On most days, Deb Constien of Sun Prairie, WI, stays on top of her household chores. She preps meals, cleans, and does laundry. But when her rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flares up, it's time to call in some back-up. Her husband and 17-year-old son pitch in.
"Over the years, our family learned how to work around my RA," Constien says.
The joint pain and stiffness that comes with the condition doesn't need to take a toll on your life at home.
"The key is having an open communication with your family," says Ashira Blazer, MD, a rheumatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. "You should be able to express your needs and work together as a team."
How do you get started? Try these tips.
Ask for help. "If you're experiencing a flare, it's important to rest," Blazer says. Don't try to push through the pain. Ask for support, and delegate household chores when possible.
For example, you might want to ask your son to do the laundry, or your husband to take charge of child care.
"At first, it was hard for me to ask for and accept help from others," Constien says. "I was used to doing everything on my own."
When she got wrist surgery for her RA, members of her church volunteered to bring meals. "My instinct was to say, 'No thanks, I'm fine,'" she says. "But I came to realize that I wasn't fine, and that our friends genuinely wanted to pitch in."
Make doctor's appointments a family affair. Bring your partner to your rheumatologist visits. It can help him or her understand your disease better.
"Early into our relationship, I had my husband and in-laws meet my doctor," Constien says. "They were able to address questions that they might not have felt comfortable asking me." This can lay the groundwork for a conversation about your limits and needs.
Make priorities. When you juggle a dozen things for your family, it's easy to shortchange your sleep or skip that workout. "But you need to put your own health first," Blazer says.
When you feel worn down and stressed, it paves the way for a flare. Make sure you get the rest you need. Also take time for relaxing activities, like writing in a journal or going for a walk.
Be up front with your children. Your kids will notice your pain, which can seem scary. Speak to them in a way they understand, and reassure them that everything will be fine, Blazer suggests.
"You can say, 'Mom's just not feeling well today, but it will be OK.'"
Constien says that being honest and direct with her son worked for her family. "If he asked me to pick him up, I'd explain that I wasn't able to, but he could cuddle on my lap," she says. "Now, at 17, he's a huge support. He never balks when I ask him to help out."
Cut yourself some slack. When you're hurting, make life easier on yourself. You may need to serve PB&Js for dinner or let the housework go undone for a few days. Feel free to outsource some tasks: Order pizza for dinner, or arrange for a grocery-delivery service.
Plan household chores wisely. Make a few changes and prep in advance to help things run more smoothly, Blazer says. Consider these tweaks:
- Time it right. If your joints usually feel stiff in the morning, prepare lunch boxes and set out school outfits the evening before.
- Stock your freezer. "I double recipes, such as making two meatloaves at once," Constien says. "That way, I can freeze the extra for those days I'm having a flare and can't cook dinner."
- Use arthritis aids. There are a number of household tools that can help you when your joints are painful and stiff, such as ergonomic jar openers and kitchen utensils. "You can ask your rheumatologist or physical therapist for suggestions," Blazer says.
- Pace yourself. Because RA can lead to fatigue, don't try to do too much at once. Need to tidy up? Instead of scrubbing the whole home all day long, focus on cleaning one room each day.
Set aside time for your partner. Even though life gets hectic, it's important to find ways to connect and appreciate one another, Blazer says. It can help you stay on the same page when you need to deal with tough or tiring scenarios.