Flare-ups are inevitable when living with chronic Lyme disease and other illnesses. 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 a Lyme disease flare-up.
Coping with a Lyme Disease Flare-Up
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. Permit yourself to rest. 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. Although our tendency is to push ourselves beyond our limits, be mindful of the fact that you will need more rest and won’t be able to do as much. Let go of your personal expectations so you can allow yourself the time you need to heal.
3. 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 chronic pain. Always check with your physician or pharmacist before combining medication with supplements.
4. Try alternative methods of pain management. Hot baths, essential oils, massage, music, aromatherapy, heat therapy, and acupuncture can be useful when trying to quell pain. These methods of pain management (often used in conjunction with pain supplements) will hopefully enable you to use less pain medication.
5. Give yourself some extra TLC. 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 play board games, drink tea, or do a puzzle.
6. Don’t feel guilty about not accomplishing your to-do list. A flare-up of Lyme disease symptoms can be mentally and physically draining. 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 for you to accomplish those things later. Only do what is absolutely necessary.
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Lyme Disease Newsletter (it's free!)
7. Keep your schedule light. Avoid using a flare-up 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 adrenal hormones that increase inflammation and leave you feeling exhausted, which can make it more difficult to stick with Lyme disease treatment.
8. Up your fluid intake. 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.
9. Eat nutrient-dense food. Real food like fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish will give your body more energy than processed foods or fast foods. When trying to make your diet make your diet as nutritious as possible, skip the simple carbohydrates (white bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.), even though these are the easiest foods to fix when you don’t feel well. By eating nutrient-dense foods, you will experience a fuller, more satisfied stomach, as well as more energy.
10. Nurture your spiritual and emotional health. 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.
11. Learn to cope with stress. 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.” For example: 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.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on July 8, 2016 and was updated on January 7, 2020.
Laurie Miller is an author, wife, mom, registered nurse, and patient with chronic illness. She enjoys spending time with family, reading, and blogging at God-Living with Chronic Illness.