Stress can be a part of everyday life, and is caused by the way your mind and body react to tension and pressure. People with arthritis are particularly prone to stress, because of the added burdens imposed by their condition.
Most forms of arthritis are chronic, meaning that they can last a lifetime. The daily pain associated with everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, dressing and walking can lead to increased stress and fatigue. If you have arthritis you may also have to cope with the stress associated with being more dependent on family and friends, restrictions on your lifestyle and job, reduced energy levels or poor body image. All of these things can lead to stress, anxiety, anger, frustration or depression.
Stress and the body
When you are stressed your body releases chemicals into your blood, which set off a number of physical changes including increased heart and breathing rates, higher blood pressure and increased muscle tension. Under normal circumstances this can be a good thing, for example, giving the body added strength and energy for dealing with an emergency situation. However, if stress is not dealt with in a positive way, it can build up and have an adverse effect on your body, causing symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headaches, heart disease and depression.
Coping with the pain
Managing the pain associated with arthritis is an important factor in controlling stress and maintaining a good quality of life. People with arthritis should ensure that they have a comprehensive pain management plan, involving a combination of medications, rest and relaxation, and gentle exercise.
Help from health professionals
Working actively with your doctor and other healthcare professionals will help you to break out of the pain-depression-stress cycle. There are many people who can help—specialists, community nurses, physiotherapists, podiatrists, pharmacists, occupational therapists and family counsellors can all assist you to make informed treatment choices. These may involve a number of different approaches including medical, physical, behavioral and psychological techniques.
Recent research has also suggested that people with mild to moderately severe rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic conditions may be able to improve their health status by writing about their stressful life experiences, although more investigations need to be carried out on the connection between this physical and psychological process.
Tips for reducing stress
Try to manage stress to make it to work for you, rather than against you. Here are some helpful tips for reducing stress.
- Identify what causes the stress.
- Be as physically and mentally healthy as possible.
- Practice relaxation techniques.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol as a means of escape.
- Develop a sense of humor and make time for fun.
- Simplify your life as much as possible.
- Manage your time and conserve your energy.
- Set short-term and life goals.
- Get help to cope with constant, hard-to-solve problems.
- Accept that you can change only yourself, not other people.
- Share your thoughts and feelings.
- Use arthritis support and education services.