As an autoimmune warrior, I personally understand the importance of self-care, especially for autoimmune flares.
At the first sign of a return of autoimmune symptoms, there are a number of things I do to make sure those initial little symptoms do not turn into a full on flare.
The first thing I do when I start to feel a return of autoimmune symptoms is a quick self-evaluation.
I ask myself the following questions:
- Have I reintroduced any foods on the autoimmune protocol lately this could be a reaction to?
- Is my nutrition on point? Meaning, am I including a variety of nutrient dense foods and balancing my macros?
- Am I staying hydrated?
- Did I sleep well the past number of nights?
- Am I allowing stress to creep back in?
- Have I been moving enough or on the other hand, have I been over exercising?
- Did I over schedule myself this past week and simply overdo everything?
During my quick self-evaluation, I can usually identify at least one or two areas I let slip. Once I know what area(s) I let slip, I immediately begin working on those areas.
Slowing Everything Down
When I start to feel those first autoimmune symptoms return, I slow everything down, and begin resting.
When I hit my rock bottom towards the end of 2017, I slowed everything down, cut back my schedule to the bare minimum, and spent as much time as I could resting and practicing self-care. After years of pushing through symptoms, my body gave out and my heart broke when I had no choice but to slow down. I prided myself on pushing through the symptoms, and equated it with strength.
I wanted to be strong. Taking the time to slow down and rest felt all kinds of weak to me. However, what choice did I have? My body said enough. It needed time to rest. It needed time to recover. I needed time to learn how to practice self-care.
It took me time, heartache, and patience to realize that taking the time to rest and take care of myself would enable me to be the strongest version of myself.
Nothing about self-care is weak. It is ALL kinds of strong.
Self-Care for Autoimmune Flares: Nutrition
I eat according to the autoimmune protocol (AIP), and am in the reintroduction phase. However, when I start to feel the beginnings of a flare, I typically revert back to the elimination phase.
I also ask myself the following questions to identify any other areas of nutrition I need to fine tune:
- Am I including a variety of nutrient dense whole foods? Or am I falling into the trap of eating the same thing everyday?
- Did I eat too many AIP snacks or sweets lately? I personally do not feel as well when I start eating AIP packaged snacks or sweets.
- Am I macro balancing my meals? In other words, am I eating protein, carbs (in the form of veggies and limited fruit), and healthy fats at every meal?
- Did I reintroduce a new food that brought on my autoimmune symptoms?
- Am I listening to my body, and eating enough?
- Am I taking the time to eat in a parasympathetic state? In other words, am I relaxed when I eat so my digestive organs can do their jobs?
- Am I chewing my food enough, and eating slowly? Eating a clean, organic, AIP diet is great, but it is important that my body can digest and absorb the nutrients. Proper chewing and slow eating helps the body with both.
While chances are, none of these factors caused my flare, fine turning my nutrition and eating habits can help me feel better faster.
Self-Care for Autoimmune Flares: Hydration
Hydration is extremely important for health and wellness. Many, many people are chronically dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration can mimic autoimmune symptoms.
Drinking plenty of clean water each day really does make a difference in the way I feel. I keep my favorite glass water bottle filled with water on my nightstand, and in the morning, the first thing I do is drink about half of the water. Then, within an hour of waking up, I drink the rest of the water. This simple habit helps flush toxins from my body, and reminds me to continue drinking water throughout the day.
Self-Care for Autoimmune Flares: Sleep
Nothing can bring on my autoimmune symptoms faster than poor sleep. Sleep is incredibly important to autoimmune health. Our bodies rest and recover while we sleep.
If I am struggling with sleep, I get back to the basics and make sure I am setting myself up for both a good quality and quantity of sleep.
A word of warning. None of these sleep habits came naturally to me. In fact, I would rather stay up late with my husband, but I learned the hard way sleep matters.
Making these habits a priority is vital to my autoimmune health. What do I love better than staying up late with my husband? Feeling well so I can be the woman, wife, and mother I want to be.
Self-Care for Autoimmune Flares: Stress
Second only to sleep, in my experience, stress is the second fastest way to trigger an autoimmune flare. Emotional stress or physical stress, you name it, it can trigger a flare in me.
Managing stress is a critical part of learning to live well with an autoimmune disease, and recovering from autoimmune flares. The tricky part is managing stress looks different for different people, and can even look different at different times in one person’s life.
In other words, the things I do to manage my stress may feel stressful to you, and vice versa.
Nevertheless, I will share how I manage stress. Please just know it’s incredibly important for us to find our own ways of relieving stress and listening to our bodies.
My stress-relief go-tos:
- Meditation or deep breathing. I meditate every morning, but in times of stress, alternate nostril breathing works like a charm for me. You can learn about it here.
- Unplugging. Taking a break and unplugging a few hours every day and a full day once a week helps me keep things in perspective and quiet the noise.
- Getting outside in nature. Going on a nature walk, a short walk, sitting outside, or even a drive can help clear my head and dissipate stressful feelings. I love to take my dogs for a walk every morning to help rid any anxious feelings and set myself up for a more relaxed day.
- Belly laughs. I love to laugh. You know, that deep down, belly laughs accompanied by a snort? Those are the best. I try to laugh with my family, but a funny meme or my favorite comedies do the trick too (The Office and Parks and Rec).
- Connection. Looking into my man’s eyes, slow dancing with him in the kitchen, snuggling my kids, petting my dogs, calling my mom on the phone, or visiting with a friend can lessen stress. Stress can leave us feeling isolated, but we are not alone.
- Exercise. Gentle movement works like a charm for me in lowering stress.
Self-Care for Autoimmune Flares: Movement / Exercise
Again, this one is very personal and depends on your situation. The movement or exercise that feels best for me may feel worse for you, and vice versa.
While I used to be addicted to working out prior to my rock bottom, I since struggle with exercise intolerance. Meaning, if I exercise too much, I flare. Not fun. At all.
However, when I walk every day, I feel great! When I practice gentle yoga, I feel great! On the days I do not move at all? I do not feel great. My body feels stiff and uncomfortable.
It is an ongoing struggle for me to find the balance between moving enough and moving too much. I love moving, so I keep pushing the limit as I feel better and better. Sometimes it works beautifully and I get another piece of my life back, and other times it feels like a train wreck with me in bed experiencing autoimmune symptoms. I listen to my body, and cut back as needed.
Self-Care for Autoimmune Flares: Avoid Over Scheduling
I used to be the queen of over scheduling myself. I loved being a busy homeschooling, work from home, field trip taking, play date scheduling, traveling woman, wife, and mom. Then my rock bottom hit, and I found myself forced to cut back on everything for months in order to allow myself time to rest and recover.
The lesson I learned? It is incredibly important not to over schedule myself or my family.
Every Sunday, my husband and I sit down and go over our week with our planners. We communicate what we each have going on, we look at the kids’ schedules, we schedule a date night, and we try to cut back on anything we can. Sometimes we cannot find anything to cut back on, so we schedule who does what.
The most important part? An understanding that our schedule for the week is based on me feeling well. My husband and kids understand that if I start feeling unwell, plans may change, be rearranged, or cancelled. I understand that it is up to me to communicate if and when I start feeling unwell. After all, my autoimmune disease is an invisible illness. My husband and kids have no idea how I feel on the inside. While it felt incredibly hard for me to admit when I felt unwell at first, it became easier in time. Not that it’s a walk in the park now, but it’s easier.
Above all, I try to remember that as fun as it sounds to do ALL the things, over scheduling myself and running myself ragged will get me nowhere I want to be.
Moving Forward: Loving Yourself Through It
Last but not least, I believe it is incredibly important to learn to love yourself through it all.
The inside outs.
The good days.
The hard days.
Learning to love, honor, and accept yourself exactly the way you are, autoimmune symptoms and all, can be a game changer.
I know it can feel hard to love our own body when it feels like our bodies are betraying us. However, learning to love ourselves will help us to make time to take care of ourselves, rest, and recover.
You are worth every effort to feel well.
Sending You Love and Support
Please know you are not alone.
I’ve been there.
I still am there from time to time.
This may feel like a hard way to live, but it is worth it.
Find your why, cling to it as strongly as you can, and take things one day at a time.
If one day at a time feels too overwhelming, take things one minute at a time.
Try not to worry about the next minute, just make a choice in this minute that will help you recover from your flare.
You got this.
I believe in you.
You are so much stronger than you realize.
Sending you SO much love and support!
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