If you’re a spoonie that has been left feeling unprepared for a flare – I know how you feel. That’s why I’ve spent the last 10 years compiling an ultimate “survival kit” that anyone can put in place today.
Flares are so unpredictable, and for that reason, they can leave you feeling so helpless when one rears its nasty head.
It’s worth mentioning that the reasons you might flare are quite vast and sometimes tricky to pinpoint. Some of the most common reasons include:
Physical and psychological stress, weather changes, lack of sleep, travel or any energy draining activities alike, or change in medication. Unfortunately, not all flares are preventable and the only way to get through it is by being ready.
The ultimate flare survival kit for anyone with a chronic illness includes:
- Stuff to keep warm and comfortable;
- Entertainment and gadgets
- Low-energy hobbies;
- Technology to help you communicate;
- Easily accessible food and snacks;
- All the medication you need;
- Dog or cat cuddles;
- Tools to keep brain fog under control;
- Basic things to keep your room clean; and
- Care products for your body.
Now, are you ready to find out exactly what this entails and how to get through your next flare with slightly more ease?
Stuff to Keep Warm and Comfortable
A flare survival kit has to start with tools that help you feel rested and comfortable. It forms the foundation for anything else you’re going to need (or want) next.
There are five comfort items I cannot go without every day. So when I hit a flare – I super-size them.
A soft and warm blanket
Well if I’m being honest I actually have quite an impressive collection of blankets – not just one. Every time I find something irresistibly soft (and affordable) I don’t think twice about buying it and I’ve never regretted any purchase I’ve made. Besides warmth, I find blankets are such a wonderful form of comfort and leave you feeling quite safe when you’re feeling vulnerable.
These are especially important if you have chronic pain. When I flare I tend to lie on my side and keep one between my legs, one behind my back, one by my stomach, one under my arm and – of course – one under my head.
In other words – the more the merrier. And if you can splurge a bit for comfort then I definitely recommend it.
Socks and slippers
Here I believe the funkier the better – but practicality is still important the most important thing.
If you have chronic pain or circulatory issues, you might find it helps you to use compression socks. However, if you suffer from the cold, as I do, then something thermal is always a winner. If you’re comfortable wearing wool or even splurge on some cashmere – they will last a long time and never let you down.
When it comes to slippers – it depends on what is comfortable for you. I find that using any podiatrist-approved shoes are far better investments than most slippers in department stores. My 3 favourite brands for comfortable home-wear include Birkenstocks, Uggs and Timberlands.
Pyjamas and leggings
Initially, I had frumpy old pyjamas that kept me comfortable and don’t get me wrong – they did the job. But they also made me feel a little demotivated every time I looked in the mirror.
I’m not saying that you need to wear a cocktail dress to bed. But not all pyjamas are created equally and you should wear ones that make you feel comfortable and happy.
I’ve chosen to buy a bunch of tracksuit pants that double-up and pyjamas. They’re easy to pair with a jersey and some sneakers to look semi-presentable when your takeout arrives.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to dress dynamically and comfortably when you have a chronic illness, I give lots of examples and new ideas in this article: 15 Fool-Proof Fashion Hacks for Chronic Illness
Regulating Your Room Temperature
Regulated room temperature is so important. Regardless of whether temperature dysregulation is a symptom you deal with (which I can sympathise with).
Not to mention that sleep and chronic illness are known to create disruptive and co-dependent cycles. So if there’s a chance you can get proper rest then you need to take it.
And room temperature is one of the factors that can make or break how well you rest.
The standard recommendation is to keep your room temperature between 16℃ – 18℃ and wear socks or keep a hot water bottle by your feet.
If you suffer from temperature dysregulation you may have to adjust this.
The goal is to keep the room slightly cooler than you. Then use your socks to re-adjust your internal thermostat to distribute heat throughout your body. This tells your brain that you’re ready to rest.
Entertainment and Gadgets
It goes without saying that a big part of coping when you flare is keeping distracted and entertained. Thanks to technology – we can make this happen.
Netflix or Apple TV
Anything film and series streaming service work – these are just the most popular ones. Here’s a good plan of action for enjoying movies while you flare:
- Write down everything that’s suggested to you.
Every time you are recommended a movie or series, take a note of it on your phone. That way when you’re not feeling well you can just scroll through your personalised movie playlist and just pick one.
- Get into movie trilogies or sagas.
Whether it’s Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean (yes, I’m a bit of a nerd) – flares are the perfect time to get into an uninterrupted movie marathon.
- Figure out which golden-oldies make you happy.
If you’re not feeling well and are morally down as well – it may be time to get those feel-good movies out. No matter how many times you see them, sometimes you need a good laugh. And when in doubt you can just watch Friends.
- Think about your stress and anxiety.
What you choose to watch can have quite an impact on your levels of stress – whether you feel it consciously or not. So as much as Netflix makes murder mystery documentaries enticing – avoid them if they heighten your anxiety.
When it comes to the devices you use – it doesn’t need anything fancy, just something that you can use from your bed.
I tend to do all my work on my laptop so I like to use a tablet or my phone to watch a movie series or listen to music in the background. So, an extra device comes in handy when you want to keep some entertainment going in the background.
Here are a few recommendations I have if you’re using your gadgets from your bed or on a couch.
- Get a multifunctional laptop table.
This little stand will change tech-use habits for the best. Not only does it help you keep your laptop cool (unlike what happens when you keep it on your lap).
It also helps keep your device upright – that way you don’t strain your neck and cause more pain than is necessary. Additionally, you can use it to hold your tablet, phone or even books in position.
- Keep headphones handy.
Headphones are such a handy accessory to have, especially if you can opt for noise-cancelling ones. Sometimes when you flare you need to zone out a little to rest and stop background noise from causing unnecessary added tension.
I particularly like to use these when I’m listening to my meditation or relaxation tracks. It really helps me work on calming my mind and slowing my breath down so it’s easier to fall asleep.
- Get extended chargers and a solid multi adaptor.
If your flares are anything like mine – they’re long! And having to wait for your devices to charge, especially halfway across the room, is just not practical.
Nor is having them charge right by your side, but attached to a tiny capable so they’re still not usable unless.
I’ve invested in longer charging cables, extension cords and multi adaptors so that everything can run smoothly without me having to rummage or fuss.
A much as I love reading novels, if I’m not in the best headspace and in a lot of pain – it’s not my go-to form of entertainment.
Brain fog definitely plays a role in this as I find myself rereading pages three times as I instantly forget what I’ve read the minute I finish.
If you can read – good on you! But if you can’t it’s absolutely okay. There’s a lot more you can do if you’re sick of your tablet and phone.
- Puzzle books
They don’t need to be hard – just fun. If you want one that’s meant for kids then that’s absolutely fine.
- Colouring books
It’s still a book! Even if you do no reading whatsoever. It’s soothing and rewarding once you complete a page.
- Write your own journal
if you don’t want to read a book then why not write one? Sometimes it’s good to get all your thoughts and daily issues out on paper, especially when you’re not feeling well.
- Step-by-step books
Sometimes it’s the overwhelming amount of text-heavy pages that can throw you off reading. But not all books are made and written in the same way.
Lifestyle books (such as books on health, fitness, food or travel) are often a lot less intense to read and quite visually stimulating.
Being low-key productive can be very encouraging during periods where you’re bedridden.
One way that I’ve always loved keeping busy is through basic crafting. I avoid anything that’s very messy and requires glue, glitter or paint because it’s hazardous on the bed. Not to mention you’ll have to get out of bed quite a bit to clean up the crazy mess these things make.
I recommend sticking to crafts with easy-to-carry equipment which doesn’t pose any extra-cleaning risks for you. For example:
Knitting or crocheting
If you’re new to this and want to try it out – now is the perfect time. YouTube and Pinterest are filled with incredible tutorials and ideas.
One of the things I love about this hobby is that you can start by making yourself some comfortable (and necessary) sweaters, socks and blankets. If you get good, you can always turn it into a small business or use the hobby to make gifts for your loved ones.
Some of my favourite people to follow include:
Beading and jewellery-making
This was actually a personal favourite hobby of mine for the few years that I was bedridden. Besides it being creative and personally rewarding, I even started my own small side business with it.
What I loved about this is it gave me purpose and it helped me give back to the community. I donated a portion of the money I earned to a charity supporting research in CRPS.
Sketching or drawing
All you need is a pen and some paper for this. I also guarantee that you don’t need to be the next Picasso to have a little fun drawing.
If you’re a little shy unsure about freehand sketching – buy some tracing paper and start with outlines.
This is especially fun to try with cartoon images. Once you finish you can always stick your little creations on some card and make personalised greeting cards.
Sometimes going through a flare can leave you feeling a little bored and I can understand it. Some hours are better than others and you want to be productive.
If this is something you can relate to right now, then I recommend looking at my article on keeping busy when you’re chronically ill and bored: 21 Ways To Deal With Chronic Illness and Boredom.
Technology To Help You Communicate
Once you’ve got your gadgets sorted – it’s worth ensuring you have effective ways to communicate with your friends and family that aren’t overly exhausting.
Having that support and human interaction is really important, especially in times when you’re struggling. So get Skype, Messenger, Zoom – whatever works for you!
Remember to keep things simple. Short messages are fine, voice notes are perfect and you’re allowed to put a 15-minute cap on catch-up calls.
You don’t need to have people over if it’s too tiring, and you shouldn’t be around anyone that makes you stressed. This is a time to keep the people you love close and leave everything else for another day.
Trust me, I know how much your friendships suffer when you’re chronically ill. It’s not easy being a reliable friend when your condition makes your wellbeing so unreliable.
But don’t panic. There are ways to slowly rebuild bonds with the people you care about most – it’s not impossible. I take a deeper look into what solutions there are in this article: How Having a Chronic Illness Affects Your Friendship.
Easily Accessible Food and Snacks
No matter what – you still have to eat and keep as much strength as possible. I know I’m not particularly hungry at all when I’m flaring and I’m definitely not interested in cooking – so I like to keep things simple.
Have pre-prepped meals in the freezer.
I like to make a big pot of soup every month that I bag into individual portions and leave in the freezer. It’s my favourite go-to when I need wholesome, proper food.
Use a slow cooker.
If you don’t have anything in the freezer but also want to avoid takeout, I recommend getting your slow cooker out.
Curries, stews, casseroles, lasagne – your options are endless. And it takes 10 minutes to chuck everything in there and forget about until you’re hungry.
Get individually packages treats
Try to get individual portioned dried snacks that you can easily open, eat and discard afterwards with no mess. Things like nuts, pretzels and dried fruit all work well.
Snacks like this also make it easy for you to keep a few things in your bedroom that you can rummage for when you’re feeling peckish.
I have an awesome little box of treats and snacks that I like to whip out when I’m not feeling well. And if you’re good at pacing yourself – then I highly recommend it.
I also like to keep some yoghurt (normal and frozen), chopped fruit and things like carrot sticks and hummus in the kitchen. Super easy snacks to enjoy and store in your fridge for a while.
Keeping hydrated is important at any time, but especially if you’re on a let of medication (and need to care for your kidneys or bladder).
Aim to keep a water bottle with an empty glass on standby next to your bed. That way you can drink from the bottle and use the glass for things like dissolving effervescent tablets.
I also recommend switching from a mug to a flask for tea or coffee so your beverage stays warmer for longer while you’re in bed resting. It’ll save you a few kitchen trips – I promise!
If you enjoyed these cooking tips and want more, I discuss many ways that you can make and enjoy homemade when you’re chronically ill here: 12 Energy-Saving Cooking Tips When You Are Chronically Ill
All the Medication You Need
I’m not just talking about your prescription meds (which are obviously very important). I’m talking about all the over-the-counter items that help your body tolerate prescription drugs and ease any symptoms you have.
I have a wide variety of chronic illnesses – ranging from severe nerve pain, autoimmunity to circulatory issues. Each one needs individual attention.
So I understand that everyone is different and therefore the meds you keep next to your bed need to be different too. As a general rule, here is what I like to have handy if a flare comes:
- An immune booster;
- Electrolyte tabs;
- Cortisone cream;
- Antibiotic cream;
- Paracetamol and/or ibuprofen;
- Joint and muscle rub (such as CBD cream);
- Antiseptic cream;
- Supplements that aid digestion; and
- A blood pressure monitor.
Dog or Cat Cuddles
… or even a pregnancy pillow.
Pets can be the most amazing antidotes for pain, exhaustion, depression, anxiety – you name it!
This is not something pet owners harp on about for nothing. It’s 100% proven that pets can be good for your health and help aid chronic pain.
There’s really nothing better than the love and support of your dog or cat when you’re flaring. The fact that you get unconditional cuddles, love and attention also helps you feel less lonely without being drained of energy.
So if anyone is giving you grief for having a pet in your bedroom. Here are some fun facts you can print out and show them. Pets can:
- Lower your stress, boost mental clarity and your overall energy levels.
- Help lower your pain naturally because they encourage the release of your happy-hormones, endorphins.
- Keep you distracted and socially supported.
- Encourage you to move around a little as they need your care – and it feels rewarding to look after them in response.
The only thing I recommend is that if you live in an apartment and you have a dog – it’s worth training them to use an indoor “potty patch” and invest in an odour-sealed bin like a Diaper-Genie.
That way you don’t have to worry about climbing up and down stairs or being disrupted when you’re resting to take your dog out. All you need to do is clean your indoor bin once a day when it suits you.
Tools to Keep Brain Fog Under Control
It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re in a lot of pain. I often find that days can go by quickly and I end up forgetting about following up on the commitments I have.
This is one of the biggest issues around dealing with brain fog. So even if you’re flaring, I recommend keeping post-it notes and a task-book next to your bed.
Write everything you need to remember down and stick it on the wall next to you. It doesn’t have to look pretty – it just needs to help you.
Try to take notes in bright colours, write things down in big handwriting and make things stick out by making them comically obvious.
For example, I regularly forgot to turn off the house lights when I was in a lot of pain. So I stuck this picture up on the wall and it helped me make a positive and instant association with switching off the lights at the end of every day.
An App to Help Track Your Health
Flares are awful experiences to go through – and as much as you want them to be over quickly – you need to do your best to document them while they’re happening.
This is because your doctors need to know these insights during your next consultation. Everything you feel, from your symptoms, mood, physical changes, side effects – write it down.
Each little feeling helps your doctor understand your case a bit better. It can give them a chance to see if you have any underlying issues that need to be taken care of.
It’s also a great way to monitor your own personal flare cycles and any progress or regression you make.
If you struggle to remember to write everything down and take photos – I recommend using a chronic illness tracker app.
This option has been a such a wonderful addition to my phone as it helps me record all my medical info in one place and it reminds me to submit a short update at the end of every day.
Basic Tools to Keep Things Clean
There’s nothing worse than the thought of having to clean when you’re flaring. Personally, it doesn’t even hit my radar of the top 100 most important things to do when I’m in overwhelming pain.
But I soon realised that there’s nothing worse than coming out of a flare and having to do a whole bunch of cleaning... because you didn't do a stitch of housework for 2 weeks.
My solution isn’t anything excessive – I just like to keep hand sanitizer, baby wipes, tissues and a small bin by my bed.
That way you can at least keep your bedroom surfaces a little clean without much effort.
If you don’t have someone to help you with housework, there are a couple of automated cleaning devices I recommend getting. I talk about it in detail here: 5 Ways to Make Cleaning with a Chronic Illness Easier
Care Products For Your Body
Looking after yourself when you’re flaring means taking care of your body’s basic needs too. Medication, in particular, is known to dry out your skin and can leave it feeling tender or susceptible to infection.
So it’s not just an aesthetics thing, it’s an aspect of comfort and wellbeing you need to consider as well.
Here are a few things I keep on standby on my bedside table or in my bathroom:
- Natural body lotion – a great way to keep your skin moisturised and protected from infections etc.
It doesn’t really matter what emollient you choose – it just needs to be paraben & SLS free.
- Lip balm – to soothe dry or cracked lips and painful cold sores.
- Water spray – to cool you down if you’re over-heating in a non-messy way.
- Dry shampoo and deodorant – when you don’t have enough spoons left to shower and wash your hair.
- Antiseptic face and body wipes – another way to keep clean and fresh when you have no energy to wash up.
- Nail or cuticle oil – again, really good to keep nourished and hydrated. My nails have become extremely dry and brittle over the years from medication.
- Hairbrush – ideally a small one that fits in your bedside table. When it’s time to video chat your friends you don’t need to get up to look more presentable (and feel a bit better about yourself too).
- Epsom salts – I like to keep these in the bathroom and use a cup or two when I take a soak. I usually stay in the water for about 20 minutes before my muscles are nice and relaxed. Given the main ingredient in Epsom salts is magnesium – it’s no wonder it helps relieve sore muscles.
And there we have it – the extended flare-survival kit that has taken me over 10 years to compile and perfect.
I hope you find the suggestions I’ve provided useful and manage to use them the next time you feel a flare coming.
If there’s anything you feel I’ve missed that helps you – I would love to hear what you keep handy when you’re not feeling great. You never know what might help you.
Until then, take care of yourself and remember to rest.