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Arthritis patients are often stressed, have anxiety and/or depression about their disease. This article outlines tips to help manage stress, anxiety and depression in arthritis patients.

Arthritis is a condition in which patients experience joint inflammation, pain and swelling. It is a fairly common disease, with estimates indicating that one in three people will have arthritis at some point in their life. Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. There are medications and other treatment methods that can help manage pain and improve joint flexibility. However, many patients still experience significant levels of anxiety and stress, which can not only worsen symptoms but also lead to several other problems.

In fact, research has shown that ongoing stress can:

  • Increase the intensity with which you experience pain
  • Interferes with proper sleep
  • Cause people to turn to unhealthy foods for comfort
Therefore, it is important for patients with arthritis to make lifestyle changes to counteract the effects of stress. These are nine beneficial ways to combat stress if you have arthritis.

1. Exercise

It is very well-known in the scientific and medical community that the best way to counteract stress is to get moving and exercise. Exercise improves your mood and diminishes stress because it increases production of "happy" hormones and endorphins. As an added bonus, exercise is also a beneficial treatment for arthritis as it can help improve joint flexibility and help with weight loss. However, it is important to consult your doctor before you choose to undertake specific exercise programs, as some exercises can be bad for your arthritis. Some recommended exercises include swimming and biking.

2. Meditation

Many people find that meditation helps reduce anxiety and stress. There are several different meditation techniques. You can also try exercises that are combined with meditation such as yoga.

3. Practice deep breathing

Another thing you are try in order to reduce stress is to practice is deep breathing, which essentially means breathing for relaxation. One way to do deep breathing is to breathe in as you count to five, and then breathe out to a count of five. Repeat this several times. Research shows that breathing exercises help alleviate anxiety and can have a quick effect. Deep breathing has been shown to trigger an immediate response.

4. Sleep

Many people with anxiety have trouble sleeping. However, it is important to get enough sleep as being well-rested puts you in a better position to deal with stress. Practice proper sleep hygiene, by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, keeping electronics out of your bedroom, and wind down with a relaxing routine (such as a warm shower or some yoga) before you go to bed.

5. Drink lots of water

Being well-hydrated allows your body to function optimally. Therefore, being dehydrated makes you less adept at dealing with stress.

6. Take part in things you enjoy

When you do things that you enjoy doing, whether it be playing sports or video games, that automatically puts you in a better frame of mind and you are better able to deal with stress and anxiety.

7. Seek anti-anxiety treatment

Talk to your doctor if you feel like your anxiety is taking over your life and stopping you from taking part in activities that you enjoy. Your doctor can recommend different anti-anxiety medications that can work for you and your situation and that have been shown in the past to successfully treat anxiety.

However, since different medications work in different ways, you might not respond well to a certain medication. Therefore, it is important to be actively monitored by your physician for any side effects and to discontinue or change the medication or dose if need be. Not every medication works for everyone so it is very important that you go for check-ups actively with your doctor so they can make sure that you are responding as you should.

It is also important to keep in mind that you may not notice any changes right away and that these medications can typically take up to a month or two to have any discernible effects. As you wait for the medication to "kick in", stay on the treatment regimen that is prescribed by the doctor as stopping the medication will cause anxiety to return.

8. Go see a therapist

Many people find that their anxiety is optimally treated using a combination of anti-anxiety medication and going to see a therapist. Generally, therapists will use a technique known as cognitive behavioral therapy that can help change your behavior and the manner in which you deal with and think about certain situations that are causing anxiety. This can be done either on its own or in combination with medication.

9. Joint a support group

Nobody understands what you are going through better than someone who has also been in the exact same situation. Thus, when you join a support group for arthritis patients, you are able to share your experiences and get advice on how to deal with your disease, including the anxiety that accompanies it.

Joining a support group can reduce your anxiety because you will find out that you are not alone and that there are many people in the exact same situation. Additionally, being able to talk about your experiences can also alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. These support groups are often led by a professional (such as social workers, nurse, or therapist) who can help the members work through their problems.

Conclusion

It is common to feel anxiety when diagnosed with a disease such as arthritis. These steps can help you make sure that your anxiety does not take over your life.

  • Covic, Tanya, et al. "Depression and anxiety in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: prevalence rates based on a comparison of the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS) and the hospital, Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS)." BMC psychiatry 12.1 (2012): 6.
  • VanDyke, Melanie M., et al. "Anxiety in rheumatoid arthritis." Arthritis Care & Research 51.3 (2004): 408-412.
  • Isik, Ahmet, et al. "Anxiety and depression in patients with rheumatoid arthritis." Clinical rheumatology 26.6 (2007): 872-878.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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