How To Survive An Autoimmune Flare

How To Survive An Autoimmune Flare | Phoenix Helix

“The phoenix hope
can wing her way through the desert skies
and still defying fortune’s spite
revive from ashes and rise.”
~ Miguel de Cervantes

The Phoenix

When I was in the peak of rheumatoid arthritis and flaring every day, I searched for images to give me strength and hope, and I found the two above. The one on the left expressed exactly how I felt, like I was burning alive. The one on the right expressed my hope: that I could rise above it, that I wouldn’t always feel this way. I remember showing these to my friend Kirsten, and she said, “Eileen, just remember that the bird on the left looks incredibly strong to me. She’s a survivor, and so are you.”

Survival Tips

  1. Don’t let a flare define your world. Having a flare doesn’t mean you’re not healing. 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.
  2. Make yourself a priority. This is a time to take care of yourself. If you’re used to taking care of others and also have a busy life, you might be in the habit of putting yourself last. During a flare, you need to put yourself first. Cancel any optional obligations, and ask your loved ones for help.
  3. Relieve your pain. For many autoimmune diseases, a flare means intense pain. Don’t feel any guilt about relieving it with medication. Although many of us have the goal to get off our meds, that takes time, too. It’s not healthy to suffer with pain.
  4. Sleep. For many autoimmune diseases, a flare means intense fatigue. For all human beings, sleep is when the body heals and regenerates. Go to bed early, sleep in late, take naps. I know that sometimes the symptoms of a flare can make sleep difficult. Prop yourself with pillows for greater comfort, and just do your best to rest, any way you can manage it.
  5. Focus on healing foods. Drink lots of bone broth, eat organ meat. Homemade soups are especially nourishing during this time.
  6. Drink ginger honey tea between meals. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory and digestive aid. Grate or mince some fresh ginger root (about a teaspoonful) into your mug and pour some boiling water over it, cover and leave for 3-5 minutes. Pour through a small sieve and add raw honey to taste.
  7. Don’t binge. During a flare, it’s easy to think, “Screw it! I feel awful anyway, I’m going to do whatever I want.” And then you binge on bad food, which unfortunately amplifies and lengthens the flare. It may be called comfort food, but it really should be called pain-inducing food. You deserve better. Choose healing foods instead that provide the real comfort, instead.
  8. Detoxify: Health is a constant balance of nourishment and detoxification, and during a flare, you need support in both areas. Try one of these gentle methods: a detox bath, dry skin brushing or enemas.
  9. Cry. I remember once when I was fighting back tears, a wise woman said to me, “Tears are healing, so don’t fight them. Let them flow.” It’s true. Grief is part of the process.
  10. Laugh. This sounds counter-intuitive, right? How can you laugh when you feel awful? But this is the time you need to laugh the most. It’s a natural stress reliever and anti-inflammatory. Famed author, Norman Cousins, treated his ankylosing spondylitis through laughter therapy, saying it was the best pain relief he could find. So watch a funny movie or tv show, trusting that it’s medicine.
  11. Practice self-love. During flares, we can get very angry with our bodies, feeling like they’re attacking. But our bodies are doing the best they can to heal, and they need our love in these moments more than ever. In spite of what the doctors may say, our bodies are our allies, not our enemies.
  12. Meditate. You may think that meditation is impossible during a flare, but for me, it was essential. There’s the physical reality of a flare, which is intense, but strong emotions can make a flare even worse. I would get angry and full of rage. I would get terrified that it would never stop. My heart would race, and the inflammation in my body would ramp up. That’s the opposite of what I needed. Meditation didn’t take away my physical pain, but it calmed me down and restored a feeling of emotional and mental peace, which are healing emotions. Meditation isn’t just for the masters. 15 minutes can do wonders. Read this article for easy ways to meditate.
  13. Journal. Sometimes, we need to express our emotions before we can let them go, and journaling is a wonderful way to do that. If you’re not a writer, keep a sketch journal. Art therapy is equally powerful.
  14. Music therapy: We’ve all been moved by music. Some songs make us want to dance, others make us cry, others make us simply stop and listen, because they’re so beautiful. During a flare, the type of music that soothes you might be soft, like a caress. Or it might be a loud song that does the screaming for you. Choose whatever music speaks to your soul.
  15. Hug therapy.  Hugging release oxytocin, which is a hormone that calms the body down and makes us feel good. And it works whether it’s your spouse, your child, your sister, your friend, or your pet. There’s even a study that says hugging yourself can reduce pain. So, fill up on hugs. There’s no limit.
  16. Sunshine medicine: If the weather is nice, lie in the sun. Its warmth soothes, being outdoors refreshes, and the Vitamin D you get from the sun’s rays helps the body heal.
  17. Harness the mindbody connection. When you’re in a flare, it’s natural to obsess on it, but doing so can make the flare worse. If you have identified the cause of the flare, it’s also easy to fall into the trap of replaying the scene in your mind, wishing it had never happened. But the brain is interesting – each time you replay a scene, it’s like it’s happening again in the present moment. This can lengthen a flare, which you absolutely don’t want. So, instead, any time you find yourself obsessing, take a deep breath, and visualize the flare in your past, not your present. Then, visualize something that makes you happy, and focus on that instead. This can take practice, but the more you do it, the more you’ll notice when you’re obsessing, and the easier it becomes to replace that obsession with a positive image.
  18. This too shall pass. Remember that flares are temporary. When you’re in the midst of one, it’s easy to forget. Every flare I had, I feared it wouldn’t stop, even though flares, by design, are temporary. So, fight that fear by saying the mantra, “This too shall pass”, over and over, until the fear is gone.
  19. Surrender. We have such negative associations with this word. We think it means giving up. In reality, is simply means letting go. When I would flare, I would tense up (of course), and would feel myself fighting to try to make the flare go away. This had the opposite effect every time. It was like my flare fought back. Surrender can feel very peaceful. It’s simply accepting the present moment. Eckhart describes it better than me:

 

20. What’s your best advice for surviving a flare?

~~~
Image Credits: I chose the name and logo for my website, based on the powerful symbolism of the phoenix. I thank the talented artist, Benynn, for my beautiful logo. The phoenix images at the top of this post come from two sources: the one of the left is an album cover by the aptly named band, Just Surrender. The phoenix on the right is by the talented artist, Katrina Birch.
~~~
This post is linked to the following blog carnivals:
Natural Living Monday, Make Your Own Monday, Fat Tuesday, Healthy Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Gluten-Free Wednesday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Tasty Traditions, Simple Lives Thursday, Whole Food Friday, Fight Back Friday, Paleo Rodeo,

70 thoughts on “How To Survive An Autoimmune Flare

  1. In those bad days, I give myself a foot massage. Also, I’ve found out that it kind of helps me to give my partner a massage.
    Thank you for the tips! I’m going to try them right away, as they seem perfect for every day, and not just for flares :)

  2. Why do we binge when we’re not feeling well? That is my worst habit, thinking I feel like crap I might as well eat crap. As if that is going to make me feel better. And its usually followed with anger – at myself, at my body, at the world lol.

    Thank you for your list – going to print it out and post it on my fridge as a reminder.

    Thank you for your site, sharing with those in the same boat is sometimes better than a drug.

  3. Thank you for this loving post and gentle reminders. I had my first flare of “something ” this past Feb and I am going about trying to figure out what is going on. I am on the AIP protocol and have been for awhile due to SIBO. I see a Rhumeotogist next month and I currently see a naturopath. It has been quite a journey. Thank you again for these words.

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  5. Just the post I needed to read at the moment. I’m grateful to have this post in my “toolbox” to reflect on when I need it in the future. The Tolle audio seems particularly appropriate and in the context of this post, I can understand and relate to his material, which usually is not the case for me.

    • I know, I loved the Toll video as well.
      The article was a good reminder for me to keep up with the detox baths and dry brushing of this skin. I keep forgetting about those.

    • Thanks for writing, Robin. I think it took autoimmune disease to make me see the power of surrender. Until then, Tolle’s words often seemed rather theoretical. I hope your flares disappear so you don’t need these tips, but may they be helpful in the meantime.

  6. Thank you. I will have to share this with my sister. I am begining to understand how much people are suffering and finding relief is a challenge. This gives me hope for my future as well as my children that they can have a “normal” mother.
    There is so much to healing the body from the inside. So often we rely on treating the symptoms, but very people look for the root and fix it. My newset favorite thought is a chinese proverb If it is acute pain treat that branch, if it is chronic pain treat the root. The root of so many problems rely in the gut and for me it is acidity. I have discovered in my healing journey that acid in the body is a real pain.

    • I love that proverb. Interestingly, autoimmune disease is often acute and chronic simultaneously, yet the proverb still applies. We need to treat the branches and the roots. Thanks for the beautiful symbolism.

  7. These are wonderful suggestions. I have always struggled with support groups for fibro– so many of them focused on what level your pain was each day. For me, I needed to move beyond the pain and think of something else, think of the positives in my life instead of always focusing on the negatives.

    Thanks for sharing on A Humble Bumble’s Healthy Tuesdays Blog Hop.

    • Kerry, I’ve had similar feelings about online support groups. On the one hand, the support is really nice, especially from people who understand your situation. On the other hand, participation increases focus on the disease, which can be the opposite of healing. The best groups are filled with people like you, lifting each other up.

    • I so agree, I haven’t been to a group but I’ve seen many pins a a few blogs, and everyone seems to want to focus on how bad they feel, and how bad people treat them, I want to be positive and move in a positive manner, because so many times how you think affects how you feel.

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  9. Wonderful post. I fought my flares for years, fearing each one would never end! One of the things I try to remember during a flare these days is to not forget to care for the rest of my body. When I’m so focused on trying to get one specific area back on track it can be so easy to forget that the rest still needs support!

  10. Wonderful post, Eileen! I do many of the things on your list and, if I can, I try to do gentle yoga and meditation to help calm, inspire and motivate me. I especially like those meditations that focus on reminding me that my body wants to heal itself, I just need to keep facilitating that. I’ve pinned this :)

  11. My goodness, this post nearly made me cry. I often find myself in bed with a flare of some sort, either lupus or from the Crohns and everything you have here really resonates with me. I thank you for posting this! I agree 100% with all your suggestions. It’s such a psychological rollercoaster. It’s a time. But I’ve learned a few things along the way which makes it just a little easier. The biggest issue for me is losing my ability to do, not just want I want to do, but NEED to do…such as take care of my family. I get very upset about not being able to take care of my daily activities, such as making meals, cleaning, laundry, transporting my kiddos to school, volunteering, etc. I sit here now typing this comment at my son’s gymnastics class. I’m feeling really good today. My good days rare, but this is one of them. Clear mind, good natural energy (not from caffeine), my digestion is good, and no sign of any lupus flare. I so treasure the good days. One thing I did a while back is write about how I’m feeling when I am well. I wrote a letter to myself to read when I am in a flare. It’s an encouraging letter, empowering letter, and I’ve found that I don’t need to hear those words from anyone but myself.

    Thanks again for this wonderful, informative post. You’re amazing and such a treasure.

    Big hugs to you,
    –Amber

    • Amber, I absolutely love that you wrote a letter to yourself. How beautiful! Thanks for sharing – both your hard times and your wisdom.

    • I have been suffering with flare ups (Crohns for 8 years (going in for 9). Writing a letter to myself seems like the best thing to do. Thank you for the suggestions as I also do not have the energy to do anything. Suffering with depression now is getting me down so I WILL definitely write a letter to myself!

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    • My pleasure. I’m not one of those people who believe autoimmune disease is a blessing, but if I can help others through the experience, then there’s a silver lining.

      • That’s definitely a silver lining. I hope I can get mine, helping my aunt and my little sis before it gets worse for them. But first I’ve got to convince them that their health issues are not a given and that they have a solution.
        It turns out most of my close relatives have Celiac’s symptoms… And they’re starting to make changes in their habits, thanks to my experience. In those moments is when I think: “If I hadn’t had my breakdown, my whole family would never had a chance to get a better life”.

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  16. Thank you so much! I’m not even sure how I came across your site but it is the most accurate description of my life ever! It has helped already just knowing I am not the only person dealing with the unthinkable pain of multiple autoimmune disorders!!! Thank you Thank you!!!

    BTW,,, are there any essential oils that you use to help??

    • You’re welcome, Patricia. We all need that sense of community, which is a big motivation behind my blog. As for the essential oils, I’ve never used them because my body doesn’t like scents, even the natural ones. Put a drop on me and I literally smell like I bathed in the bottle. A headache soon follows. I know others benefit from them, though, so that’s one of the ways we’re each unique.

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  18. I came across your site and saw this post which really spoke to me. I have an extremely sensitive body and chronic digestive issues that recently flared up again. I wrote a post on my blog to describe what I do to feel better and to provide tips for others coping (whether from a flare-up, chronic illness, etc) and included this post for additional information. Your tips are spot on for me, especially #17 as I have found myself being sucked into despair and obsessing about what caused the flare-up, if there was something I should have done differently, worrying that I’ll never feel better, etc etc. Deep breathing and guided imagery really help me so I’m glad you included them and love how you explain their connection and benefits. Thank you for this wonderful post and I look forward to exploring your site more!

  19. I am having a flair up this week-and I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and very discouraged.. and alone with the pain. Then I happened upon your website, and this article, and a measure of hope is back in my heart. Thank you.

  20. Excellent post and website! I am a gluten-free, fat-free vegan with nightshade sensitivity. I try not to resent having to give up pots, toms and peps but sometimes I just go ahead and have some. The flare it creates reminds me I am still under internal attack and I immediately go into ‘clean’ eating mode. It is time to do 15 minutes in my Ahhh Spa: a deep hot bath with 2 c. Epsom salts, some drops of eucalyptus oil, enough bluing to pretty the water, and a tiny cap of milk an honey bubble bath. I relax and breathe soooo good and everything seems better after that whether it is or not. I’m glad I found your wisdom blog!

  21. During my last and worst flare my husband asked me one day, “what do you need to do to be healthy today?”. I was really surprised by his question at first, but then it became my mantra. Every day the answer is different. Some days it is sleep, some days it is socialize, some days it is cry, and some days it is rejoice but that simple question changed my thinking entirely and allowed me to refocus my energy on thinking about what I could do to heal productively rather than what I couldn’t do.

  22. Thank you for this thorough list. Binge…where I end up. From time to time. I will be trying the ginger tea. Namaste.

  23. Just had to re-read this. Flaring pretty badly after my vacation and this was so perfect to read. I really like how you included music and HUG therapy. It’s the little things that can be big things during a flare. All of this is spot on. I’ll be sharing it on social media for sure. :) Thanks for all you do!

    • Your vacation photos looked so fun! I’m sorry you’re having to deal with a flare. Gentle hugs to you, my friend.

  24. I loved this post I started doing things differently in the ways of eating different, this spring, (I started using EO’s earlier), to help fight my arthritis, asthma and fibro, I’ve been doing well and have cut back on most of my medications since then, but I’m really not looking forward to winter when things have a tendency to flare all three at one time plus my herpes, I’m hoping this winter will be different, because that’s when the major responsibilities star anew, kids going back to school and such, so I’m definitely going to have to print this out as a reminder. I also have a question to drinking tea with ginger, I’ve never been a big tea drinker, but I love my home-brew kombucha, is that a good substitute for the tea, and I found these wonderful honey, ginger, crystals at the store and they dissolve great in it and it tastes wonderful. Also bingeing might not be quite as bad as long as it’s appropriate food I would think, maybe your body needs what it’s craving, I’m big into listening to my body lately, except maybe on the sleep issue, once upon a time I slept to much now I don’t think I get enough. Love your posts, keep up the good work, I’d like to start a blog one of these days about my journey these last 9 months, but I don’t want to embark on something and then get stressed out if I can’t met my expectations of what I want to do, and currently I’m helping my son raise his 3 children and although I’m not a legal guardian or anything I’m primary caretaker till CPS, sees if mom can be safely integrated back into the family and that’s enough stress for now, dealing with them and my daughter-in-law who resents the position that I’ve been put in, so maybe one of these days if my life ever settles down. LOL, does anyone’s.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation today, Lori. Yes, you definitely have plenty on your plate! Thankfully kids bring a lot of joy with the added responsibilities. (We had a similar situation in our family.) As for your tea question, ginger honey tea tastes like ginger and honey, so I imagine it’s a tea you would like. The ratio of ginger to honey is the opposite of the candy in the stores, so I think it’s more healing during a flare (less sugar and more of the anti-inflammatory ginger). I love booch, too, but it’s not the same.

    • I agree with everything except your fibre recommendation. That can make many people’s digestive problems worse during a flare. For me, some of those items like chia seeds are highly inflammatory 365 days of the year. Everything else you say sounds great though: finding a food safety zone, staying hydrated, soothing teas, and staying gentle with yourself. Thanks for sharing the article.

  25. Hi Elieen, I love reading all articles. I’m fairly new to AIP.
    Can I ask you, have you had any flares within the first month when you started the elimination? I started brilliantly and then came down with a cold which may have caused it but experienced one of my worst flares.. Did you have to eliminate any other food apart from following strict AIP? Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Nikoletta. It’s common to continue to flare as you heal, because it takes time for the immune system to calm down. Healing through diet and lifestyle is very effective, but it’s a slow process, because you’re healing at a cellular level, from the inside out. Over time, your flares should become less frequent and less intense. Don’t eliminate other foods at this point. The recommendation is to wait 3 months before troubleshooting. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this, though. May your flare pass quickly. Gentle hugs to you.

  26. Thank you for your response!
    I have been looking for a better alternative and some answers for my RA for years and I am so excited and happy with all the recourses.
    . I love the recipes! :) thanks Eileen

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  28. This speaks volumes to me right now! I am in so much pain and trying so hard not to cry and just reading this has helped me so much! I felt so isolated before reading this and now feel much more comfortable with what I am dealing with. THANK YOU!!!! BIG HUGS TO YOU!!!

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