What is a flare up? Essentially, it’s when your body is in “attack mode” against itself. Many of your autoimmune symptoms seem exacerbated (hello brain fog, fatigue, and depression), inflammation strikes (again) and your body is left feeling like you ran the New York marathon every day of the week, to say the least.
Those with autoimmune disease really know what I am talking about. It is very hard and even frustrating to explain to others that you feel terrible when you come across completely normal (and even healthy!). Unfortunately, I’ve had my fair share of flare-ups over the years, but I have been able to navigate this rough terrain and recover.
We don’t always have the luxury to take days off from work to recuperate and are expected to function fully in our everyday lives. In today’s nonstop world, especially parents, are probably thinking, “What day off?!”. Well, the good news is, there are simple things you can do to speed up the process and get you back to feeling healthy again.
What do I mean by that? Well, if you feel incredibly fatigued, foggy-brained or depressed there may just be something to it. If you struggle with an autoimmune disease, it is incredibly important to start paying close attention to the way you feel. Why would that be important? Our bodies are always talking to us in the most subtle ways and sometimes not-so-subtle; communicating that something is awry. For example, you may feel overly tired. Start asking questions, has something stressed me out today? Am I working too much around the clock? Have I been getting adequate sleep? Or, if you feel horrendous brain fog (hello, McFly, anybody home?), what have you been eating the last two days? Should you go for a walk? Get some fresh air? Maybe you may need to take a step back from your world of activity and recharge.
The important lesson here is identifying what may have triggered the flare-up in the first place, so you can hopefully avoid it in the future. Was it something you ate in a restaurant? Did an event in your personal life cause intense mental stress, leaving you depleted? Did you not get enough sleep for days on end? These are important clues that can help navigate having an autoimmune disease. It’s time to get savvy with yourself!
With autoimmune disease in particular, your system is more fragile than the average person. It is critical to fuel up on good quality sleep (skip the alcohol at night, try to get 8 hours if you can, go to bed at a decent hour, lay off the electronics in the evening hours, etc.). Really try your best to get 8 hours of sleep. I mean really, really try. You need all the rest you can get! When you have a flare-up, your body is essentially attacking itself and it needs some serious shut-eye.
In addition to honoring your body and getting your sleep, a nap here and there may prove helpful. Taking naps, even a cat nap, will help to refresh your mind and restore your body. When you are having a flare-up, your body needs as much rest as it can get. A nap will not only help you to feel further rested, but it also helps with brain fog. You are not only “resting” your body, but you are also resting your mind. If naps are hard for you, release the pressure to actually “sleep”. Even laying down, closing your eyes and shutting off the world for a few minutes will be restful for your mind and body.
Ever meditated? It has countless benefits as recent studies have shown, however, are you actually doing it? I personally practice transcendental meditation (twice daily), but there are many styles out there to choose from. You can even Youtube guided meditations for free if you are unfamiliar with the different styles out there. Plug in your earbuds, play around a bit and find something that feels comforting and restful. Meditation leaves me feeling vibrantly rested and relaxed at the same time (strange, I know, but wonderful). When I have a bad night’s sleep, meditation makes me feel like I caught up on those lost hours. I feel soothed, relaxed, calm, and centered. Meditation is a wonderful practice and if you haven’t started, I highly recommend it. There is a style out there for everyone, it’s just a matter of discovering what makes you feel best.
When I’m not feeling well I make an effort to get more sunshine. There is something very healing about the sun’s warm rays and dousing yourself with old-fashioned Vitamin D. I have had days where I felt so terrible, I would come home from work at lunch and lie on the floor of my apartment just to feel the sun. My body soaked it up and I felt nourished and rested afterward. The sun is potent; comforting, warm, and soothing, which are all things your body needs to heal.
Vitamin D supplements are also encouraged by Dr. Gundry and you can read his article about it here. Even in sunny California, I am deficient in Vitamin D, which is commonplace for those with autoimmune disease. In my particular case, I have to supplement with Vitamin D every day even though I am often outdoors in the California sun hiking, walking or running.
Why not hit two birds with one stone? While getting your sunshine, take a stroll outside for some fresh air. It’s not healthy or natural to sit in an office (or your house) all day. Offices are often littered with fluorescent lights, HVAC on full blast and computers humming all around you. A little fresh air will do you some good here and there! During the warm months of the year, try moving your workouts outside (vs. in the gym) or opening your windows for fresh air throughout the house.
Which leads me to taking breaks from working. Ok folks, let’s lose the martyrdom here… it’s not cute. I couldn’t stand my last job where people told me they were too “busy” to take a break (um, every day). Even lunch! That’s crazy-talk to me. I have worked very stressful corporate, non-corporate and start-up jobs over the years… I always take lunch. I also manage to get up and stretch my legs for a short walk (outside if I can) for a break here and there in addition to my lunch. Why? Well, studies have shown you are more productive (and healthy) if you do. If you have an autoimmune disease, especially when experiencing a flare-up, please take your breaks. You’ll pay for it otherwise in the long run.
When you have an autoimmune disease you are a “sitting duck” for a flare-up. What do I mean by that? Stress is your enemy. Have a stressful ongoing relationship with your boss at work or have a family emergency at the hospital? I wouldn’t be surprised if you are slapped with a flare-up right after. Suddenly you can’t get out of bed or you can’t concentrate at work. That stressful event took something out of you and those ducks fell over like dominoes, with one subtle flick. Autoimmune disease and stress are not friends. I could go deeper and say severe stress in one’s life may be a contributing factor to having an autoimmune disease in the first place (not proven, but it’s something I ponder).
Ok, ok so stress is my archenemy, now what? You have to manage your stress, or as I like to put it “de-stress”. Are you taking your breaks, getting fresh air, meditating and sleeping well? My friend, those are just the basics. With autoimmune disease, you have to take extra care of yourself. Is there some extra fluff we can add in there for good measure? Sure, see number nine below.
Who doesn’t like to pamper themselves? There are many things you can do to “baby your body”. Try taking a bubble bath, reading a book, sitting by a fire, steaming in a sauna, listening to relaxing music, flipping through magazines, crafting, letting someone care for you, get a massage, see a chiropractor, turn off electronics and just rest, or get a mani-pedi; the options are endless. Self-care communicates to your mind and body that you are taking time out to honor it.
This includes eating a diet full of foods that are nutritious and not poisonous to your body. Diet is crucial to your healing. Avoiding lectins and eating an assortment of healthy vegetables have been pivotal in my journey to health.
I can hear you now, “… but I’m too tired to work out!”. I understand and I have been there many times. In no way am I encouraging you to push yourself in an unhealthy way. However, as Catch-22 as it sounds, exercise may be tiresome at first but will give you energy afterward. There have been times that I felt awful and simply went for a run outside and my day, mood and energy completely changed. Being sedentary will only beget less and less energy. As odd as it sounds, movement, in general, will change your physiology and help create more energy. Working out has also been my most powerful personal antidote to counteract depression.
All in all, you want to emphasize “taking it easy” when you are experiencing a flare-up. As if you struck by the flu, with autoimmune disease, one has to take extra care of themselves. The sooner you listen to your body, the sooner you will heal. Please note, healing takes time, so be easy on yourself and surround yourself with those that love and support you the entire way.