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Handling Physical, Emotional & Social Limitations

April 28, 2023 | Rheumatic Disease


While the holidays can be in many ways “the most wonderful time of the year,” it’s also a time that has the potential to be rife with physical and emotional stress, particularly for those living with rheumatic disease. Chronic conditions can profoundly affect one's physical, social, and emotional life any time of year, but here are some tips that I've found to help me cope.

After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in my early twenties, I experienced physical limitations, emotional challenges, and an impact on my social life.

Sometimes physical limitations, from my disease or medication side effects, interfered with my ability to work or participate in my favorite hobbies, like soccer and swing dancing. I also felt overwhelmed and anxious, especially when it came to planning. Thankfully, I found some great coping strategies, but I still found it challenging to explain to friends and family that having a serious autoimmune disease affected my abilities, even though I didn’t “look sick.”

If you are having similar or any sort of physical, social, and emotional challenges, know that you are not alone!

For example, the Arthritis Foundation study found in 2021 that:

  • 100% of survey respondents living with arthritis reported pain over the past seven days.
  • 50% reported feeling moderate to severe fatigue, including tiredness and overwhelming exhaustion.
  • 66% of people with arthritis report that pain interfered somewhat, quite a bit, or very much with their ability to participate in social activities.
  • 74%-76% of people reported they had difficulty doing activities with family and friends.

Given that these challenges are so common, how can we best cope with them? Here are some tried and tested strategies:

Surround Yourself with Supportive Professionals

Many different licensed professionals can help you in addition to your rheumatologist. Licensed mental health providers and social workers can help you learn coping tools and emotional strategies for your specific challenges. Occupational therapists are experts in helping you navigate everyday living. They can help you develop and implement daily adaptations and routines to minimize the physical, social, and emotional effects of rheumatic disease on your life. Physical therapists can help you strengthen your body to fight pain and fatigue. Registered dietitians can help you sort through the multitude of nutrition information available and help you determine the best eating pattern for you to help with symptom control. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help for whatever challenge you may be facing.

Surround Yourself with Supportive Friends and Family

Having a social network of friends and family members who understand what you are going through can help uplift you during challenging times. I’ve also had success connecting with others online. Through my podcast, Arthritis Life, I get to connect with all sorts of people and their stories, but even using social media to reach out to others living with rheumatic disease is a great place to start.

Focus on the Present Moment

When people experience limitations, it’s natural to grieve what you have lost and to wish that you didn’t have these limitations. However, it can be very emotionally healthy to redirect your focus to what’s still possible in the present moment. From my experience, I find it helpful to find a balance between grieving what I’ve lost and holding gratitude for what I still have in the present moment. There are still possibilities for me to have a vibrant, meaningful existence and future, even if it’s not how I imagined my life would look like before my rheumatic disease diagnosis.

Adopting these strategies can help you not only better enjoy the season but improve your ability to handle whatever physical, emotional and social challenges life may bring your way!

Cheryl Crow, OTR/L

About the Author

Cheryl Crow, OTR/L

Cheryl Crow, OTR/L is an occupational therapist who lives with rheumatoid arthritis. She specializes in engaging patient education videos and other media on her Arthritis Life platform. Cheryl also serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland, Washington. Cheryl is a member of the American College of Rheumatology’s Communications and Marketing Committee and can be found on Twitter at @realcc.

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