Flares are a common part of living with arthritis, but how you manage your thinking around these times can be key to how you move through them. The trouble often comes when very normal feelings of frustration and anger around pain escalate to create a negative, hopeless mindset. This is when your level of pain can actually worsen and become difficult to manage. So, what traps should you look out for if you’re eager to break the pain cycle that you’re in right now? 

...Things to Avoid

  • Waiting too Long to ask for Help: Even though you may feel very alone, you’re not. Pick up the phone and ring our helpline (0818 252 846) to talk to someone who understands and who has gone through arthritis-associated pain themselves. Next, make sure to reach out to your healthcare team, who have specialist and extensive knowledge of pain management. They can customise your medication to make sure that life can become a bit more comfortable.  

  • Criticising Yourself/Feeling Guilty: It is understandable to feel frustrated or guilty when we are not able to do the things we usually do, or attend to our responsibilities, as normal, but this only makes the emotional impact of pain worse. Getting help with these negative, unhelpful thoughts by talking to a qualified psychotherapist or CBT counsellor can help you to see things differently, and to begin to become more self-compassionate with yourself. If private therapy is prohibitive due to cost, consider looking into getting free online counselling through Turn 2 me. 

  • Becoming Inactive: Although it is completely understandable that you want to just stay in bed, or on the sofa, it’s going to do more harm than good. We know that staying still for too long is likely to worsen chronic pain. Moving in any way can help to alleviate your pain by strengthening your muscles, reducing pressure on your bones/joints and also boosting your endorphin levels – meaning it has a positive and lasting impact on your physical, mental and emotional health.   

  • Neglecting Diet: When you’ve no energy and you’re in constant pain, food quality is one of the first things to go, but you’ll pay the price. We know that too much sugar or white, processed carbs (like baguettes, pastries or even white rice vs brown) can cause inflammation in the body and, therefore, exacerbate pain. Instead, order your shopping online and request delivery – opt for healthy, easy foods, including ready meals that don’t need any prepping. If these are out of budget, opt for foods such as baked potatoes with healthy toppings, fried fish with frozen peas/tinned beans or cheese and ham omelettes that take minimal effort or time to prepare. Remember, there are always options.  

  • Isolating Yourself: Although you may not feel like it, it’s now more than ever that you need support. For some people, reaching out to others in the same position often helps the most. At Arthritis Ireland, we hold in-person and online courses that get people together, not only to learn new self-management skills, but also helping to connect with others who offer empathy, advice and support. Visit the courses section of the Arthritis Ireland website here. 

  • Failing to Deal with Stress: When you feel stressed, levels of the hormone cortisol rise. This can cause inflammation and pain over time. The double-whammy is we tend to let go of healthy behaviours linked to helping us manage our stress (our regular walk, golf or Pilates class; following a healthy diet and engaging in self-care). To counteract this, start small. Strip everything back and start by just engaging in some form of relaxation (such as a gentle stroll in a pretty location, a long soak in a bath, or reading a good book. Write down three positive thoughts a day in a gratitude journal so you start to notice the things you do manage, or the small things that are going right for you.  

You're Not Alone

We’re with you on this journey. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ring our helpline to engage a sympathetic, understanding ear on the other side – call: 0818 252 846. 

Don’t miss our new weekly webinar series, 'Breaking the Pain Cycle, taking place this autumn [Register here to secure your place]. Held by consultant Rheumatologists, Physiotherapists and Clinical Psychologists, these will cover topics ranging from sleep and pain medication to advice on exercise, diet and how working on your thoughts can help break the pain cycle.   

 If you haven't already, check out our blog Managing the Challenges of Pain Part 1 here.