Some tips for handling stress while living with arthritis

The Arthritis Society surveyed people living with arthritis about the relationship between their disease and mental health. Many reported that as their arthritis pain increases, so does their stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, anxiety and depression are more common amongst individuals with arthritis than in the general population.

If you live with arthritis and experience anxiety, depression or stress, it’s crucial to address your emotional and mental health as part of your overall healthcare.  Ignoring the effects of stress can also lead to other mental health issues. There is no “right way” to fight stress. The tips below are from the Canadian Mental Health Association. You may want to try them out and see what works best for you. Remember to test both short-term and long-term solutions when you’re dealing with stress.

Identify the problem

What are the underlying causes that are making you feel stressed – are you worried about work, family, school, money? Do you get upset about the little things when they might be masking deeper issues? Once you can determine the sources of your stress, you can start to take action to address them.

Solve problems as they come up. Rather than ignoring a problem or putting it off until later, be proactive and try to address it directly. This can help reduce stress because sometimes the anticipation of dealing with an issue can add to our worry. What can you do, and what might be the results? Your solution doesn’t need to be perfect — just focus on doing the best you can and ask for help if needed. You can break up the work into manageable pieces rather than approach it as one big task, which will give you a sense of accomplishment as you finish one piece at a time. Practicing your problem-solving skills will help you get better at finding solutions and can give you a greater sense of control over your stressors.

Talk about your problem

Keeping our stress bottled up inside can make the problem worse. Try opening up about it with your family or friends. They may not realize what you are going through and can provide help and support. Just having someone to listen may provide a source of relief.  They might also have useful suggestions to help you approach your challenges.  You could also ask your family doctor to refer you to a counsellor or find out what supports are available to you through your work, school or faith community.

Simplify your life. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for yourself and say “no” when you are feeling overwhelmed. Give yourself permission to look after yourself and focus on only the really important things. Stress can arise when we try to do too much at once.  Prioritize your to-do list to help you determine what needs to be done, what someone else can help with, and what is less important.

Learn helpful thinking strategies

How we perceive a situation will impact the way we respond to it. If we focus on the negative aspects, such as what could go wrong or the challenges we face, it can make the situation seem more difficult than it really is. Focusing on the positive aspects, such as what could go right or what we are able to control can make it easier to address.

Start on the inside

Reflective practices such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, prayer or mindfulness can help clear your mind and enable you to look at your problems from a different point of view. The more you practice these types of activities, the easier it will become to use them when stressful situations arise.

Get active

Exercise can help relieve stress and put you in a better mood.  You don’t need to really exert yourself to benefit.  Even taking a walk around the block can help. It’s important to just get moving. If physical activity is difficult for you, your doctor or another healthcare professional might be able to provide you with some suggestions.

Do something you enjoy

Sometimes when we are in pain or feeling sad, we may not make time for the things we enjoy doing.  However, spending time on hobbies, with friends, or doing other activities we like is even more important when we’re not feeling well to give our minds a break.  Watch a movie, listen to music, do a crossword puzzle – whatever makes you happy. Try to schedule some time every day to do at least one activity that makes you feel good.

Can I prevent stress?

While we can take steps to reduce stress, unfortunately we are unable to eliminate it from our lives entirely. However, stress management techniques can help us better cope with stress and bounce back from challenging situations more quickly.

The strategies outlined above can help you take control of your stress before it starts to control you. Just like when learning any new skill, practice will help you get better and make it easier for you to deal with difficulties as they arise.

If you are concerned about your mental health, speak to your doctor or contact your local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

For further information about arthritis and mental health, visit the Arthritis Society’s online module on Mental Health and Well-Being

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