Stress-Busting Tips for Difficult Times With Arthritis 

Use these tips to achieve a more relaxed state of mind during challenging times with arthritis. 

By Robyn Abree

Arthritis can be unpredictable. One day you’re coping fine, while the next you may feel as though the rug has been pulled out from underneath you.

Chronic anxiety fueled by the uncertainty of living with arthritis can worsen symptoms, says Skyler Hamilton, PhD, LMHC, who studies the role of the mind-body connection in autoimmune diseases.

In stressful situations, like dealing with flares or virus outbreaks, the goal is to “interrupt the constant flow of negative, fearful thoughts,” says Hamilton. While meditation is a great way to manage anxiety and symptoms, she says, it’s often hard to do when your mind is already racing. The following tips can help you get to a more mindful, relaxed state without much effort.  

Listen to Soul-Soothing Music

When you can’t turn off negative thoughts, turn on some positive music. “Music is the quickest way to interrupt a mood,” says Hamilton. “What you listen to has a powerful effect on the way you feel.”

So, if you’re feeling anxious or stressed, you may want to avoid sad or slow songs. Dr. Hamilton suggests feel-good music and oldies like Earth Wind and Fire, ELO and ABBA.

Listening to binaural beats, a form of sound therapy that enhances relaxation, can also help, she says. “Delta beats are best for trying to fall asleep, while theta beats help put you in a similar state of mind as a mindfulness meditation practice,” she says. You can find playlists of binaural beats on YouTube.

During anxious times like the coronavirus, listening to music can be a family affair.  Hamilton suggests setting time aside daily to listen to music, and dance, laugh or sing along.

Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing has the power to tame anxious brain activity almost instantly, says Hamilton. However, it’s important to focus on expanding the belly as you breathe, otherwise you could accidentally activate the stress response, she says.

To reap the benefits of deep breathing, try this simple exercise:

  1. Begin sitting or lying in a comfortable position.
  2. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs, and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Inhale for six counts through your nose, letting your belly push your hand. Your chest should not move. Hold for four counts.
  4. With pursed lips, exhale for eight counts. Feel the hand on the belly go in and use it to push out all the excess air.1

Explore the Great Outdoors

When you’re overwhelmed, taking a simple stroll outside can help restore a sense of inner peace and calm, says Ethan Kross, PhD, professor of psychology and director of the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan.

“There is a ton of data showing that being in nature influences wellbeing and reduces stress,” he says. What’s more, it gives broadens our perspective and helps us realize a world outside of our problems.

If you can, make shifts in your daily life to get outside more – whether that’s taking the scenic route to work, or taking an evening stroll in your neighborhood after dinner.

For families affected by arthritis, Hamilton suggests making time for outdoor activities like flying kites or finding shapes in clouds. These simple activities have similar benefits to meditation, she says.

Watch Your Language

Language can be a very powerful tool in how we perceive and deal with problems, says Hamilton. When you’re going through a particularly difficult time, avoid words that invoke negative emotions and feelings, such as “pain” and “suffering,” as much as possible. For example when you’re flaring, instead of telling others,“ I am in so much pain” or “I’m suffering a great deal from my RA,” try saying something like “I’m experiencing some symptoms from my RA, but I am working on healing from them.”

Just simple changes to your vocabulary can reduce your stress response, and even help improve symptoms, says Hamilton.

Call on Support and Resources

Lastly, having a support network and helpful resources can be powerful tools during tough times.

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