Although arthritis can be only diagnosed through the identification of physical symptoms like joint degeneration, there are a host of mental symptoms associated with it which can be just – and often more – difficult to deal with.
Just because two people have the same condition does not mean they will experience it in the same way. This is especially true on the emotional side of living with arthritis.
A recent survey by Arthritis Ireland found that the impact of arthritis on the emotional well-being of Irish people is significant, reducing their ability to participate in social activities, causing sadness and depression and ultimately leading to social isolation.
In response to this we have developed the Coping with Emotions information booklet and we also have our National Helpline which is available to anyone seeking support or information. Below are eight tips (taken from our booklet) on coping with negative emotions such as anxiety or depression.
1. Positive Mental Attitude
The first step in dealing with both the physical and emotional effects of arthritis is having a positive attitude as much as possible. It won’t always be easy. However, it is essential in managing your condition effectively that you are optimistic and positive about yourself, your future and your arthritis. It is important to remember that this is your condition and you control a lot of its effects.
Laughing is a great way of making yourself feel better. When we laugh, feel-good chemicals are released in the brain, and these chemicals block pain and help us feel better. It’s not always easy to laugh or to keep a happy demeanour. You could keep a stack of comedy DVDs or books handy – anything that helps you see the funny side of things and lightens your mood.
Regular exercise serves to benefit both the body and the mind. It is a good idea to develop an exercise programme with a doctor/friend or family member that is appropriate to your lifestyle. Regular exercise will serve to relieve stiffness, maintain or restore flexibility and improve your overall sense of well-being. Exercising is often more enjoyable when done with a family member or friend and they can also serve as your motivator when you may not be feeling up to it! Remember that Arthritis Ireland has a dedicated resource on exercise at www.arthritisandexercise.ie.
Massage can help relax the muscles and improve their condition by increasing the blood flow. This can provide temporary relief from localised pain. You could ask a partner/friend for a massage or go for a professional therapeutic message. Remember to get the approval of your health professional before you get any massage, as each person experiences their arthritis in a different way and the effect that massage has on them is different.
Getting a good night’s sleep restores your energy and improves your ability to manage your pain both physically and emotionally. It is important that both your bed and pillow are supportive to ensure your body is benefiting fully from the rest. Often a brief nap may be all you need to replenish your energy levels and rest your joints and mind.
Learning to relax your body and mind properly is essential in managing your pain with arthritis. When we are tense, our muscles compress our joints and as a result they hurt and the joints are painful. Developing the ability to relax can help you reverse these effects. Some of the more effective ways of relaxing may include deep breathing, meditation, walking or swimming. Everyone has different methods of winding down but it is particularly important for anyone affected by arthritis to find an outlet that will allow both their body and mind to rest regularly.
7. Treating Yourself
Giving yourself the “feel good” factor is important for all of us but especially so when we may be feeling dragged down emotionally by our arthritis. When feeling low, it is important to remember you owe it to yourself to pick yourself up and do something kind for yourself. This might just mean sleeping for an extra hour or visiting a friend. The list is endless and so are the benefits!!
8. Asking for Help
Often people don’t know what they can or should do to support someone with arthritis, so it’s up to you to let them know and to discuss it openly with them. You could consider giving them some of Arthritis Ireland’s information leaflets, which contain information and advice on living with various forms of arthritis.
Sometimes it helps to talk to someone you don’t know. Arthritis Ireland’s helpline is manned by people who are living with arthritis and is the first of its kind in Ireland, providing vital emotional and practical support and information to people affected by arthritis.
For more tips on dealing with the mental impact of arthritis download our Coping with Emotions booklet. If you are looking for information or seeking support, call our helpline and speak to one of our volunteers on locall 1890 252846.