The pain and strain of coping with a condition like rheumatoid arthritis is not only physically taxing, the mental and emotional stress associated with the chronic condition are also exhausting and can actually contribute to a heightened sense of the symptoms, increased inflammation in the body, and can put you at risk of developing other problems including heart disease. What is the connection between stress and arthritis symptoms, and how can you find calm in the storm of anxiety?

How Anxiety can Worsen Arthritis

According to the CDC, almost 53 million people annually are diagnosed with some form of arthritis, characterized by chronic joint stiffness, swelling, inflammation, and pain. Pain is a stressor that causes a physiological response, “preparing us to fight or escape the enemy,” says Rudy Nydegger, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Union Graduate College in Schenectady, N.Y. “Our heart rates and breathing speed up, our muscles tense and blood flow to the brain increases, putting us in a state of high awareness.” This heightened state of awareness can make symptoms of arthritis feel even worse, and can cause indirect changes in the body as well:

  • Stress hormones like cortisol can affect your diet and weight levels by leading you to crave and eat unhealthy foods for comfort.
  • Anxiety about your arthritis symptoms can interfere with sleep patterns, leading to further inactivity and exhaustion.
  • According to Stanford University School of Medicine, chronic pain can cause permanent changes to brain anatomy, affecting motivation levels.

How can you reduce anxiety and its effects on conditions like rheumatoid arthritis?

  • Meditate: Adopting a meditation practice addresses a main aspect of anxiety, which is cyclical, racing thoughts, and reduces the effects of stress and arthritis on the body. Learning to center yourself through focused breathing and visualization exercises can help detach you from your thoughts and feelings and bring mental and physical calm.
  • Move More: Regular exercise is an incredibly effective tool for relieving anxiety, because it boosts endorphin levels for a natural feel-good. It will also reduce arthritis pain because it will strengthen the muscles surrounding the injured joints and offers weight control benefits.
  • Medicate: If your anxiety persists, it may be time to consult a physician about considering medication for treatment. Dr. Louise Murphy, PhD, director of the arthritis program at the CDC, says that mental health conditions eventually influence sleep, activity, social interactions, adherence to treatment protocol, and recommends that “Treating mental health conditions should be regarded as a fundamental part of managing arthritis symptoms.” Using medication in conjunction with counseling, including cognitive behavioral therapy or biofeedback, will be most effective for getting to the root of your anxiety and helping you improve.

Are Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms Taking Over? Find Stress and Arthritis Relief

At Health Star Clinic, we want to help you take back your active lifestyle. Through effective pain management, therapeutic chiropractic care, stabilizing physical therapy, and supportive bracing, our staff can help get your on the road to recovery. Contact us today to learn more!