Can someone come in and move this pot?” Lesley Hobbs called to her family, as she fought back tears. The crippling arthritis pain and inflammation in her hands and wrists she had been battling made it impossible for Lesley to take out a skillet from the cabinet or remove a pot of soup from the stove.
“That was back in 2017, when my recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis [RA] filled me with anxiety and fear,” Lesley recalls. “I watched two aunts suffer with debilitating and crippling effects of the disease, and I was terrified I’d follow in their footsteps.
My arthritis pain was so severe that lifting a small pot of oatmeal was more than I could do. I love to cook, especially for my husband and four grown children, and having to constantly call one of them for help was frustrating.
Barely Getting By
“I was also battling arthritis pain in my feet and toes, along with the pain in my hands. The inability to curl my toes or my wrists robbed me of my daily yoga practice, something I’ve cherished for more than 20 years. I could no longer do simple poses like cat-cow because my wrists couldn’t bear any weight. I went from being an expert yogi who taught to giving up my daily practice.
“I also had to greatly curtail my walking and hiking hobbies. Just walking barefoot around the house was painful. My primary doctor referred me to a rheumatologist, but I put it off because I knew medication was likely the only treatment he’d recommend. I had seen my aunt take medicine that didn’t stop her suffering, and I hoped to avoid that myself. I was already open to natural remedies, so before going to the doctor, I wanted to first investigate diet and lifestyle fixes for autoimmune diseases.
“I found a functional medicine practitioner who had sent her own RA into remission, so I made an appointment. She did lots of testing — food allergies, DNA profile, hormone function — and with those results, she recommended an anti-inflammatory diet. As we talked about my lifestyle, she helped me identify stress as the primary trigger of symptom flares.
I had always joked that I was good at worrying, but I finally saw the link between stress and my pain, and I knew it was time to pay more attention to how stress affects my health.
“I made changes to manage my stress, like saying ‘no’ more often, but nothing I tried relieved my symptoms.
Even though walking had become painful, it had always helped ease my stress, so I decided to try again, taking care not to overexert myself. I knew I needed to do something, and walking seemed more manageable than biking, hiking, or running.
“I had always walked for exercise, challenging myself to log steps as fast as possible. I’d time myself as I swiftly navigated the sidewalk or paths, listening to motivating music. But this walk was different. Leaving my earbuds at home, I set out to focus on the serenity of walking with my service dog, Maggie. Instead of counting steps or watching a clock, I took note of the beauty of the sun showing the colors of Maggie’s coat, the blue hues in the sky and the smell of fresh air. Instead of worrying about life, I focused on the sound of my steps or birds soaring overhead. I didn’t stress myself out; instead, I meandered, enjoying the simple act of moving my feet.
“I was shocked when I realized we had walked for over an hour — and I felt very little pain! That first day, I saw how power walking was adding to my stress while meditative walking released stress. Soon, the peace I experienced on the walk lingered for hours after I’d return home. I began feeling less tense, which resulted in less pain and stiffness in my hands and wrists.
“Although I don’t listen to music on my walks, technology does play a role in easing my pain. On every walk, I stop to snap photos of the scenery. This creates a chance to pay attention to my surroundings. I love going home and playing with the photos as I reflect on the experiences associated with them.
“Within four months, I was pain-free. And I have remained mostly symptom-free for more than four years. I’m back to practicing yoga and hiking, along with my walking routine. I’m thrilled to have my life back, and I’m so glad my pain-free lifestyle was achieved without medicine!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.