Make Time for Self-Care

Taking care of yourself – physically and mentally – is key to your health and well-being.

By Emily Delzell

When you’re living with arthritis – especially in the face of global upheaval – taking care of yourself is essential to health and well-being. “We see our doctors occasionally, but it’s what we do on a day-to-day basis that drives our health and determines our quality of life,” says pain psychologist and scientist Beth Darnall, PhD, clinical professor at Stanford University in California. “Those daily choices about whether we move more, eat well, manage stress and get proper sleep can either amplify our pain or dampen our pain, and help our functioning and quality of life or impede it.”

Having a mindset of kindness, gentleness and acceptance of yourself when you’re experiencing challenges and failures can boost your ability to take care of yourself, says Fuschia Sirois, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Sheffield in the U.K. Sirois’s study of self-compassion in chronic illness, which was published recently in the journal Mindfulness, helps explain why.

“More self-compassionate people were less stressed and more likely to take good care of themselves than people who tended to judge and blame themselves for perceived failings, which amplifies anxiety and distress,” she says.

Treat yourself with the same kindness you give to friends who are struggling.

Good self-care can mean committing to regular physical activity, a plant-based diet or getting enough sleep, but it also includes mental and emotional care – learning to break negative thought patterns and avoiding social isolation. Making self-care routines habitual makes it easier to keep them up when the going gets tough.

Prioritize it

Topping your to-do list with self-care regimens can be tough, but not doing so “is a losing battle for pain management,” Darnall says. “Chronic pain requires that we prioritize self-care so we can be more available for others.”

Make it routine

“Creating a schedule helps you stick with it,” says Darnall. Regularly exercising, eating and sleeping will help you cope from a place of strength during a crisis. “When we integrate self-care into our routine, it becomes second nature. It also creates a reserve so we’re not in a total state of depletion going into periods of stress.”

Add accountability

“If self-accountability works best for you, try a task-management or behavior-tracking app,” says clinical psychologist Tamara J. Somers, PhD, associate professor at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. “If being social helps you get things done, set a regular time for a walk with your partner,” she says. Or check in with a friend by phone if you can’t get together. “[Interacting] with other people distracts the mind from pain and eases the tendency to dwell on the negative.”

Get support

Ask your family to help you prioritize self-care, says Darnall. Support groups are good resources for information about self-care, and some medical centers run programs that teach pain-coping skills. Or try a therapist who offers cognitive behavioral therapy, which can teach you to identify and overcome barriers to good self-care, says Somers. 

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