How Stress Affects Arthritis 

Managing a chronic disease affect many aspects of daily living, including emotional health . Here’s what to do if you’re stressed out.

Stress is a constant presence in our lives. A chronic disease like arthritis, which brings pain, high medical bills, and an uncertain future, ramps up stress levels even more. Being under stress can worsen arthritis symptoms. The best solution is to manage stress before it can undermine disease management and quality of live 

How stress contributes to arthritis

Your body’s stress response triggers the release of chemicals that ready you to face the challenge at hand. Your breathing quickens, your heart rate increases, and your muscles tense in preparation. This reaction is fine in the short term, but when it fires repeatedly, the increased tension in your muscles can amplify your arthritis pain. Stress also sets off the immune system’s inflammatory response. Inflammation is what fuels joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, psoriatic arthritis (PsA), ankylosing spondylitis (AS), and other inflammatory forms of the disease. The longer you’re exposed to stress, the more destructive the inflammation can become. In a PLoS One study, people with RA identified stress as a trigger for disease flare-ups. 

How arthritis worsens stress

Arthritis symptoms contribute to stress, especially when they’re unrelenting. Constant pain, fatigue, and poor sleep create a vicious cycle. Each symptom worsens the others and adds to the stress you already feel. When you’re tired, you don’t want to exercise. A lack of movement inflames your pain, which makes it harder to sleep. Worrying about future disability, getting pregnant or difficulty paying your medical bills only adds to your stress. Some forms of arthritis, including PSA, contribute to stress by their effects on your appearance. The embarrassment of trying to hide your skin plaques can be damaging to your self-image.

Coping with stress

Here are a few tips to help you manage stress:

  • Talk to a therapist - If stress has begun to dominate your life, you might benefit from interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps to reframe the issues that cause you worry, and help you deal with them in a more positive way.
  • Get your arthritis under control - Following the treatment your doctor prescribed will relieve symptoms like pain and stiffness before they can add to your anxiety.
  • Exercise - When you walk, swim, or do other aerobic activities, your body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Regular fitness boosts your self-esteem and mood, and combats depression and anxiety. Yoga—which incorporates movement and deep breathing—combines fitness with stress relief.
  • Take relaxation breaks - Sitting quietly for a few minutes and breathing deeply can put your body into a calmer state. 

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