Too much stress can take a toll on anyone’s health, but it’s especially concerning if you have a chronic disease like arthritis. Stress causes an inflammatory response that can worsen pain and joint damage.
And stress can make it hard for you to focus on your own self-care, which is absolutely necessary for arthritis management.
Here’s what we here at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists want you to know about managing stress when you have arthritis.
You experience a very real physical response to stress that can worsen arthritis. For people with an inflammatory form of the disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, stress compounds your discomfort.
When you’re under stress, your body releases chemicals that are designed to help you face the challenge of an emergency. They give you the drive to get away or fight.
But today's stress is less likely to come in the form of something from which you need to flee — such as a tiger — and is more likely insidious stress from financial woes, family changes, relationship issues, or work deadlines.
Your body still releases chemicals in response to this modern stress, but repeatedly and steadily.
The constant stress triggers and physical reactions cause an inflammatory response in your immune system, heightening the inflammation that causes pain and joint degradation with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or lupus.
The more stress you’re under, the more destructive your inflammation and arthritis can become.
Even people with the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, find that stress compounds their discomfort. Stress can cause you to tense up muscles, which only increases your joint pain.
Stress often occurs due to a big life event, such as the death of a family member, a divorce, or a big move, and grows from there. Minor stressors magnify, and because the stress makes your arthritis pain worse, depression may develop.
You may find it hard to work and become more dependent on health care professionals and family members. You may find it hard to do normal chores and the activities you love, and your stress and frustration grows.
This stress cycle can make it harder for you to maintain a routine that keeps your arthritis at bay. You may not have the time or wherewithal to exercise. Sleep can be negatively affected. Your anti-inflammatory diet suffers because you’re not in a space to prepare healthful meals.
Some forms of arthritis affect the way you look and function in the world, adding more stress as you try to mask your condition and act like everything is OK.
But you can break this cycle and manage stress.
You can’t make arthritis go away — there’s no cure — but you can focus on self-care. You also can’t make all stress disappear — it’s part of life — but you can learn to manage it more constructively. Here’s how.
Resist the urge to handle it all yourself. Find a trusted friend, clergy member, or even a therapist to whom you can openly and honestly communicate. Sometimes talking it out helps put your stress in perspective, and another point of view can help you see your situation in a different way.
Learn that it’s OK to say no” You don’t have to volunteer for every task at church or work or school. You’re allowed to delegate and give you arthritis room to heal.
By simplifying your tasks and knowing that you don’t have to do it all, you can relieve a lot of angst. You may even be surprised how happy and fulfilled people are to help when you need it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for someone to pick up your groceries from the store or for the neighbor kids to pull the weeds in your front yard.
Relaxation doesn’t have to mean a long indulgent massage or vacation to a faraway place. You can find relaxation each and every day with a quiet guided meditation using an app on your phone, sitting on a park bench and watching the flowers, or by sitting quietly in a warm bath.
Oftentimes when you’re stressed, you’re so wired that you think you don’t have time for these moments. But it’s exactly when you don’t think you have time for them that they’re most important to your mental and physical health.
A little relaxation can put you back in perspective and take you out of the whirlwind that stress can cause.
Relaxation can help you notice where you’re holding the stress: in a clenched jaw, shrugged shoulders, or tight back. By focusing on these areas, you can help them soften and slow the cycle of stress from affecting you physically.
At Maryland Orthopedic Specialists, we’re always available to help you find solutions to arthritis and other joint pain. Call our location in Bethesda or Germantown, Maryland or use this website to set up a consultation.
Learning tools and getting treatment to manage your arthritis pain can help reduce your stress levels, too.