Flare Up Emotional Support Toolkit

When I'm in a major flare-up, I already know what I need to do in terms of physical pain management. I need to make sure I’m taking my medication, I need to make sure I’m taking any extra medication I am prescribed, and I need to ask for medication to get me through tough flares. I also need to make sure that I am not doing anything to physically exacerbate the issue. That includes eating inflammatory foods, drinking alcohol, not stretching, not sleeping, and generally neglecting my body.

But what about the emotional?

How can we protect and nourish ourselves emotionally? For me, when my flare ups are at their worst, I find myself incredibly emotional and sensitive. I cry over little things, I extract myself from social situations (which only ever makes me feel sadder), and I generally find myself feeling a bit lost, soft, and fragile.

Being in pain — and feeling isolated because of pain and immobility — is a hellish self-fulfilling cycle. The physical impacts the emotional, and the emotional only makes the physical worse.

The thing is, we are human beings, so pretending that a flare up doesn’t affect us it’s just not reasonable. I can't pretend to be stoic, so I won't! And I do expect that of you, either. During flares, I try to give myself as much credence and permission to feel the way that I feel — and to make space for it — while also trying to mitigate its effects.

Here are some of the things I do to tend to my emotions during a flare up

I get into nature

If I’m in a mild flare up, I’ll take a slow walk to the nearest park. Maybe I’ll sit in the grass or on a bench and just soak up the sunlight. Being near trees and green has a real effect on our psychology, and I can feel it immediately when I’m outside. Suddenly, I feel connected to everything around me in a way that makes me feel both small and big. It helps me find perspective and helps me clear my mind. If I’m not feeling really well at all, I’ll just sit on my porch and soak in the sunlight. Making sure to get good sunlight at the beginning of the day has also been really helpful for my circadian rhythm, which only boosts better sleep. And we all know sleep is SO important for AS.

I have go-to distraction actions

Sometimes emotions are too big and too heavy and you just need to get out of your head. My favorite distraction is probably a TV show, usually Schitt’s Creek or Star Trek. It’s got to be cozy and silly and comforting, nothing too triggering or emotionally exhausting to watch. I find these characters to feel like family, so the TV shows feel like home to me. Safe. Easy. Positive.

Small acts of self-care

This can make a huge difference in your life. That might mean doing an at-home facial, running a hot bath, or cozying up in bed to read your favorite book while painting your nails. Obviously, this is going to look different for each of us, but I found that taking a few minutes to take care of myself and close out the rest of the world makes a huge difference. When I tell myself that it’s OK to prioritize myself, it leads to everything else that I do. If I prioritize my mental wellness, I will prioritize my body. And I will be better at self-advocating for my AS.

Learn

Sometimes, I have a desire to do things and learn things, even if my body is tired and in pain. Although I try to lean into rest and relaxation more often than not, sometimes I do have tons of mental energy without the physical ability to match it. There’s a website called Allison.com that provides free classes on pretty much everything. I’ve been taking a Gothic literature course that I play while stretching or laying in bed. I've found that this gives me a bit of a boost and gets me feeling active and stimulated even if I'm cozied up in bed with my cat.

What's in your emotional tool kit?

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