Treating Depression and Anxiety in Arthritis 

Learn when to seek treatment and about the care options available when you are experiencing anxiety or depression with your arthritis.

When you feel depressed or excessively anxious, you may be too overwhelmed to properly care for your arthritis or your emotional health. Because pain, mental health and disability are strongly linked, not recognizing or treating one can negatively impact the other. Treating mental health conditions should be regarded as a fundamental part of managing arthritis symptoms. 

For example, having depression may mean you don’t have the will or energy to exercise, which can lead to loss of function. On the other hand, having a lot of pain and inflammation may make it harder to exercise and cause you to be depressed or anxious. Eventually, this vicious cycle harms your sleep, daily activity, social interactions, treatment adherence and self-care.  

When to See a Doctor About Anxiety 

Instead of feeling low and lacking energy, maybe you feel restless and full of worry and distress. Some people respond to chronic illness and stress with anxiety rather than depression. If the following symptoms are uncontrollable or interfere with your daily life – such as making you dread regular activities like as going to work, school or spending time with friends and family – it’s time to talk with a doctor. 

You worry or obsess about concerns both small and large. 

  • You fear and dread things that may happen now or in the future. 
  • You feel restless, on edge and irritable. 
  • You have trouble concentrating. 
  • You worry about worrying. 
  • You can’t make decisions for fear of making the wrong decision. 
  • You have physical symptoms like muscle tension, rapid heart rate, upset stomach, dizziness or hot flashes. 

When to See a Doctor About Depression 

Feeling down in the dumps is sometimes part of life. One day you're out of sorts and your spirits are low; the next day you're back in the groove. But if these low feelings last for two or more weeks, you may be clinically depressed. Experts suggest seeking help from a medical professional if you have any of these symptoms of depression: 

  • Your low spirits persist for two weeks or more. 
  • ​Your depression is interfering with your relationships or job. 
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself. 
  • You have physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain not associated with arthritis that do not respond to routine treatment. 
  • Your symptoms include any five of the following: sleeplessness or oversleeping; loss of appetite or overeating; frequent tears and feelings of sadness; inability to concentrate; little interest in things you usually enjoy; fatigue; irritability, restlessness or moving about in slow motion; a feeling of worthlessness or pervasive guilt. 

Treatment Options 

If you have anxiety or depression, you have many treatment options available, from medications to psychotherapy to deep relaxation and acupuncture. Having a collaborative health care team is vital to success. You need to treat the inflammation and pain of your arthritis, because we know they contribute to your mental health. Make sure your rheumatologist and mental health specialist are coordinating your treatment so potential drug interactions can be avoided. 


In talk therapy or counseling, you work with a therapist to reduce your anxiety or depression. Examples include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, and problem-solving therapy. CBT is one of the more popular options. It focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. Which type of therapy works best for you will depend on your symptoms, personality and preferences. 


Several types of medicine are used to treat anxiety and depression. Talk with your doctor about benefits, risks, possible side effects and how these may interact with other medicines you take. 

  • Antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs) are the first-line medication treatments for depression and anxiety. Other classes of antidepressants include tricyclics, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and atypicals (these don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories). 
  • ​Anti-anxiety medicines. Buspirone is an anti-anxiety medicine that may be used long-term. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that relieve anxiety but are habit-forming and are used only for short-term needs. 

Complementary Therapies and Self-Care 

Healthy lifestyle choices and self-care options can help ease your symptoms, especially when used in conjunction with psychotherapy or medication. These include; acupuncture, massage, yoga, physical activity, healthy nutrition, meditation, visualization and support groups. 

Stay in the Know. Live in the Yes.

Get involved with the arthritis community. Tell us a little about yourself and, based on your interests, you’ll receive emails packed with the latest information and resources to live your best life and connect with others.