It all started with a kitchen. We had decided it was time to replace our thirty year old kitchen with a shiny new model, complete with modern appliances. Goodbye to stained countertops that could no longer be cleaned, goodbye to the stove that only had three burners working, goodbye to that garburator that stole precious counter space with its bulky body and double sink…it was time to upgrade and move on. We chose our pieces, we bought our supplies, and we contracted a company to demolish and rebuild our kitchen. For one week our lives would be ripped apart with screws, boxes, deliveries, plumbing and electrical. Along with our new purchase, we also purchased the stress of home renovation. It’s a troublesome feeling – cold sweat beading on your skin, rapid heartbeat, tense muscles, sleepless nights, shallow breathing, clenched stomach, the sonorous sound of your blood roaring through your ears like it burst from a dam through your veins. And then, as an extra bonus, along comes the wearying arthritis flare.
Stress can appear in our lives at any time for any reason – financial worries, health issues, Aunt Mary’s pending surgery, car repairs, home repairs, work, family, the delay of Aunt Mary’s surgery – there are all kinds of challenges that cause our body to switch on autopilot and encounter an overload of adrenaline. Endorphins are suddenly charging through us like a herd of wild horses, setting off alarms, and causing unwanted symptoms. I notice an increase in disease activity during times of stress. Stress is a destructive party crasher, igniting flares, increasing fatigue and riling up the insufferable pain produced from inflammation. Ironically, it’s the body’s mystifying way of protecting us during taxing times, but it doesn’t feel much like protection. It feels a bit like being dragged out to the back of the schoolyard and beaten up for lunch money. Everyone is susceptible to stress, but the most vulnerable are those with chronic illness. People with chronic illness are already dealing with the effects of their disease; their immune systems may not have the potency to deal with stress in the same way as a healthy individual. Our bodies have an astounding ability to ward off permanent trauma by increasing adrenaline and turning on a built-in protection mode, but over the long-term this activity can become harmful, and therefore, must be quelled.
It’s important to manage as well as possible during times of stress. Be kind to yourself and try to engage in activities that soothe and pacify. Regular exercise is important, and more so when you have arthritis. Exercise is one way to strengthen our bodies and our minds, preparing ourselves to deal with those demanding moments. Meditation can aid in calming the mind and help us to focus. Take some time to enjoy a favourite activity or reach out to friends and family. I love yoga for restoring my energy and keeping me calm. I’ve heard tai chi is also an excellent tool, and I am looking forward to trying it. Sticking to a regular routine can help ease the clutter and provides an anchor that helps us cope. It’s amazing what comfort I can discover in something steady and familiar; it empowers me and refreshes my perspective. Give yourself permission to be selfish during rough times – this is your time to recharge your batteries and find the strength to push through.
Now, two weeks later, I have a new kitchen to play in, and my renovation flare has disappeared with the ruins of a three burner stove, just in time to be replaced by those classic holiday flares to jingle all the way. But no worries, I have a solution for that – rum and eggnog anyone?