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Ana_Villafane arthritis
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On NBC’s TV drama New Amsterdam, Dr. Valentina Castro diagnoses a patient with lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes chronic pain and fatigue. After the cameras stop rolling, Ana Villafañe, who plays Dr. Castro, becomes teary-eyed; the scene cuts close to home, reminding Ana of her own juvenile arthritis diagnosis at the age of 7.

As a child, Ana often felt like an out­sider, fighting an invisible illness her peers didn’t understand. But when she was 9, she found her happy place and her calling – singing in talent shows at the Arthritis Foundation’s Camp Funrise in Miami, Florida.

“When I’m performing on stage, I go into a different realm,” she says. “It’s not just a distraction from my arthritis, it also serves as a form of self-healing.”

A Star on the Rise

 

Performing quickly became her passion. She majored in music in college and landed her first professional acting role at age 19 in the movie Dostana. Other TV and movie roles quickly followed, including the female lead in the superhero movie Max Steel.

She made her Broadway debut in 2014 in On Your Feet!, a musical about Emilio and Gloria Estefan – who handpicked Ana to play her. “When performing on Broadway, I would spend two to six hours a day dancing. Doing what I love for work adds to my fuel,” Ana says.

Now 30, Ana co-stars not only in New Amsterdam, a medical drama, but also as New York City Councilwoman Diana Barea in the NBC sitcom Sunnyside.

Active Self-Care

Despite her busy schedule, Ana starts each day with a morning trip to the gym for strength training. Dance and yoga are also part of her regular routine.

“My right hip is my most degenerated joint and sometimes I have to modify yoga poses due to my arthritis. I’ve been very upfront about acknowledging my limitations with my yoga instructor,” Ana says. “I have a love/hate relationship with yoga,” she adds with a laugh. But certain poses “help to straighten my posture while also improving my flexibility and reducing joint pain.”

While medications help control her RA, she knows a healthy lifestyle is key.

“There are days that can be very frustrating because of pain and stiffness or a flare, but my goal is to work to feel good in my body every day and manage my arthritis in a way that goes beyond taking medication,” Ana says. “Having arthritis forces me to take care of myself.”

Plus, she adds, “Maintaining this level of discipline also helps me stay focused in my career.”

Growing Up With JA

As a child, Ana struggled emotionally as well as physically with arthritis. “Having an invisible illness can be hard,” she says. “People see you as strong even though you may be in pain or have certain limitations. I used to come from a place of fear and kept that part of me hidden.”

Now she owns her RA. When she is on set, standing for hours at a time, she doesn’t hesitate to get comfortable shoes or do stretches to ease her hip pain.

“When I was younger, I would just grin and bear any discomfort, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized everyone has limitations and boundaries, and I’m very open about having arthritis,” Ana says.

She has a lot of young fans with arthritis who follow her on social media, and Ana tries to respond to all of their questions.

“I remember how hard it was to be a child in the hospital for several months or to feel isolated in school because no one wants to sit with you at lunchtime,” Ana says. “I want to let kids know their arthritis doesn’t need to define them, and to encourage them to discover their own passions in life.”

Ana’s Tips for Arthritis Pain Relief

In addition to medications, Ana found these techniques ease her arthritis. “It’s a process of trial and error and finding out what works best for you,” she says.

Acupuncture – While performing on Broadway, Ana started getting weekly treatments, which have been “incredibly helpful” in relieving pain and stiffness.

Bubble baths and Epsom salts – “Sometimes, it can be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position, so immersing myself in warm water [before bedtime] can help,” she says.

Diet modifications – Ana has eliminated gluten, coffee and sugar from her diet. “It’s a constant process of working to see if certain foods might aggravate or alleviate pain and inflammation,” she says.

Travel tips – An ergonomic travel pillow keeps her shoulders back and helps Ana sleep better during long flights. She also walks around the cabin and stretches at the back of the plane.

Author: Linda Childers

Your voice counts too! In just ten minutes you can participate in our Live Yes! Insights assessment which empowers you to share your experience and show decision-makers the realities of living with arthritis. This ongoing, scientific study utilizes a series of validated assessments to shine a light on the realities of arthritis. For better treatments, better policies and better services in your own backyard.

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Is arthritis putting a chill on your love life? Learn  how to rekindle the fire and why it’s worth the effort.  Continue reading Pillow Talk

mood booster arthritis pain

When arthritis pain strikes, it may be tempting to withdraw and crawl back into bed. But giving in to this feeling may worsen the pain, says Marni Amsellem, PhD, a Connecticut and New York-based clinical health psychologist. Instead, having a list of mood boosters is a better way to cope with arthritis pain, she says. A fun activity can take your mind off the pain and brighten your outlook.

Here’s some suggestions to help get you started:

Continue reading Mood Boosters for Coping With Arthritis Pain

expressive writing to relieve arthritis stress

Whileliving with arthritis can create stresses most people might not even think about, a technique called expressive writing may bring relief, both mentally and physically. For example, maybe you’re angry because pain is keeping you from joining friends on a shopping trip or playing with your kids – again. You may be stuck in anger.

“But in addition to anger, you probably also feel grief, loss and a lack of control over the circumstances,” says clinical psychologist Mark Lumley, PhD, psychology professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. “Expressive writing can help bring forward those less-accessible feelings besides anger that don’t always have a voice.

Writing this way reduces inner conflict and provides you a better sense of emotional balance – and perhaps even less pain – when you express those feelings on paper.”

Continue reading Relieve Arthritis Stress With Expressive Writing

joint friendly vacation tips

Sometimes you’ve just gotta get away and reboot for good mental and emotional health. Even a weekend getaway can help you recover from stressful work. A longer vacation may lead to greater psychological well-being and life satisfaction – if you can detach from your routine, plan your own schedule, do something challenging and relax, according to one study. But vacations can be stressful, and excess stress can worsen chronic pain when you have arthritis. Send vacation stress packing with these tips.

Continue reading Don’t Let Stress Get in the Way of Your Vacation

art therapy and arthritis

You don’t have to paint like Picasso to benefit from drawing a picture or creating a collage. In fact, no matter your artistic skills, just the practice of making art may ease stress and arthritis pain.

A small study in the journal Art Therapy found art making – drawing, making collages or molding clay – even for just 45 minutes lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol in people, regardless of their creative ability. And numerous studies link high levels of cortisol to inflammation and greater pain sensitivity. While some study participants found the experience relaxing, others liked the creative self-expression.

Continue reading Art Therapy to Ease Stress

peacekeeping preserving harmony holidays

Ever left a family holiday gathering churning with tension and swearing that, next year, you’re going somewhere far, far away? These events sometimes ratchet up anxiety and stress, which are not only unpleasant but also can undermine your health and well-being. Take heart. Here, three experts offer different approaches to help you keep the peace and ward off stress.

Continue reading Peace Talk: Preserving Family Harmony During the Holidays

difficult family members arthritis management

Family gatherings can be occasions to celebrate – or to dread. You look forward to seeing some relatives, but others leave you stressed.

The first step is to take care of yourself, says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles.

“Protect your time and space,” she says. “Get your own room at a hotel or Airbnb [if you’re traveling]. Explain that you can’t stay up late.” When you’re rested and in control of your arthritis, you can more easily deal with annoyances and enjoy this “most wonderful time of the year.”

Continue reading Home for The Holidays?