Two main things spring to mind. The first is something I’ve written about before: submission has taught me a few techniques for processing pain that I wouldn’t have otherwise. They’ve proven useful in all manner of situations that aren’t just about sex! You might find that your own existing techniques have set you up well to explore impact play, and you might also find that the things you learn along the way are also useful during a flare-up of your condition.
The other is that it would be a shame to underestimate the power of the endorphin. Endorphins are immensely useful when processing discomfort, and they’re also a great way to help combat the emotional impact of chronic pain. Many people find that BDSM helps them feel an endorphin high - so it’s worth experimenting to see how that can work for you.
I too am a firm believer in a holistic approach to life. I’ve long been fascinated by the number of transferrable skills participation in kink can give you. In my experience, though, they’re mostly things you need to learn by doing - so start searching for what you want, and let your own mindfulness of the situation show you how to draw it all together.
I don’t know anything about your girlfriend’s specific anxieties or what the roots of them might be, but I absolutely do have experience of having my dominants help me through a period of anxiety (and indeed an anxiety attack, though I don’t believe I get ‘panic attacks’ in the technical sense) by using aspects of the dynamic we’ve built together. I don’t think my experience of anxiety is atypical, and I’m certainly aware of other people who have found the same things useful as I have.
Anxiety generally comes to me in the form of being unable to make decisions. Often, these are decisions that are quite small in reality: what to wear, or what to have for dinner. When this happens, I’ve found it immensely useful to have a dominant partner simply make the decision for me and tell me what to do. I’d react very poorly to this if anyone else tried it, but when it’s someone to whom I have chosen to give power over me it has a remarkably beneficial effect!
Sometimes, the problem is that I’m entirely unmotivated and am really struggling to sort out the chores, or sit down and get my work done, or carry out some other necessary task. In times like that, I’ve always been incredibly grateful for dominants who are happy to motivate me to do it - a carrot-and-stick approach with a reward at the end and a punishment if I keep procrastinating about it generally works a charm.
All of these tricks have the added fringe benefit of taking my mind off whatever’s happening in my head. Suddenly a stressful scenario is a kinky thing between me and a partner, which almost always cheers me up all by itself!
I’m mostly answering this question from personal experience, though - and the only person who can do that for your girlfriend is your girlfriend herself. To help her start figuring out what she wants you to try. Why not talk over some of these options with her and see how she feels about them? Even if she doesn’t think they’re for her, they may give her a starting point from which she can figure out what would work.
It’s funny you should ask, ND, because as it happens I’ve had rheumatoid arthritis myself. I was diagnosed with a juvenile form which, as it’s an autoimmune condition, went into remission when I was in my early twenties and hasn’t returned - but between the ages of about 16 and about 23, I too periodically walked with a cane. I was embarking upon my journey into BDSM at that time, so I do in fact have some direct experience of playing with bondage when rheumatism and joint pain are big concerns!
The most useful thing I learned back then was not to be afraid to experiment - and not to be afraid to speak up. If you want to try something, try it; if you realise it’s becoming difficult or uncomfortable in a way you aren’t enjoying, use your safeword liberally and often so that your dominant partner can untie you and make sure you’re okay. If you’re anything like me, you can tell the difference between ‘this bondage position would make anyone ache a bit, but it’s fine’ and ‘that was an arthritic twinge that will get worse unless I move and take the pressure off right away’ - so use that to your advantage and take some time to figure out what works for you.
Of course, I also have a few bits of more specific advice to add to that general principle:
Whatever you do, the most important thing of all is to listen to your body. If it’s a bad kind of pain, speak up right away - it’s not worth the consequences!
Wishing you luck,
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