You know that living with the pain, stiffness and fatigue of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), as well as side effects of your medication, can be stressful. People with RA need to learn how to manage stress, otherwise it can lead to muscle tension, pain and depression. Managing stress involves two steps, recognising when you are becoming stressed and finding ways to relieve your stress. Here are some ways to improve your mood and feelings of well-being.
1. Use the power of breath
Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor and your arms at your sides. Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply, saying, “I am …” then breathe out saying, “… relaxed.” Continue to breathe slowly, silently repeating something to yourself such as, “I feel calm … and at peace,” coordinating the words with your breathing.
2. Tense and relax
Close your eyes. Breathe slowly in and out. Beginning with your feet and calves, slowly tense your muscles. Hold for several seconds, and then relax the muscles. Slowly work your way through your major muscle groups using the same technique. Continue breathing deeply. Enjoy feeling relaxed for a few minutes before opening your eyes. Listen to your body and make sure this approach doesn’t cause pain.
3. Imagine a picture in your mind
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and hold it for several seconds. Breathe out slowly, feeling your body relax. Think about a place where you felt comfort – how it looks, smells, sounds and feels. Recapture positive feelings you had there. Take several deep breaths and enjoy feeling peaceful before opening your eyes.
4. Harness the mind-body connection
Yoga and tai chi are ancient practices that combine deep breathing, meditation and gentle, flowing movement. Studies show that both practices are great stress relievers.
5. Talk It out
Share thoughts and feelings with family, friends or others who are good listeners and can help you in a constructive way see problems that cause you stress. You may even consider joining a support group of individuals living with arthritis.
6. Make movement medicine
Research has proven the positive effect of physical activity for people with arthritis. Exercise helps reduce pain, improve sleep, increase energy and improve day-to-day functioning – all things that will also help reduce stress. Walking is an easy way to get started.
7. Embrace the artist in you
Writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal can be a great way to vent and release stress. Whether you’re a novice or pro, creative outlets such as painting, sketching, pottery and needlework can help alleviate thoughts and actions that cause stress. Find free or inexpensive classes in your neighbourhood or check out simple videos on YouTube.com.
8. Enjoy simple pleasures
Relax in a warm bath with your favourite bath salts and a bath pillow. Drink a soothing cup of herbal tea by yourself, or while talking to a friend. Lie in a dark room or sit in a rocking chair and listen to your favourite soothing music. Sit on your porch and watch the sun set. Walk along the beach. Find and do what makes you happiest.
9. Make a list and check it twice
Deciding what has to be done and what can wait or be handled by someone else is an important part of managing daily stress. Ask yourself, “What must I do right away? What can I postpone or eliminate?”
10. Talk to your doctor
Don’t go it alone. If you feel stressed talk to your doctor and/or other members of your healthcare team to help find solutions that will work for you.