We all know that dealing with a chronic condition can be hugely challenging. It can take a toll on both our physical and mental health, as well as our relationships, our finances and our ability to cope with day-to-day life. With other illnesses, such as a bout of flu, you know there's an end in sight, but this is not the case with a chronic illness, which can often disrupt our lives in so many ways.

The need to control something

With any chronic condition, it is very helpful to accept that many factors are outside of your control, such as needing to start, stop or change medications, or how exactly your condition will progress over time. It's hard not to be on a constant quest to 'cure' or end the condition.

But the truth is that acceptance is one of the first steps to feeling better overall. The next step is focusing on what you CAN control because, let's face it, most of us feel better when we have some degree of agency over our lives. Learning to self-manage your condition is, in fact, the only thing that is within your control. Not only that, but self-management has been shown to make a significant impact on the symptoms of arthritis, as well as having an impact on your overall emotional wellbeing and ability to cope. What's not to like?

A rollercoaster of emotions

Of course, particularly at the beginning, when you've just been diagnosed, incorporating self-management skills can be hard. You are still adapting to your new reality and, at this time, many people feel overwhelmed, helpless and down. The most common emotions experienced at this time ( and during flare-ups) tend to be denial, anger and depression. Every day may be slightly different; one day, you feel like you're coping well while the next you're feeling overwhelmed and incredibly angry.

 But we know that there are steps you can take, in terms of self-management, that can make a huge difference to how you feel, both physically and mentally. When you feel ready, here are our 8 top tips to help you regain a sense of control. Instead of letting your condition take over, you'll soon begin to feel back in the driving seat once again.


1)     Learn to accept your emotions AND your condition: Too often we try to push ‘difficult’ emotions away (such as anger, sadness or frustration), however, psychologists know that it is more productive and helpful to let these emotions in and to accept them. One of the worst things we can do is to feel guilty about these emotions. It may help to remind yourself that these feelings are entirely normal, and will likely ease with time. Another thing to practice is acceptance regarding your condition – this means learning to accept the situation as it is, rather than how you want it to be – this can actually take a lot of stress and heat out of the situation. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be particularly helpful in reframing things in this way. Read more about it here.

2)     Find the right support: Studies show that those who seek support, whether from friends or from an organisation like ours (visit us here or call our helpline on 0818 252 846) report better satisfaction with their life and a better ability to cope. Also look to your partner for support. It’s not unusual for couples to experience strain on their relationship when dealing with a chronic condition. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective and keep the lines of communication open. It could be helpful to talk things over with a therapist – contact the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) to find a suitably qualified therapist near you here.

3)     Put down boundaries: If you’re a people pleaser, now is the time to start changing that by saying ‘no’ to the things you don’t want to do, leaving more space and time for the things you actually DO want to do. Spend your time wisely with people who make you feel good, and keep the others at bay. Resolve to protect your energy by committing to the things that make you feel good. Learn to stop saying ‘yes’ to avoid guilt. Instead, sit with the guilt and analyse it – is there actually a reason to feel guilty, or is it high time you put yourself first more often? Read our blog on learning to put down boundaries here.

4)     Start concentrating on your diet: Following a Mediterranean diet is perhaps the best thing you can do for your overall health, but also for your wellbeing. Not only that, but you are also more likely to reach a healthier weight, which will impact the load on your joints which, in turn, helps to reduce pain and discomfort. Also, we know that a diet high in sugar will only exacerbate inflammation so you will feel the benefits. Unfortunately so much sugar is now hidden in our foods so don’t wait for the manufacturing companies to reduce those levels. Instead, take back control by learning how to read a food label for sugar – read our blog here for more info.

5)     Begin moving your body more: Okay, so you can’t control exactly how your disease progresses, but you can control how much you move your body and, as a result, the chances of improving your flexibility and muscle strength (thereby reducing pain). Have you tried one of our free Be Active with Arthritis courses? This one-hour class is held over a six-week period and is delivered by a chartered physiotherapist. It covers range-of-motion and stretching exercises, strengthening exercises, balance and coordination activities, endurance routines as well as various stress management techniques which are helpful for stress and pain reduction. Find out more here. Or start our very gentle and simple six-week walking programme here.

6)     Prioritise healing sleep: Getting enough sleep is a challenge for many people, but it’s worth prioritising it as often as you can. Why? Because we know health risks rise when we don’t get adequate sleep. Immunity is compromised, increasing the likelihood of illness and infection. Getting outdoors is one of the simplest ways to aid your sleep if you suffer from depression. Exposure to sunlight aligns the body’s internal clock and circadian rhythms, giving cues for when to be awake and when to sleep. Likewise, turning down or dimming lights at home in the evening is a smart move to improve sleep. Find out more healthy sleep tips here.

7)     Let go of perfectionism: Letting things just be ‘good enough’ can take a huge weight off our shoulders. There’s no such thing as the perfect person or the perfect parent. It’s often better for our mental health to be able to cut corners – for instance, if your children’s bedrooms are a mess, maybe it’s okay to just close the door and not look at it. It’ll get tidied some day! When it comes to your relationship, we all go through ups and downs and sometimes we need to accept that is entirely normal. As they say ‘This too shall pass’ and better times lie ahead. For now, try to enjoy even the small moments together, such as sharing an uninterrupted car journey, rather than big gestures like a weekend away, although hopefully that can be planned in the future.

8)     Start a gratitude journal: This is so simple, yet so effective in helping to boost our mood. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of negative thinking about our condition, letting it dominate and overtake us. Instead, take back some control regarding what goes on in your mind by listing 3 simple things each day that make you feel good. The simpler the better. One example can be the spring sunshine flooding in through your window, or another can be the fact that you sat quietly and enjoyed your morning coffee once everyone else had left the house – some time for you, no matter how small it is.


We hope you find these tips helpful and we wish you a happy and healthy month ahead!