Anyone with a chronic condition knows that flare-ups can stop you in your tracks and sideline you for days. Whether you live with a skin condition, a digestive disorder, a back injury or head-splitting migraines, you know that the mere mention of the phrase flare-up can make you anxious and apprehensive!
I spent my childhood in pain due to an undiagnosed gluten allergy; by 25 I was bedridden almost every day, afraid for my health and frustrated by doctors who didn’t have all the answers. I discovered that I had a thyroid disorder, celiac disease, and a parasitic infection… it was all systems down! And a major wake up call for me to rethink the way I cared for myself.
It was a long journey towards feeling good in my body; I even wrote a book about it! And though I’ve been well for some time now, I still have flare-up days that make me feel like I’ve taken a big step backwards. But dealing with my ailments taught me not to go into panic mode at the onset of every ache and pain. When the symptoms of your illness start acting up, your body is telling you and giving you a nudge that it needs your love and attention.
The next time you feel a flare-up coming on, ditch fear at the door and approach from a place of power! Nurture yourself instead; these 5 simple actions have helped me ease through even the worst of my flare-up days; I know they’ll help you too.
1) Clear the Calendar
Imagine a beloved friend is coming to town for an unexpected visit. You would likely cancel your dinner plans, save the chores for later and put fresh sheets on the bed. You certainly wouldn’t over-schedule your work week, go to the dentist and try to fit in gym-time every day! Now imagine that beloved friend is YOU.
We rarely treat ourselves the same way we treat others, even when our bodies are begging for it. When you feel the onset of a flare-up, cancel everything on your to-do that isn’t mandatory. Replace them with deliberate acts of self-care. A gentle massage, a hot epsom salt bath with some lavender essential oil while listening to some relaxing tunes, a cup of tea and a yummy book… whatever relaxes you and makes you feel good goes to the top of your to-do list. Treat yourself like a guest in your own home. You deserve it.
It goes without saying that a good night’s sleep has incredible restorative effects on every part of your body – and we all know what it feels like when we don’t get enough. Research has now determined exactly how crucial it is to your well-being, especially when you are unwell. The brain uses sleep-time to reset your nervous system, produce hormones that regulate your appetite, improve your cognitive memory and flush out toxins associated with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Going to bed early (and peacefully!) on your flare-up days will enable your body to repair itself and perform its natural miracles while you snooze. But to make it worthwhile – set the tone for a restful night of slumber.
That means no phones in bed, no TV, no stressful mental activities during the hour before you go to sleep. Light a candle, step into your favorite pajamas – all of these choices will send signals to your body that it is time for winding down.Treat it as a sacred activity! A few drops of lavender oil, a cup of non-caffeinated tea, and 10 minutes of meditation before you hit the pillow will ensure that you wake up feeling better than the day before.
3) Feed Your Body
Most of us “know” what foods are best for our bodies. Our cravings say otherwise! When we feel sick, we crave comfort foods, sugar (energy!) and anything that might make us feel emotionally better (wine and pizza anyone?) but the verdict is in on unhealthy foods and their effect on the immune system.
When you’re having a flare-up, it’s more important than ever to eat clean, fresh foods and avoid inflammation triggers like gluten, dairy and alcohol. Set yourself up for a week of success: stock your fridge with the right foods, plan out your meals and allow your body to fuel up and heal faster. Embrace the philosophy of Hippocrates and “let food be thy medicine!”
4) Sweat it Out
This might be a tall order, especially when you’re in pain and all you want to do is crawl under the covers and stay there. But sweating is extremely important for detoxification, and anything that gets your blood flowing and energy moving will be beneficial to your healing. Indigenous cultures around the world have known this for thousands of years; think of Native American sweat lodges and Russian banyas!
A restorative yoga class, a little low-intensity exercise, even a hot Epsom salt soak or a sweat session in an infrared sauna will create enough heat to flush toxins out and kick your immune system into gear. This DOES NOT mean go all out at spin class or commit to a week of hot yoga. On flare-up days, gentle healing is your only objective.
5) Keep Perspective
For those of us with chronic illnesses, a flare-up day means more than physical discomfort. It’s stressful and scary – you’re afraid that you’ll get sicker, or that your condition is getting worse and quickly, or that it will “always be this way“. At the height of my illness, I felt very frustrated, depressed and powerless. Especially through the rough times, your mind is your most powerful ally.
Avoid panic and mental anguish with positive affirmations like ” I allow my body to become an environment for health and healing.” or “My body restores itself to its natural state of good health.” All things pass. You’re strong enough to deal with whatever comes your way, and – as I learned through my own journey with chronic illness – you’re not powerless.
When I’m feeling a flare-up coming on, or even when I’m particularly fatigued and burning out, these 5 steps are my go-to tools for recovery. It is my greatest wish that you too will use them as sources of healing when you are having a flare-up of your chronic condition. Developing and practicing rituals of self-care is so important – not just for flare up days, but for every day. The sooner you attend to your body’s needs – with kindness, patience and love – the better you’ll feel. I promise!