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  • Writer's pictureValerie Smith, APRN

The Connection Between Stress and Arthritis

Ah, stress… We all experience it. It’s inescapable and a part of our everyday lives.

Research findings have proven again and again just how much stress takes a toll on our bodies and immune systems.

For those living with rheumatic diseases, it’s no surprise that stress carries an extra-strong

punch, and unfortunately, can significantly decrease the ability to function and carry out daily responsibilities.

Sadly, I can’t say I have a magic cure to completely remove all your stressors and make life a stress-free bliss. The real question is not how can we eradicate stress, but rather how can we control and manage it.

First, let’s discuss why it is vital to try to decrease the amount of stress we experience. An article by the Arthritis Foundation explains:

“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.”

It’s important to understand that stress accumulates. Stress is rather relentless and builds upon itself. That means your arthritis symptoms that are brought on by stress can rage on.

For example, let’s say you don’t sleep well, don’t eat properly, and stop exercising when under significant stress. Yet, these are the exact solutions to minimizing your arthritis flare-ups. A lack of physical movement creates stiff joints and increases your pain. Poor sleep leads to fatigue and further limits your movement. A bad diet kicks your inflammation into full gear. Then the pain sets in more, the inflammation steps it up a notch, and the vicious flare-up cycle continues on.

We’ve talked about how stress increases arthritis symptoms, but what about turning that topic around. Let’s discuss how living with arthritis causes stress!

Many of my patients would agree that dealing with the rheumatic disease is stressful! As an article by the Cleveland Clinic reports: “If you have arthritis, you already know about swollen joints and painful movement. But what may surprise you is that arthritis can get to your head and cause mental distress too — leading to stress and anxiety for a third of people in the U.S who have this condition.”

That is why it is critical to find effective ways to manage and even reduce the stress in your life. At Paducah Rheumatology, we are here to help explore what works best for you! We want to help you gain the best quality of life possible. Listed below are a few key points we feel are vital to your overall well being:

Manage the Pain - Finding a medication that works for you is our goal. That means the right medication at the right dosage amount. Our team knows medication is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. We understand that what works best for one patient will not be the correct fit for another, and therefore, we create customized treatment plans for each one of our patients.

Eat Right - Certain foods are considered inflammatory. Remove the processed foods, fried foods, and junk foods. Stay away from sugar-sweetened beverages, processed carbohydrates, and desserts. Instead, go for the fruits and vegetables. Eat more nuts, fish, and grains.

Move Your Body - Do anything that keeps your body in motion. Don’t be discouraged if you cannot do a rigorous exercise routine. A simple walk is better than nothing. You could also try out aerobics, yoga, biking, or swimming.

Seek Professional Therapy - Many find the guidance of a therapist or counselor extremely beneficial when working to navigate the stress of life. A professional can help you find resolutions, gain a new perspective, and discover healthy coping techniques.

It is clear that stress and rheumatic diseases are a bad combination, but don’t lose all hope just yet! While we cannot remove every stressor that affects you, we will take the time to discuss your healthcare needs and come up with an action plan. At Paducah Rheumatology, we do not want stress to limit you and will work hard to help you find solutions that will lead to a happy and fulfilling life.

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