How to Manage Stress When Living With Arthritis
Stress is a powerful thing—it may even worsen your arthritis pain. Here’s what to do to help you cope.
There’s no denying it: stress is a part of your daily life—whether it’s sitting in standstill traffic, picking the wrong line at the grocery store, or an impending deadline at work. And if you are living with arthritis, being in pain combined with the struggle to carry out everyday tasks might increase your stress to a whole other level.
Is it all in your head, or is there a real connection between stress and arthritis? Read on to learn more about arthritis pain caused by stress.
How Stress and Arthritis are Linked
According to the Arthritis Foundation, one in three people with arthritis experience stress and anxiety as a result of managing and living with the condition.1 It makes sense. You are in pain. You may not be able to do things that you previously didn’t think twice about. You may be worried about your future.
When you’re stressed, your body releases certain chemicals that cause things like a faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure, and muscle tension. Muscle tension can cause your pain to worsen. This creates a vicious cycle—the struggles of living with arthritis increase your stress; the stress caused by arthritis increases your pain; increased pain leads to more stress—yikes!2
For example, research on stress and arthritis shows that stressful or traumatic events often precede the development and flares of the condition.
How to Manage Stress
The ability to manage your stress plays an important role when living with arthritis. According to the University of Washington, breaking the cycle involves learning to accept what you can and cannot change and finding ways to reduce stress.3
While there’s no cure for arthritis, there are simple ways to help break the vicious cycle of pain and stress.
1. Stay active
While exercising may feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, regular physical activity can help to reduce stiffness, increase range of motion, and strengthen the muscles that support your joints. Activities like walking, swimming, or yoga are good bets.4, 5, 6, 7 Plus, it’s a great way to blow off steam and release your anxious energy.
2. Keep a stress diary
Keeping track of what gets your blood boiling can help you pinpoint your stress triggers and proactively sidestep them in the future. Keep track of stressful events, your symptoms, and different stress-busting tactics.
We know. It’s easier said than done but finding ways to relax can help tame stress. Cue up a meditation app, or if the thought of sitting still makes you want to run in the other direction, take a few deep breaths, which is your body’s natural stress relief ball.8 For example, breathe in for a count of five, filling up your chest and belly, and exhale for a count of five. Repeat a few cycles.
4. Try medication
Talk to your doctor about medication to help control your pain, like Voltaren, a topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that provides targeted pain relief from arthritis to help get you moving and grooving again.
5. Find a professional
We all need a little extra help from time to time. If you’re having trouble halting negative thoughts and feelings, consider seeing a mental health counselor.
Stress has a real impact on your body. Take the time to identify your stress triggers and the relaxation practices that can help you keep it under control and break the stress and arthritis pain cycle.
- “Stress, Anxiety and Arthritis,” Living With Arthritis Blog, Arthritis Foundation. http://blog.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/stress-anxiety-arthritis/
- “Stress and Arthritis,” UW Medicine Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. http://www.orthop.washington.edu/patient-care/articles/arthritis/stress-and-arthritis.html
- “Stress and Arthritis,” University of Washington Medicine: Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. http://www.orthop.washington.edu/patient-care/articles/arthritis/stress-and-arthritis.html
- Moonaz, Steffany, et al. “Yoga For Arthritis.” Edited by Dana DiRenzo, Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, John Hopkins Medicine, 8 Jan. 2019, www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/yoga-for-arthritis/#studies
- Bartlett, Susan J., et. al. (2013). Yoga in Rheumatic Diseases, Current Rheumatology Reports.. 2013 Dec; 15(12): 387. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4415519/
- Komaroff, Anthony L. “Does Exercise Contribute to Arthritis? Research Says No.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/does-exercise-contribute-to-arthritis-cinnamon-treatment-for-diabetes
- “Arthritis Pain: Do’s and Don’ts,” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20046440
- “Take a Deep Breath,” The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/take-a-deep-breath
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