How to manage stress and cope with arthritis.
When a cold or the flu hit, it can wipe you out. But knowing these illnesses are temporary can help you get through them. Inconvenient, yes. But life-changing? Not likely. That’s why a chronic illness, like arthritis, is different. It can affect you every day — for the rest of your life. It can be disruptive. It can cause anger or depression. It can even change your physical appearance. All of this can stress you out — and stress can make your whole body feel worse. So how do you cope with arthritis and stress less? Here are ways that can help.
Studies have found that mindful meditation can help improve mood, reduce distress and ease pain. As you meditate, focus on living in the moment. Breathe deeply. Form mental images of places or situations you find relaxing. You can also try building calming activities into your weekly schedule: Call or visit a trusted friend, read on the patio or see a movie. And know your limits — stop overexerting yourself! It might be tempting to power through some days, but it’s crucial to take a break for your own well-being. Listen to your body. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Take a nap if you’re tired. Learn to say “no.”
When symptoms flare up, don’t just suffer — come up with solutions. Simplify your life as much as possible. If typing hurts your hands, look into voice recognition software for your laptop. If shoveling your driveway or mowing your lawn is painful, hire someone to take care of it. And there are other lifestyle changes that can make a big difference. For instance, if you’re a smoker, it might be tempting to light up when you’re stressed or in pain. But studies have found that smoking can make arthritis worse and might make medication less effective. Now is the time to quit, feel better and get active. Exercise can also reduce pain and stress, improve mood, and help keep joints mobile. Try strength training, yoga, tai chi and/or physical therapy.
Accept help from family and friends. Share your thoughts and feelings — with those close to you, a therapist, a support group or your doctor. You may learn new ways to cope with daily stress at work and home, as well as explore deeper issues. According to studies, support groups can even help reduce pain. And having a good relationship with your rheumatologist is essential. Develop an honest rapport. Clarify goals and treatment options. Prepare for your office visits: be organized, make lists, have questions ready and use a calendar to record appointments. You can also become your own arthritis expert — the more you know, the better prepared you are to manage it. That, in turn, puts the brakes on stress. The Arthritis Foundation is a great resource, providing information about symptoms, treatments, daily living tips, fitness and nutrition.
Focusing on the positive in life will help you see how amazing your life really is and maintain greater feelings of happiness. Choose to keep your sense of humor intact and watch how a positive attitude can change your mood, your mindset and, likely, your whole day. You can even consider volunteering. According to a Harvard Health study, volunteering can lower stress. Helping others brings good feelings, boosts self esteem and helps you feel more connected. It can also distract you from your own issues and increase physical activity. Remember, it’s important to make time for fun and plan activities you enjoy — so go to the theater, rock out at a summer concert or escape with a weekend getaway.