favorite kitchen utensils with built-up handles or double-handled pans. If you are accustomed to sitting while preparing food, then ask if you can do your job seated. Just because the person you are staying with does all her/his work standing up, doesn’t mean you have to. It is also very important to have grab bars, raised toilet seats (if needed), and a bench in the bathtub. Trying to keep your environment safe and stress off your joints will make for a much more enjoyable trip.
Stay safe while traveling. When you are traveling to an unfamiliar location, try to travel during the day. Make sure someone has your complete travel itinerary. If at all possible make arrangements ahead of time for assistance at the airport if you need it. Don’t ruin your vacation by straining something while lifting bags that are heavy. When making your travel plans, allow for enough time in between flights or connections of any kind, so that you don’t have to hurry to get to the next destination. This will increase your stress level and also increase your chances of falling or injuring yourself in some way. Try to pack light. Limit the weight of your purse. Even a purse that is carried properly can aggravate a shoulder, arm, hand or back if carried for prolonged periods of time. Change positions of your purse often and try to use the biggest muscles to carry the load.
Changing your diet and consuming too much alcohol can increase arthritis symptoms. People with arthritis who are taking anti-inflammatory medication need to take food with their medication. Most people find that certain foods agree with them more than others. If they are away from home and don’t have control over their diet this could complicate their regular regime of how they control the side effects of certain medications. You might want to take along some “comfort” foods just incase they aren’t available where you are going. Drinking too much alcohol is never a good idea, but it becomes even more important if you are taking medication for arthritis. Most of the disease modifying medications specifically state not to drink alcohol while taking the medication. Alcohol in excess impairs coordination and balance, which can increase your risk for falling and injury.
People with arthritis do best when they can keep their lives simple and their routines constant day after day and week and week. Change, even for a few days can cause an increase in symptoms that can last for weeks. So, staying in control of your activities, diet, medication and sleep will enable you to get through this holiday season without increasing your symptoms.