Coping With and Preventing the Dreaded Flare-Up
Flare-ups are inevitable when living with chronic illness like Lyme disease. Sometimes it is difficult to know what even brings it on, but there are things you can do to make it easier to deal with. Following are some suggestions that will help you cope with flare-ups.
1. Give yourself grace during the flare-up. Go easy on yourself, just like you would your child or best friend who is sick. Think of how you would treat your sick child or friend, and then do those things for yourself. You are worthy of grace, so extend an extra measure of it to yourself during this time.
2. Effective, therapeutic rest (where your mind isn’t constantly mulling over what you need to be doing) is the best remedy for a flare-up. Accept that you will need more rest and won’t be able to do as much.
3. Let go of your personal expectations so you can allow yourself the rest you need. Give yourself permission to rest during this time so you can be your best when the flare-up passes.
4. Focus on pain management. Allow yourself to take pain medication or supplements as the doctor prescribed, even if you try normally not to take them. During a flare-up, you need it, and you will recover faster with it. Turmeric and capsaicin are two supplements that can help relieve pain. Always check with your physician and/or pharmacist before combining medication with supplements.
5. Try alternative methods of pain management, including hot baths, essential oils, massage, music, aromatherapy, heat therapy, and acupuncture. These methods of pain management (often used in conjunction with pain supplements) will enable you to use less pain medication.
6. Pamper yourself by doing things you really enjoy, like movie marathons or phone calls to old friends you haven’t talked to in a while. Do your best to enjoy the time. Think of it as a “physical vacation” where your body allows you the opportunity to do things you don’t normally get to do, like chat with old friends for hours at a time.
7. Refuse to allow guilt for “not getting anything done.” Tell yourself that the things you need to do will still be there after your flare-up is over. There will be plenty of time later for you to accomplish those things. Only do what is absolutely necessary.
8. Refuse to use this time to catch up on housework or work from home. Activities like this will prevent true rest and prolong the flare-up. They will also stimulate the stress response (fight or flight reaction) that releases epinephrine, cortisol, and other hormones that increase inflammation and leave you feeling exhausted.
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9. Drink 8 or more glasses of water per day, unless you are retaining fluid or are on a fluid restriction for heart-related conditions. Extra water will flush out toxins and help reduce inflammation. Try not to drink sugary drinks, including juice, because these high-sugar drinks cause blood sugar fluctuations that will make you feel more tired.
10. Eat “real” food. Real food like fresh fruit/vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, and whole grains will give your body more energy than processed foods or fast foods. Don’t eat only simple carbohydrates (white bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.) even though these are the easiest foods to fix when you don’t feel good. These foods turn into sugar in your body and are used up quickly, leaving you feel more tired. By eating protein (meat, fish, cheese, eggs, tofu, peanut butter), you will experience a fuller, more satisfied stomach, as well as more energy.
The best way to deal with a flare-up is to prevent it. Preventing flare-ups is a learning process, so don’t be upset for yourself when you can’t do it. Try to pay attention to the things you were doing before the flare-up. Did you make your schedule too full? Were you skipping meals or necessary rest? Were you drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day? Were you remembering to take your medications and supplements? Were you pushing yourself beyond your limits?
Also, try to notice the first signs of a flare-up, so you can begin to recognize it early before it develops into a full-blown, week-long, extremely painful flare-up. Do you begin to feel more tired? Do you experience other signs like nausea, increased pain, dizziness, palpitations (fast, pounding heart beat), or blood sugar fluctuations? As soon as you notice these symptoms, clear your schedule and try implementing some of the suggestions above. Flare-ups that you can recognize and treat early will require less recovery time.
To prevent flare-ups from occurring, try to pace yourself. This is a learning process that requires a balance of pushing yourself when you need to push, without pushing yourself past your limits, and resting when you need to rest. You will develop a sense of what is too much to do at one time, and as you do this, don’t allow yourself to overdo it. Plan rest days into your week, and rest periods into your days. This will enable you to keep going for the long haul, and will prevent you from having frequent flare-ups.
Be patient with yourself and adjust your expectations according to what is realistic for your current abilities. Give yourself grace when you need it, so that you don’t become discouraged with yourself and your inabilities. Accept that life is not what it used to be and that you do not have the same abilities you used to have. Doing this helps you know how much you can do without throwing yourself into a flare-up, as well as when to stop an activity, and how much rest you need to plan into your schedule.
For example, if you work five days per week, Monday-Friday, don’t plan anything on the weekends. Allow yourself those days to rest completely and recover from the effects of the week on your body. Also try not to plan extra activities in the evenings, so you can rest then also and be well-prepared for the next day. Delegate housework to your family members, if you can. If you can’t, try doing one small chore per night so you don’t have to spend all day Saturday cleaning. Load the dishwasher after every meal so dishes don’t pile up, and throw in a load of laundry every night before bed. Keeping up with things on a regular basis will prevent you from having to spend hours on the weekends doing these things when you really need to rest.
Eating real “whole” foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and whole grains, will provide your body with the nutrients and energy it needs to keep going. This also requires planning. Spend a short amount of time at the beginning of the week planning meals and putting together a grocery list. This will enable you to eat better and prevent the need to grab the easiest and also most unhealthy food available (fast food or processed foods). Delegate grocery shopping, meal prep, and clean-up if you can, so that you are not burdened with the responsibility of preparing the entire meal and cleaning up. Asking for assistance not only helps you have more time to rest, but it also provides family members with ways they can help you when they would otherwise not know how. It also teaches older children and teenagers life skills and gives them a growing sense of personal responsibility to meet their own needs.
Allow time to nurture yourself in other areas besides just the physical, including spiritual and emotional. We tend to forget these needs when we are focusing so much on physical components of wellness. Tending to these other types of needs helps prevent flare-ups just as much as taking care of physical needs. Allow yourself time to go out with friends, attend church, read books, take long baths, and engage in hobbies you enjoy. This will allow your spirit and mind to rest, which helps to prevent the fight or flight response associated with stress that can throw you into a flare-up.
Learning ways to cope with and manage stress will also help prevent flare-ups. A big part of managing stress is becoming aware of the things you are saying to yourself, or “self-talk.” If you are constantly saying to yourself at work, “I need to do better,” you will be continually stressed out and never able to rest mentally or physically, even after you leave the office. By changing your self-talk to something like, “I am doing the best I can with what I’ve got,” you can accept the work you have done and allow yourself to quit work for the day knowing you did your best. Another big part of stress management is to pace yourself with the strategies mentioned above. As you begin to incorporate these suggestions into your life, you will notice an increased overall sense of wellness, as well as a reduced number of flare-ups. Soon you will begin to thrive and enjoy your life, rather than just merely survive it.
Laurie Miller is an author wife, mom, registered nurse, and patient with chronic illness. She enjoys spending time with family, reading, and blogging at godlivingwithchronicillness.com. Join her at www.facebook.com/godlivinggirls for an upcoming women’s online study on “Finding Joy and Purpose in Chronic Illness” starting Feb 1, 2016. Contact her at email@example.com to join.