Here’s the regimen that helps keep his symptoms (and stress) at bay.
A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA)—a lifelong disease that causes chronic pain in the joints—might make anyone’s stomach drop. Diagnosed in his late twenties, fashion designer Michael Kuluva worried what having rheumatoid arthritis would mean for his career. RA can affect all the joints, but the hands and wrists—arguably a designer’s most important tools—often take the brunt of it.
“Everything I was trying to do in my day-to-day required me to use my hands,” says Kuluva, the creative director for LA-based fashion brand Tumbler & Tipsy. Each of his bold, colorful garments requires careful stitching, snipping, and measuring, so dealing with RA symptoms would demand some adjustments.
RA is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s joints, according to the Arthritis Foundation. This causes inflammation and swelling in the joints, which can cause serious pain and instability in the hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles.
For Kuluva, RA flare-ups typically occur in his hands, knuckles, and wrists. “There’s nothing I can do about it besides put a heat pad or a massager on it,” says Kuluva with a nonchalant shrug. “During Fashion Week is one of the biggest times I get flare-ups and it’s because of the stress that I’m under.”
Stress can serve as a trigger for both the onset of RA and flare-ups of everyday symptoms, according to the Arthritis Foundation. A 2014 study in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that patients’ daily stressors or worrying could actually predict severity of joint pain over the next month.
But Kuluva, who used his RA diagnosis to inspire a fashion collection at New York Fashion Week, didn’t let stress from his condition prevent him from pursuing his career goals. “I just have things that are put in place so that I’m not overworking myself,” says Kuluva.
To manage stress and prevent flare-ups of RA symptoms, Kuluva sticks to a purposeful and consistent routine. Here are some of his strategies.
He (tries to) exercise every day. Kuluva aims for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity a day. “As much as I can, I try to do any yoga that is pretty tame,” says Kuluva. Exercise is a primary part of RA treatment as it can improve muscle strength and range of motion despite joint pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
He follows a strict diet. Kuluva aims to eat meals full of protein, fruits, and veggies. “I have a weakness for candy and chocolate,” he admits, “but I try to really limit it.” (Here’s an anti-inflammatory diet experts recommend for treating arthritis.)
He typically drinks only water. You won’t see a cappuccino or energy drink in his hands during the tiring hours preparing for Fashion Week. Staying hydrated may help fight inflammation and keep joints lubricated.
He gets emotional support from his pup. Kuluva’s dog, Cooper, helps with stress relief and staying active: “It’s great to have a dog, too, because I think that really helps you get out and move, even though you don’t want to in the morning,” says Kuluva. (Learn about more health benefits of having a pet here.)
He manages his stress. “When I do feel down, [I like] to do things that make me feel good,” says Kuluva, such as scouring the web for fashion inspo. This is especially important on days when he can’t get in his yoga. (Here are more stress relievers to try out.)
When it comes to living with RA, your tiny, everyday actions can make a big difference. “[There are] little things that you can do to just make yourself feel better when you know your body’s not that good,” says Kuluva. “Even just mentally, it’s so important.”
00:00:00,000 --> 00:00:02,928
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Everything that I was trying to do in my
day-to-day required me to use my hands.
00:00:08,550 --> 00:00:12,060
Cut things and measure things and
sew things with my hands.
00:00:12,060 --> 00:00:15,020
And everything was very hands-on,
or on my knees,
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you use your entire body when you design.
00:00:17,400 --> 00:00:22,909
I just had to learn how to work around and
get used to and
00:00:22,909 --> 00:00:28,059
trying to find where I
needed to know when to stop.
00:00:28,059 --> 00:00:31,383
00:00:31,383 --> 00:00:35,500
So usually when I have flare ups,
it would be mostly in my hands.
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Right in my knuckles, right into my wrist.
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There's nothing I can do about it besides
put a heat pad or a massager on it.
00:00:44,130 --> 00:00:48,010
During fashion week is one of
the biggest times I get flare ups, and
00:00:48,010 --> 00:00:49,900
it's because of the stress that I'm under.
00:00:49,900 --> 00:00:54,540
I just have things that are put in place
so that I am not overworking myself, I'm
00:00:54,540 --> 00:00:59,030
still getting my sleep, and that I'm still
trying to exercise and stay on my diet.
00:00:59,030 --> 00:01:03,080
So my exercise regimen,
I try to do everyday,
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I try is the main point
of my message here.
00:01:06,610 --> 00:01:14,400
Wake up and at least try to get 30 to 45,
and if I could, 60 minutes in.
00:01:14,400 --> 00:01:20,030
As much as I cannot do any yoga,
that is pretty tame.
00:01:20,030 --> 00:01:26,520
My diet is as pretty strict actually
actually, I drink only water, no caffeine.
00:01:26,520 --> 00:01:31,790
I tried to eat a lot of protein
as much as vegetables and fruits.
00:01:31,790 --> 00:01:34,500
I mean, I have a weakness for
candy and chocolate.
00:01:34,500 --> 00:01:36,660
But I tried to really limit it.
00:01:36,660 --> 00:01:39,660
I also have my dog,
my miniature English Bulldog, Cooper.
00:01:39,660 --> 00:01:40,775
And it's great to have a dog too.
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Because I think that really
helps you get out and move,
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even though you don't want to,
in the morning.
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That's one of the hardest thing
is when you have this disease,
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is getting out of bed, getting motivated.
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Because you can get
really stuck in a slump.
00:01:52,830 --> 00:01:58,410
When I do feel down and stuff, I like
to do things that make me feel good.
00:01:58,410 --> 00:02:01,980
I will go online and see what's out there.
00:02:01,980 --> 00:02:05,910
I like to get inspiration with yoga and
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I get that, but on the days that I can't
do that, this would be my alternative.
00:02:10,338 --> 00:02:13,348
So just like little things
that you can do to just
00:02:13,348 --> 00:02:17,318
make yourself feel better when you
know you're body is not that good.
00:02:17,318 --> 00:02:19,903
Even just mentally,
I think it's just so important.
00:02:19,903 --> 00:02:23,615
Evers AW, Verhoeven EW, van Middendorp H, Sweep FC, Fraaimaat FW, Donders AR, et al. Does stress affect the joints? Daily stressors, stress vulnerability, immune and HPA axis activity, and short-term disease and symptoms fluctuations in rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2014 Sep;73(9):1683-8.
Stress and worry affect RA. Atlanta, GA: Arthritis Foundation. (Accessed on February 14, 2018 at https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/comorbidities/depression-and-arthritis/stress-rheumatoid-arthritis.php.)
What is rheumatoid arthritis? Atlanta, GA: Arthritis Foundation. (Accessed on February 14, 2018 at https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-is-rheumatoid-arthritis.php.)