Chronic fatigue is more than just tiredness. This condition causes excessive, whole-body fatigue that can last for more than a month and causes lack of concentration and feelings of helplessness.
It’s a debilitating experience for those with arthritis, especially if it’s a systemic inflammatory form of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis. In fact, an estimated 40-90% of rheumatoid arthritis patients struggle with chronic fatigue.
If you feel like you're struggling to manage fatigue that disrupts your life, try some of these self-care steps:
- Talk with your doctor
Your rheumatologist or doctor can't help you if he or she doesn't know about your fatigue. Explain how long your fatigue lasts, whether it keeps you from completing tasks or concentrating, and how it makes you feel. Be as specific as you can. Rather than saying "sometimes I'm tired in the evening," say "I was too tired to get up and prepare dinner 3 times last week."
- Consider therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy explores how thought patterns affect your mood and behavior, then helps you develop healthier thought patterns. In one study, 13 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy helped people with rheumatoid arthritis reduce fatigue and depression, improve their coping ability, and improve their sleep.1
Minimize your effort around the house by keeping the things you need frequently in an easy-to-reach location. For example, use a pushcart to transport frequently used items like tissues, the remote, or the phone around the house.
- Keep moving
It may seem difficult to exercise when you're tired and dealing with painful joints, but some activity will make you feel better, not worse. Activity like walking restores your energy. One review of studies found that people with rheumatoid arthritis had much less fatigue after they were physically active.2
If your joints are too painful to manage walking or biking, consider activities like tai chi or water therapy. Ask your doctor about the best exercise choices for your situation.
- Talk with your boss
If fatigue is interfering with your ability to do your job, ask your boss if there are ways you can take breaks or work from home when you need to. If you have been diagnosed as disabled due to arthritis or another condition, you’re entitled to “reasonable accommodation” from your employer under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Talk with your human resources representative or visit the Job Accommodation Network to learn more about accommodations through the ADA.
- Retool your morning routine
Simplify getting dressed by wearing slip-on shoes and clothing with zippers or Velcro. Sit down while shaving or brushing your teeth.
- Eat well
A well-balanced diet will help recharge your energy levels. Your healthy, nutritious diet should include fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings a day), whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Include lean protein with fish, nuts, and beans.
- Steer clear of caffeine
It may seem natural to turn to coffee or soda when you lack energy. But these only provide the short-lived energy boost, which can leave you more tired than before when it wears off. If you crave caffeine, seek out black or green tea.
- Pace yourself
Do what you enjoy, but take breaks when you need to. Rest or nap between activities.
- Join a support group
Having the listening ear and advice of others who are going through the same health challenges that you face can be extremely helpful and encouraging. Look for an online forum or ask your health care team about local options in your community.
- Let others help you
Explain to loved ones when you need rest or help. Let them assist with cooking, laundry, or errands.
Don't feel guilty if you need to put off a task or say no to an invitation because of fatigue. Use your energy on the things that are important to you, and let the other things go.
- Drink plenty of water
Dehydration can be a trigger for fatigue. You can make your water more interesting by adding lemon, lime, mint, or cucumber, if you'd like.
- Hewlett, S., Ambler, N., et al, "Self-management of fatigue in rheumatoid arthritis: a randomised controlled trial of group cognitive-behavioural therapy." Ann Rheum Dis (2011) 70:1060–1067. doi 10.1136/ard.2010.144691
- Cramp, F., Hewlett, S., et al, "Non-pharmacological interventions for fatigue in rheumatoid arthritis." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Aug 23;8:CD008322. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008322.pub2.