It can feel difficult and isolating to cope with “painxiety” during flare-ups. Over the years, I’ve found a few ways to ease these feelings of worry.
Some people who live with psoriatic arthritis (PsA) consider it a dynamic disability, which means that our symptoms fluctuate in severity. I’ve been living with PsA for a while now, and I’ve learned what my “baseline” with PsA feels like.
While my baseline isn’t exactly comfortable, I know what to expect from my body, including day-to-day pains, aches, stiffness, and fatigue. I also recognize signs that require increasing my medications, adjusting my treatment regimen, or resting more than usual.
But sometimes, when a flare-up starts, my “painxiety” can set in. “Painxiety” is how I describe that familiar fear-driven feeling that arises with flare-up symptoms, like joint pain, swelling, fever, fatigue and stiffness.
Flares make it difficult for me to work, socialize, and complete daily tasks, like cooking and caring for myself.
My flare-up anxiety is caused by a sense of lost independence when I have to ask others for help. It’s also driven by uncertainty and lack of control over when a flare will end and my “baseline” return.
It can feel difficult and isolating to cope with “painxiety” of flare-ups. Based on my experience living with PsA, I’ve discovered a few ways to ease these feelings of worry.
One of my first lines of defense against “painxiety” is reaching out to a friend or support group. For me, talking to a friend who has experienced flare-ups firsthand is a great way to counteract negative thoughts and dismantle flare-up worry.
When I talk with fellow PsA warriors about symptoms, it feels less like a complaint and more like a connection.
Through smartphones and the internet, we can instantly chat with people all over the world. The Bezzy PsA community is a wonderful resource for virtual support from other people living with PsA. It feels like a safe space to express feelings and thoughts about life with chronic pain with fellow warriors.
Many fellow spoonies also use social media to connect, and I’ve forged amazing friendships through my Instagram account.
Although moving might sound like the last thing you want to do during a flare, it’s become a crucial part of care.
Physical movement helps me alleviate stiffness, move my joints, and clear my mind. Finding comfortable ways to move helps me feel more in control of my body, which in turn helps my “painxiety.”
In 2020, I discovered the power of walking. Fresh air and gentle movement enabled me to shift energy for an effective mental reset after an especially debilitating flare. The key word here is gentle! There’s a delicate balance between movement and rest while experiencing a flare-up, and it’s unique to each flare.
Sometimes, a walk is simply not in the cards. Stretching is another gentle way I support my body and mind. I often turn to chair yoga when I’m unable to get on the floor.
I’ve always turned to music for support and comfort, and the right song can motivate me to move almost instantly. Just a few minutes of turning up the volume and dancing it out gets my endorphins flowing and puts me in a much happier headspace.
Music distracts me from overwhelming thoughts about pain, and it even helps me process difficult emotions. It feels easier to express sadness, worry, or frustration when listening to music, and releasing pent-up emotions feels cathartic.
Singing along to emotion-laden lyrics about heartbreak, despair, and strength helps me unpack my own feelings. And a good cry session can be very helpful when experiencing complex emotions while living with PsA.
Meditation and breath work have taught me to process my thoughts with less judgment, fear, and guilt. I am no meditation expert, but I complete 5- to 10-minute guided meditations a few times a week. Even small bits of meditation help me avoid overthinking, stay grounded in the present, and feel connected to my body.
In my meditation ritual, I light a candle, lay out blankets and cushions for joint support, and jot down post-meditation thoughts in a journal.
Guided meditations often include centering thoughts or affirmations, and I make note of them. Repeating affirmations has been an amazing way to change my inner monologue, especially when feelings of “painxiety” arise. One of my favorite flare-up affirmations is “I focus on what I can control.” You can find more of my go-to affirmations for flare-ups here and here.
Mindfulness has taught me the power of acceptance. Flare-ups are part of my life with PsA, and I’ve accepted that feelings of worry will arise.
By choosing to release negative thoughts, I take away the power “painxiety” holds over me. Whether I’m talking with a friend, moving my body, or meditating, the most important thing is that I’m releasing instead of keeping it bottled up inside.
Medically reviewed on May 02, 2022
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