The 5 Necessary Components of My Flare-Up 'Tool Kit'
When we are working to try and achieve some sense of healing with autoimmune disease, a flare-up of symptoms can feel like a really disappointing setback. Especially if we have been feeling good and have noticed improved symptoms and quality of life, a flare-up can make us feel like we’re back at square one.
When I was first starting out on my healing journey with adult-onset Still’s disease (AOSD) 14 years ago, I imagined that I would change my diet, identify and fix the root cause issues going on in my body. Then, I would be “healed” and done. I had a very linear perception of what it meant to be healed and this outlook didn’t have any room for setbacks or flare-ups. I felt like I had come so far and done so much good work that if I had a flare-up of symptoms it meant I was a failure, that I had done something wrong or hadn’t tried hard enough.
Coaching hundreds of women through healing journeys, and riding the waves of my own, I have since learned that every single one has an upward trajectory, but the line usually has many ups and downs along the way. This is normal. It can be tempting to read stories of those who have “healed” themselves from autoimmune conditions by simply cutting out gluten and wonder why the process hasn’t looked so easy or linear for us. While that may be the experience for some, for most people healing is a process of learning, growing, experimenting and recalibrating over time. When it comes to autoimmune disease, I believe we should focus on progress, not perfection.
Although we’d rather be symptom-free, flare-ups happen. Having a “Flare-Up Tool Kit” in place anytime symptoms come up can help guide you through without falling into overwhelm. Here are the five components of my Flare-Up Tool Kit:
1. Breathe in. Breathe out.
A recurrence of symptoms, no matter how small, can cause us to fear that all of our symptoms will come rushing back and any progress we have made is gone. In these moments of panic, take a moment to breathe in, and breathe out. This can help you avoid the spiral of negative thinking before you are able to really know what’s going on in your body. Oftentimes our minds revert back to when we were at our worst and assume that our bodies are taking us there again. By taking a moment to asses the situation we can come at it from a place of curiosity rather than a place of panic or fear. Although we’d rather they not happen, flare-ups can be powerful opportunities to gather more information about our body and what it needs in the current moment.
Action step: Set a timer for 10 minutes and simply breathe deep breaths into your belly. From this space of calm awareness, ask yourself how you are feeling and what you need. Give yourself space to process your emotions to identify what is actually happening right now rather than what your mind is projecting will happen.
2. Focus on what you can control.
During any flare-up of symptoms, it can feel like nothing is within your control. Your body is revolting against you. Doesn’t it know that you are too busy and fabulous and have too much going on to stop and slow down?
When you are in the midst of a flare-up, it’s important to identify and lean into the aspects we do have control over to avoid spiraling into a place of fear or hopelessness. I believe the two biggest levers we have control over are the food we put into our bodies, and resting.
3. Eat healthful foods that promote healing.
During periods of remission or feeling good, you may have reintroduced many different foods in that work for you — which is great! I find that during a flare it helps to go back to basics that you know work for you. For me, this includes lots of nutrient-dense, gut-healing and easily digestible foods to help give my body the building blocks it needs to work through the flare. Our immune system is a big nutrient hog, so we need to give our body what it needs to be able to work effectively. Eating soups, bone broth, fermented foods and a variety of cooked veggies are all great choices.
4. Sleep and rest.
When our bodies are working through a flare, they are expending tons of energy. We need more sleep than ever during this time to recharge and heal. Prioritize sleep as much as possible during this time. Allow yourself early bedtimes and naps. If sleep feels elusive with your symptoms or medications, just allow yourself time to rest without distraction to get the regenerative effects. A lot of times flares can hit us when we are going a million miles an hour. We go from going, producing, powering through to feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck. During this time rest is one of the most powerful tools we have to bring our bodies back into balance.
5. Call on your care team.
During a flare, it’s essential that you get the support you need. You don’t need to do this alone. Call on those people or activities you know can help you through the process. This does not have to look like an elaborate team of fancy practitioners, but rather it’s your support system that you can turn to when you need it. The members of my care team I call on during any flare are:
My acupuncturist for weekly appointments to help calm my nervous system.
My rheumatologist if I need to get blood work and recommendations on medications.
My meditation app that I use daily.
My partner or family member to help take on some of the daily responsibilities. This allows me some space and time to rest.
You could call on a therapist, health coach, energy healer, yoga video, functional medicine practitioner, etc. Being able to get the support and guidance you need and take some of the burden off of yourself is key during these times.
I want to tell you too that it’s OK to be sad and disappointed when you aren’t feeling well. It’s OK to cry and to feel all of those negative emotions that come with a flare-up as well.
Remember, you are human and you are doing your very best. If you are in the midst of a flare-up right now, know that (although it feels like it never will) this too shall pass. It’s all a part of the journey.
I hope this Flare-Up Tool Kit gives you something to hold on to as you support your body through this process.