Suddenly you find yourself in another formidable autoimmune flare-up. You’ve been eating well and following a regime, so you’re confused and frustrated as to why your autoimmune condition just got activated. Or maybe you don’t follow the proper guidelines to stay in remission, and now you’re beginning to think you should.
The severity of a relapse depends on several variables, including the type of disorder you’re dealing with and what you’re doing to bolster homeostasis. On the road to healing you may even feel worse before you get better. This is known in some circles as the J Curve.
Since stress plays a big factor, your emotional and mental response will affect the severity and duration of your latest flare-up. And if you’re experiencing symptoms for more than 72 hours, it’s likely that pain – in its many forms – has become the dominant theme in your life.
“A flare-up for me can involve many different things. I try to take vitamins, drink plenty of water, and be as healthy as possible, but sometimes you can’t stop a flare,” says Vikki Patis, who runs The Bandwagon, a blog that focuses on fiction, feminism, and fibromyalgia. Currently Patis is in the middle of finding what works for her and what doesn’t, an important step in understanding your body.
While a flare-up differs from person to person, there are common tools to help navigate an episode. I asked several influencers who either have an autoimmune disorder, or help heal those who do, to share their secrets.
Here are 7 life-easing tips.
1. Identify Patterns/Know Thyself
“I know my flare is on its way when everything starts to be that little bit harder,” shares Sarah Borien, who suffers from fibromyalgia and runs a blog called A Life Less Physical. “It’s harder to get up in the morning. It’s harder to walk, to lift my bag, to dry my hair … I know what’s coming.”
In my case, a sure sign of a flare-up is waking up with knots and stiffness in my neck. Sometimes I can breathe into the area, but other times the connective tissue pain is unbearable and debilitating. Not only does it limit my range of motion and movements, but the discomfort jams my thoughts, making it hard for me to function and think. I usually have to wait a week before I gain mobility again. It’s important to remain positive, so you can come to your own rescue.
While it’s not advisable to get into an obsessive tizzy and stress over what triggered the inflammatory response this time around, identifying landmines can make the difference between remission and future furious flare-ups.
Last time an attack came on, I put my investigative skills to work and scanned for patterns. I noticed a flare-up soon after consuming raw chocolate. Bingo! I had eaten a piece of chocolate the last time I had had a flare as well. Although chocolate never used to bother me, it is problematic for people with autoimmune challenges. Chocolate can contain milk, sugar or mold, and/or cross-react like gluten.
Just because you feel crappy, don’t binge. Try to stay away from sugar, trans fats, casein, and gluten, which are all inflammatory. If you suspect your diet may need some cleaning up, check for food sensitivities and follow an elimination diet to help identify your triggers.
I sometimes experience mini flares during my monthly cycle when I am not taking herbs like chaste berry to balance fluctuating hormones. Have you noticed whether your flare-ups correlate with menstruation? Consider keeping a journal to help you identify patterns.
2. Rub And Soak
Unlike other sufferers with fibromyalgia, I personally want to be touched with a lot of pressure when my body is aching.
I usually head over to the Korean spa in Los Angeles for an affordable acupressure massage. For $75, I get a 75 minute massage and access to their spa. While the massage can feel a bit robotic, the female masseuse hits the meridian points with stern pressure. Afterward I soak in the mugwort bath. This Chinese herb detoxes and relaxes, and is great for the liver. I definitely leave the Korean spa with fewer crunchy knots in my neck.
3. Slow Down, Get Centered, Listen
Even the most careful can suffer from an unpredictable flare-up. For example, while in Athens, Greece, I suffered an episode because of the heavily polluted air. My liver couldn’t process toxins fast enough and/or my immune system wasn’t robust enough to fight back in full force.
Remind yourself that this too will pass, writes Donna in her lifestyle and wellness blog February Stars, where she shares her experiences of life with fibromyalgia.
Staying present and hopeful is key versus obsessing and having negative thoughts that can take you into a hellish downward spiral.
Donna meanwhile agrees that maintaining this perspective takes conscious effort.
“It’s tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel when a setback drags on. I find it helpful to remind myself that. So far, my track record for getting through setbacks is 100 percent. After each one, I have also gotten back to where I was previously, before slowly moving forward again. That’s a pretty successful track record and one to be proud of. I just need gentle reminders to be patient. Setbacks take time to overcome.”
Eileen, who was able to transform her rheumatoid arthritis from a scream to a whisper via diet and lifestyle, also reminds us that a flare should not define our world. Flares do not have to persist forever.
“When you’re new to a healing diet, it can take time for the flares to go away completely. Mine diminished in number and intensity once I changed the way I ate, but it was almost a year before they were gone for good,” she writes in her blog Phoenix Helix.
4. Turn To Mother Earth
There are healing foods and herbs that help, says Dr. Patrick Fratellone, a NYC-based integrative physician, cardiologist, and herbalist. For instance, if the flare-up is gastrointestinal in nature, he recommends homemade soups and bone broth as well as ginger marshmallow honey tea.
“I encourage three to six cups of a these herbal teas per day. There are several herbs for the gastrointestinal tract including meadowsweet, catnip, and slippery elm.”
For flare-ups that involve joints and muscle, Fratellone, who utilizes dietary lifestyle, botanical herbs, and homeopathic remedies to heal autoimmune patients, says powdered MSM, glutathione, and turmeric, if available, is very powerful. If you want to choose the herbal tea remedy route, go with white willow bark, peppermint, and devil’s claw.
Across the board, one of the best natural approaches is to try turmeric, an anti-inflammatory spice that has similar effects to corticosteroids but without the side effects, agrees Dr. Sarah Brewer, medical nutritionist.
During a flare-up getting eight hours of rest is key. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day to help set your body’s sleep cycle. I personally take supplements from this sleep bundle and use earplugs and an eye mask. I also now wear special work glasses to block the blue light from my computer.
“Clean bedding, fresh pajamas, and a heat pack on my neck is the best way to soothe my pains,” adds Sarah of a A Life Less Physical.
Since most flares in autoimmune diseases signal fatigue, I encourage sleep and rest, says Dr. Fratellone. “Proper sleep regenerates the body to heal. Rubbing the bottom of your feet with oil of frankincense helps the tension.”
“[Another] go-to is usually my bed, if possible,” agrees Patis. “It’s so important to rest when your body tells you to, so I take time to lay down if the flare is particularly bad. Working full time means this isn’t always possible, but I do try to allocate time for rest and self-care.”
6. Drink and Detox
Dehydration is the most common reason for chronic fatigue. It is the primary reason why metabolism fails, says Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas, M.D., a leading expert in the application of Metabolomics and Nutritional Medicine in chronic and autoimmune diseases, as well as the author of How To Live 150 Years In Health (Also, learn about his metabolically formulated supplements here)
Unfortunately tap water is pretty polluted. Make sure you are drinking clean filtered water, critical to all of your body’s cellular functions. Being properly hydrated helps alleviate fatigue and helps your body detox. Avoid alcohol, soda pop, caffeinated beverages, energy drinks, and artificially sweetened beverages: Those drinks do not hydrate and may increase the intensity of a flare.
7. MMJ Or CBD
In times of discomfort, instead of reaching out for opiates or NSAIDs, many opt for medical marijuana, which is considered more natural with no side effects.
“When a flare hits, I am immobilized by the pain,” says The Disabled Diva, who writes a blog of the same name about her invisible disabilities. “My go-to is MMJ, which helps me and gives me the break I need.”
I personally use our very own CBD Oil to ease inflammation and pain, because it’s made 10X highly bioavailable through a special formulation utilizing Chinese medicine. Cannabinoid found in the hemp plant doesn’t make you high and offers tons of benefits.
“Unlike with pharmaceutical drugs — no one is harmed. There is nothing to lose and plenty to gain by giving non-toxic CBD a try,” says Garyn Angel, Culinary Cannabis Expert.