Handle stress and feel better

Handle stress and feel better

Roughly a third of people with rheumatism experience increased stress related to their condition. Stress, in turn, can aggravate RA symptoms and cause other problems. But there are several ways to learn how to deal with stress, from relaxation to getting better at taking care of sleep.

Everyone feels stress at times: it is a natural part of like. Stress can come from major upheavals such as divorce or losing your job, or more mundane situations such as missing the bus or even something as small as an extra-long queue for the checkout in the grocery store.

With a chronic illness such as rheumatism, everyday life can involve a higher level of persistent stress which is never released. Stress isn’t just about emotion, but also affects the body physically by releasing chemicals which can increase inflammation. For people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), stress can therefore worsen symptoms. There is a lot you can do yourself to deal with stress and limit its effects. Here are some tips from the Arthritis Foundation Patient Association from the United States that may help you reflect on stress management in your life.

Relaxation exercises

Have you ever found yourself feeling in a better mood after exercising or taking a brisk walk? You’re not alone. Exercise affects mood, for example by releasing endorphins - chemicals that make us feel better. In addition, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are lowered in the body after exercise. All exercise is good, but harder training gives a better effect. Just remember not to increase the intensity too quickly. 

Regular exercise is actually one of the most effective ways you can reduce stress and relieve anxiety. For people with rheumatism, there are many other benefits: exercise strengthens the muscles which support joints, and it can help you maintain a weight that does not overload the body.

Relaxation techniques

Pain in your body can affect your thoughts and feelings. Conversely, your feelings and thoughts can affect your body. One way to learn how to better understand this connection is to use mindfulness and other meditation techniques. There are several relaxation and mindfulness exercises you can try. Deep breathing can lower your heart rate and provide calm during a stressful situation. Taking a few minutes to meditate and relax a few times a day is good for both body and soul.

Accept help from others

Chronic diagnoses can make you feel alone, which can create internal stress. It’s important to have someone who will listen to you. Many people find it easier when they surround themselves with other people who support them. Exactly who these people are doesn’t really matter: It could be a friend or relative, or you could join a patient association or Facebook group. There are also, for example, CBT therapies that can help change the ways you think and relieve stress. If you feel your stress or anxiety is overwhelming, it is important you seek help.

Dealing with uncertainty

Rheumatic disease can involve a lot of uncertainty, which can lead to stress. You might be worried about side effects, the development of your disease, work, study, pregnancy or anything else. It’s important you talk to your rheumatologist and talk through your worries with them.

Take care of your sleep

For some people, rheumatism can mean it is difficult for them to fall asleep and to sleep without being disturbed. Unfortunately, poor sleep can lead to more pain, which can create a vicious cycle. But there are things you can do to improve your sleep. Create a routine by going to bed at the same time each night. Also, make sure your bedroom is cool and dark. Try to avoid coffee, some teas, caffeinated soft drinks and chocolate drinks in the evening. Also, being hungry or being very full can both disturb sleep. Physical activity can improve sleep but it’s best of you don’t exercise too close to bedtime. Rest for at least two hours before you go to bed.

Enjoy the things you like

Relieving stress does not have to be complicated, expensive or time-consuming. Sometimes it can be a step in the right direction just to enjoy something you like that makes you calm. Watch a funny movie, paint, walk or work in the garden. What makes you enjoy the moment? Something that many people find helps is massage. Massage can be relaxing and relieves both stress and pain. Go to a licensed massage therapist and tell them what you need.

Build good habits for the long term

Unfortunately, some things that relieve stress in the short term can raise it in the long term. Examples of this are drinking too much alcohol, smoking and eating comforting - but unhealthy - foods that are not good for the body long term. Instead, try to eat nutritious food, exercise regularly and quit smoking for a more sustainable reduction in stress.

References:

  1. Arthritis Foundation - Emotional self-care during tough times

  2. Arthritis Foundation - Managing stress to live healthy with arthritis

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