3 Tips I Use To Manage Psoriatic Arthritis Stress Flares
There are so many factors and triggers that can contribute to the intense pain that comes with a psoriatic arthritis flare. Personally, a big one of mine, and probably a lot of you, is stress.
Stress can often feel impossible to avoid. It's almost laughable when doctors recommend a stress management plan or encourage us, as patients, to stress less. How do we even do that? Everyday life is stressful, top it off with managing multiple chronic illnesses? It feels impossible.
Stress comes in different forms
I remember when my neurologist suggested that I reduce my stress level. I almost laughed it off, stating "Stress is what I do best!" He chuckled, then replied that my body obviously disagrees. With psoriasis covering my spine, every joint swollen and aching, and each of my chronic illnesses screaming for attention, I agreed.
The problem is that stress comes in different forms. And at that time, my doctor and I were only addressing one form, which turned out to be not enough!
Let me share some tips that can help...
As anyone who has lived with psoriatic arthritis for an extended period, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes every flare. But discovering a trigger that reduces the frequency or severity can change our lives.
Here are three tips that have helped me manage psoriatic arthritis stress flares.
Recognize the type of stress
Depending on the source, there are many types of emotional stress. For the purpose of this post, I am lumping emotional and mental stress together. The two other forms of stress are environmental and physical.
Emotional and mental stress comes in a variety of forms. It could stem from toxic family members or past trauma. Other instigators might include feeling overwhelmed in our careers or homelife. Financial stress leads to mental stress as well as figuring out how to manage psoriatic arthritis symptoms and pain.
Environmental stress triggers like poor air quality, noise pollution, and allergies create additional stress on our bodies.
And then there is physical stress. The type of stress discussed the least throughout my chronic life has been the worst offender of my stress flares. Physical stress can occur in many different ways. A simple bump to the arm or an injury like a sprained or broken bone create physical stress. Surgery or internal trauma from another illness are also physical stress triggers.
Dig a little deeper
Once I recognize the type of stress my body reacts to, I dig in to find the root. My body is no different than a garden. If I want it to flourish, I have to spend time digging up the weeds. But first I had to find them.
Many forms of stress can impact our health. While childhood trauma has played a prominent role in my emotional and physical health, so did hanging onto toxic relationships and not setting boundaries. After taking responsibility for the self-inflicted stress like procrastination or money management, it became easier to see the outside stressors that needed to be addressed.
My environmental triggers were a little harder to recognize because I didn’t often venture far enough away to take notice. But eventually, one by one, I began noticing them. Some of my environmental triggers have included air traffic, street traffic, blooming citrus trees, giant powerline towers, and neighborhood parties.
The hardest to avoid have been the parties. Thankfully, our current neighbors limit them to only a couple of weekends per month, unlike former ones that filled our street with cars and loud music every evening. Sure they would stop the music at a reasonable hour, but my body felt the boom, boom, boom of the beat all night long.
Pinpointing my physical stress was harder. I mean, come on, I have four painful chronic conditions; my body is constantly stressed! But as I have learned, it isn’t always stressed to the point of triggering flares from all my chronic illnesses. Years of journaling my chronic health have revealed which types of flares from my other conditions set off some of my worst psoriatic arthritis flares.
Therapy and caring for my mental health helped and continue to help me deal with emotional triggers. Because of treatment, my PTSD from childhood and adult trauma has less effect on my physical health. Cutting ties with the most toxic people in my life and setting solid boundaries with others has made a massive difference. I may not be able to avoid all emotional triggers, but I can limit their effect.
While more expensive than dealing with my emotional stress, I have been able to move away from a lot of my environmental triggers. The funny thing is, the citrus trees have been the hardest to avoid.
At this time, knowing what my worst physical trigger is, is all I have. Until someone can figure out how to stop the ripping and scarring from the endometriosis adhesions covering my bowels, bladder, pelvis, ribcage, and who knows what else, there is nothing I can do to stop the pain or the chain reaction of my other conditions.
So, in this case, the action I am taking is doing what I can when I am able and accepting assistance from family and my mobility aids when I cannot. But in general, I do everything I possibly can to limit all flares by watching what I eat and being proactive in my treatment of pain by addressing it before it spirals out of control.
Take care of your whole self
The next time your doctor brings up the topic of stress, make sure you and they are looking into all forms, not just one. Although therapy has done wonders for my emotional stress, it has had zero effect on environmental and physical stress.
Were you ever misdiagnosed before being diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (PsA)?