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Reduce Stress to Reduce Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Addressing Both the Physical and Emotional Sides of Pain is Your Best Defense Against RA

Rheumatoid arthritis is a complicated condition, and stress will only exacerbate its often debilitating symptoms.

Read an article on how stress affects rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis has no cure and can cause intense, chronic pain. You've likely felt many different emotions since RA became part of your life—confusion, frustration, anger, sadness, and helplessness. And all these feelings can create stress.

Reducing your stress is important—not only to your emotional well being but also your physical health. There are many non-surgical treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, such as medications and physical therapy, that address the physical nature of the condition. But stress management is equally important in reducing your pain. In fact, stress can actually affect your perception of pain.

In this RA Treatment Series

Simply put, stress weakens your body. In a weakened state, you're more vulnerable to RA's symptoms, including painful flare-ups, weakness, and fatigue. If you eliminate certain stressful triggers and make healthy behavioral changes, you'll have a better sense of well being.

How to Reduce Your Stress (and Your Symptoms)

  • Exercise. Whether you enroll in a water aerobics class or make walking around the park part of your daily routine, exercise promotes good mental health by curbing stress and anxiety. Gentle exercise—especially aerobic exercise—is ideal for people with rheumatoid arthritis because it improves mobility and will even help shed a few pounds (which takes pressure off your joints). Another big benefit: exercise may even have pain killing and mood lifting effect.
  • Join a support group. When you have rheumatoid arthritis, or any painful condition, it's easy to feel alone. Joining a support group will connect you with people who understand the pain and emotions you're experiencing. The community aspect will also help diminish the sense of isolation that often accompanies pain.
  • Relaxation therapy. This therapy aims to calm both the body and mind through making a conscious effort to relax. Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, you might find this technique effective at controlling your response to stress.

    You might want to begin by focusing on one part of the body—your hands, for instance. Concentrate until your hands are entirely free of any stress or tension. Then imagine that weightless feeling flow throughout the rest of your body. You may want to close your eyes, lie down, shut the lights off, or think of a soothing memory. Relaxation doesn't have strict guidelines—whatever best puts you in a relaxed frame of mind is what you should follow.
  • Take a warm bath. Moist heat (from taking a shower, bath, or sitting in a hot tub or steam room) will decrease the secretion of stress hormones and raise levels of endorphins, which are your body's natural pain killers.
  • Take time for you. When it comes to controlling your stress, balance is key. In most cases, this means you might need to say no when you sense you're getting overwhelmed. Just as you need to stay active, regular rest is also vital to successful rheumatoid arthritis treatment. Create a balance in your life. You should make time for the things you want to do in addition to the things you have to do.
Updated on: 10/09/12
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