Everybody worries about their workload. But when you’ve got the pain, stiffness, restricted mobility and fatigue of AS to deal with too, it can leave you wondering how you can even keep a steady job. Working with a disease like AS is a challenge. It can feel frustrating, disheartening and sometimes next to impossible.
No one knows that better than our #Rheumers correspondent, Robin Brittain. Robin was diagnosed with AS in his mid-twenties, midway through his post-graduate degree. He has spent his entire professional life balancing the demands of work and AS. We caught up with him to hear his tips for managing the working day:
Work Hack 1 - Get help from your colleagues …
I think the most important thing to realise is that you are not alone in dealing with your condition. Workplaces can have a designated Human Resources (HR) department whose role is to help with issues such as AS. But don’t be afraid to talk to whoever else you need to. Colleagues usually want to lend a hand when they understand the challenges you face with AS.
Work Hack 2 - …and your community
Help is available outside of the workplace too. Your local patient groupis a good place to start but most countries also have national AS patient bodies. In the UK, we have NASS (the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society), offering a wide variety of information and support to members. There’s also government support - for example, Fit for Work, a free UK support service providing advice and referrals for occupational health assessment or Access to Work, providing funding for those with a disability such as AS to have their workplaces modified to suit their condition. Look into what’s available in your area.
Work Hack 3 - Work around your condition
As an architectural consultant, I work for myself – either from a shared office or from home. This lets me set a flexible schedule to suit my own pace, and to take into account flare days when I can’t travel. It’s harder to be so flexible if you work in an office but you could propose other solutions to your employer - for example, flexible hours, a laptop to let you work from home on flare days or ergonomic furniture, such as desk and chair.
Work Hack 4 - Stay active
One of the key ways to avoid an AS flare is to try not to remain in the same position for prolonged periods of time. Although office work can often be sedentary and repetitive, make sure to stretch and move around in order to help reduce joint and muscle pain, improve mobility and promote good posture1,2. If you have physiotherapy exercises, why not do them during your lunch hour?
Staying physically active is thought to help maintain and improve core function and flexibility,1,2 keeping joints supple and you mobile. Again, this is easier if self-employed, but even asking for a few more breaks at work even if just to stretch your legs can make a big difference.
Work Hack 5 - Plan your time wisely
Time pressures are one of the biggest issues for me. During an AS episode, even when I push through the pain, the quality of my work always suffers and I’m not as productive as others. The simple fact is that it will often take me longer to complete a task than someone without AS.
Colleagues often can’t give you extra time, but the way you plan your work can help. Break jobs down into smaller tasks with shorter timescales and fewer requirements. This gives less chance for getting behind with work as you’re saving your progress most often. Most importantly, don’t rush to make up time. Mistakes appear, accuracy is lost and quality of work can suffer from lack of concentration. Take your time, make space for breaks and focus on quality, not speed. Also switching between tasks, shifts mental attention and encourages physical mobility.
Work Hack 6 - Look after your mind as well as your body
The pressures of work aren’t all physical. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, to help relieve the pressures, stresses and tensions of a working day with AS. With a disease as unpredictable as ours, it’s a lot easier to face whatever challenges arise when you have a strong mental balance and positive state of mind.
If AS is causing you problems at work, you’re not alone. For help and support, get in touch with your doctor or local patient support group.
This article was written by Robin Brittain, with help from the resident experts at ThisASLife.com. A social site helping the whole AS community to: Learn. Share. Inspire. Discuss.
1. Ince G. et al. Phys Ther. 2006; 86: 924-35.
2. Rosu O and Ancuta C. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2015; 51: 261-8.