The Struggle to Do Less with Axial Spondyloarthritis
If you’re like me, you have more tasks on your to-do list than you have time to complete them in a day. I’m continually coming up with new ideas for art projects, finding tasks around the house to complete, adding hiking trails to my list, and once upon a time (pre-COVID days) making plans to shop, travel, or visit some family member or another.
With axial spondyloarthritis, both physical and mental stress increase my symptoms--especially inflammation and fatigue. Physical stress can come from pushing too hard during exercise, but I’ve found that doing too much in a day can cause my body physical stress too. To save my body the anguish of chronic illness fatigue that may last days on end, I’ve had to learn how to simply do less.
The daily watch on "doing too much"
And to be honest, I’m not very good at it. It’s difficult to avoid doing too much. After all, there’s no easy way to calculate how much is too much. There’s no rain gauge on my body that measures my day’s cumulative tasks, no app on my phone that tracks what I’ve done and notifies me when the scales have tipped, when I’ve run over my daily allotment of energy, when I’ve used up all my spoons.
Oftentimes I do tip the scales--I do too much in a day--but don’t realize until it’s too late. Then, I wake up the following day and my entire body aches. Sometimes doing too much leads to a flare-up, and I spend several days in bed and out of commission.
In retrospect, I know it doesn’t make sense to push myself to the limit one day, then suffer a painful, unproductive flare for days to come. But being an eternal optimist, I have trouble learning from these past mistakes because I always think that this time will be different, that today I can do more. In reality, I’m often trading tomorrow’s productivity for today’s.
Cutting back the exercise routine
Then there’s physical stress that comes with exercising. With AxSpA, I can’t always exercise like I want to. To be honest, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with exercise over the years, buying into yearly gym memberships or work-out plans and then losing steam after two months.
But I’ve always enjoyed getting my exercise through sports and outdoor activities, some of which are just not realistic anymore with AS. For example, I used to enjoy a good pick-up game of basketball with friends, but running and jumping on hard surfaces leaves me suffering with so much joint pain that it’s not fun anymore.
My activities of choice now are hiking, walking, tennis, and occasionally the exercise bike. With any of these activities I’m constantly monitoring my pain levels and adjusting accordingly. When pain and stiffness begin increasing rapidly, I know it’s time to call it quits.
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Monitoring overall stress and workload
After nearly five years, I still haven’t figured out when I can push my body, and when I’ve hit my limit. I’m lucky to have my wife as a voice of reason, who can see when I’m nearly at my limit even if I can’t see it myself.
But one thing I have learned is that it’s okay to call it quits, to stop and rest, or to admit that I’ve done enough in my day. Don’t gamble away tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow for a little extra today. Instead, I remind myself to do a little less today so I can do something tomorrow!
Can you tell when a flare is coming?