8 Things to Do If You Have Arthritis

The "8 Eights" Strategy Can Help You Better Cope

Older Hispanic couple working out in urban park
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Living well with arthritis takes time and practice. It is a typically progressively disease characterized by not only by chronic pain and disability but by an uncertainty that can often overwhelm people.

To better deal with this uncertainty, it is important to formulate a coping strategy, one that provides you a framework by which to live with the disease on a lifelong basis.

One such framework is what we call the 8 Eights. This is an outline of eight concepts framed by the suffix "-ate" which address the physical, emotional, and practical aspects of living with arthritis whether you are newly diagnosed or faced with recent changes in your health.

The Eight 8 strategy is outlined as follows:

1. Educate

When faced with a chronic illness, the greatest fear most people have is dealing with the unknown. You can greatly overcome this by educating yourself. The more you understand the disease, the abler you will be to recognize the symptoms and take the appropriate course of action.

Even if you have a great doctor to work with, remember that you are a partner in your own care. Take charge by learning about your treatment options, the methods of pain relief, and the role of diet and exercise. Don't allow yourself to become a bystander in your own health.

2. Motivate

Living with chronic pain is no simple matter. As much as you try to put a happy face on things, the pain can often gnaw at your confidence and cause you to withdraw from those around you.

Treating chronic pain requires more than just drugs; it requires self-motivation and a change of perspective. By accepting that arthritis is a condition you are living with—rather than something you have been cursed with—you will be better able to adjust your viewpoint and respond to it productively rather than reactively.

Instead than focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can with the aim of remaining active and independent. If you are feeling sad or depressed, remind yourself that this is a state of mind rather than a state of being. Accept your feelings and seek ways to overcome them, either through counseling, support groups, or interactions with friends or family.

3. Participate

Part of the can-do spirit involves living your life within your capabilities. In some ways, it is not unlike running a business. The greatest opportunities come from working within your resources, neither overextending yourself nor failing to capitalize on the resources at your disposal.

Find activities that bring you the greatest pleasure and approach them strategically. If there is an outdoor event you want to participate in, don’t jump in unprepared. Figure out in advance how much walking you will need to do and where there are opportunities to sit and relax. By setting a specific amount of time you plan to be at an event, you’ll know when it’s time to turn around and head back to the car without overtaxing yourself.

The rules are simple: plan, pace yourself and participate.

4. Medicate

A major part of any arthritis treatment plan is medication. These include an array of prescription and over-the-counter drugs used to treat different facets of the disease. Start by learning the drug names, what they do, and how to take them properly

When it comes to arthritis treatment, there are some basic rules you need to adhere to:

  • Firstly, take your drugs as prescribed. Do not self-medicate or take the drugs whenever you choose. The effect of certain medications is cumulative, meaning that you need to take them consistently in order to achieve the desired effect.
  • Never stop or change treatment without first contacting your doctor. If struggling with side effects, tell your doctor. He or she may be able to adjust your dosage, change medications, or prescribed treatment to help you over the hump as your body adjusts to the therapy.

5. Communicate

Living with arthritis can have a profound effect on your daily life. Activities that were once easy can suddenly become difficult, requiring you to make adjustments to better cope. One of these adjustments is ensuring that those around you—including your family, friends, and coworkers—understand what you are going through.

In the end, arthritis affects not only you but those around you. Don’t become a martyr and suffer in silence. Tell your family what you are experiencing and how they can help. Be honest but also be aware how you communicate your feelings. If you frame the discussion with panic, people will also panic. If you communicate anger or assign blame, people will back away.

Find the right time and space to share your feelings in the most honest yet dispassionate way. People are more likely to respond if you welcome them in. Let them be a part of the solution.

6. Delegate

Stress is an inescapable reality of modern life and one that can either keep you on our toes or drag you down. The aim of managing stresses is to deal with it strategically.

If unable to cope, identify which changes you can make to relieve stress and improve your overall quality of life. If, for example, your daily schedule leaves you sapped at the end of the day, identify which parts you can cut out or assign those tasks to others.

It may require you to make difficult choices, but, if you rationally weigh the benefits against the consequences, you can usually come to the right choice.

7. Meditate

Arthritis can not only take a physical toll but an emotional one, as well. The mind can often become cluttered with the challenges you are facing or are yet to face. These stresses can build up over time and not only lose your sleep but worsen your symptoms.

Meditation is a relaxation technique that can help. The aim of meditation is to draw your focus away from all of the scattered thoughts and fears that surround your condition. It teaches you how to focus on specific sensations—your breath, tensions in your muscles—in order to control and/or release them. By doing so, you are more able to calm the mind and relieve your stress.

8. Concentrate

People will often declare that they will not be defined by arthritis. While this may seem good and fair, it essentially separates the disease as its own unique entity. The fact is that arthritis is a part of your life. You can either choose to feel burdened by it, pretend that it’s not there, or accept it as a reality.

By accepting it, you neither judge it to be good or bad. It is simply a facet of your health that you need to pay attention to and manage on an ongoing basis in order to attain the highest quality of life.

Over time, what you will find is that the task of managing your disease becomes almost automatic. It won’t be on your mind all of the time simply because you’re dealing with every day by routine.

In the end, the routine is key. This includes seeing your doctor regularly and taking care of all other aspects of your health, not just your arthritis. By taking a more holistic approach, arthritis won’t end up defining you. You will define it as part of your journey moving forward.