How Do I Cope with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression?
There Really Is a Mind-Body Connection
Depression can make living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) much harder. It can even make RA symptoms worse.
Not everyone who has RA becomes depressed, but depression is considered a “comorbidity” (a disease that occurs together with another) of RA. It can be hard to maintain a sunny outlook on life when you’re living with a painful, often disabling, and incurable disease.
The good news is that depression is both treatable and curable. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, working to avoid or overcome depression can also help improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
New RA Treatments Are Effective
Today’s treatments for RA, including many new medications and physical and occupational therapy, are often very successful.
Alone or combined, these treatments go a long way toward relieving the inflammation, stiffness, pain, and disability so often caused by RA. In fact, some people even achieve remission—the near or total absence of RA symptoms—while undergoing treatment.
How’s Your Sleep Hygiene?
RA pain and depression an make it hard to rest. Try these steps for a better night’s sleep:
- Avoid eating or drinking (particularly caffeinated or alcoholic beverages) after 7 p.m.
- Enjoy a warm bath or shower before bed.
- Go to bed and get up at the same hour every day, even on weekends.
- Sleep in a cool, dark, and quiet room.
- Avoid overstimulation: no TV, computer, or other electronics in bed.
- Use simple meditation techniques, like counting breaths, as distractions from pain and stress. Meditation can soothe the mind to sleep.
Eat Better to Feel Better
Eating nutritious, wholesome foods is good for RA. Additionally, eating mindfully helps with maintaining an optimum body weight and helps the body function effectively too. For these reasons, it’s also a vital weapon against depression.
Avoid sugary snacks, beverages, and desserts. Choose fresh fruits, brown rice, and whole grain breads and pastas.
Lean meats like chicken and fish, and soy foods like tofu, provide the proteins your body needs to build and maintain strong, lean muscles. And eating plenty of vegetables gives your body the vitamins, minerals, and fiber it needs to function at its best. When you feel good in body and mind, you look good—and vice versa.
Try Fresh Air and a Change of Scenery
Along with stiff, painful joints, RA can also make you feel sick and fatigued. With these wearying symptoms, you can’t be blamed for wanting to stay at home. But isolating yourself from the world only deepens depression. So does avoiding contact with coworkers, acquaintances, friends, family, and even strangers.
Human beings need to feel that they’re part of the tribe, and that they’re loved, valued, and cared for. Get out of the house as often as you can, even when you’re not feeling your best. Fresh air and sunshine are revitalizing. Meeting up with friends and loved ones is a tried-and-true way to lift your spirits.
Exercise Is Good for RA and Depression
When your RA is flaring up and you’re feeling blue, it can take serious willpower to exercise. Yet exercise can be a serious remedy for RA and depression.
According to a study published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research, low-impact aerobic exercise just an hour a day, three days a week, can decrease RA symptoms like pain, fatigue, and depression significantly.
Stretching, swimming, and walking are gentle on tender joints. They strengthen muscles, build stamina, improve balance, and increase feelings of self-worth and confidence. Even light exercise causes a release of endorphins in the brain, relieving pain and lifting your mood.
Tell Your Family and Friends How You Feel
No one should have to endure the pain caused by RA and depression alone. Both can be crushing and relentless. But you’ll be able to handle them better with help from your family and friends.
Pain, whether it’s physical or mental, is difficult to express. You may feel that being stoic and silent about your pain is somehow better than “complaining” about it, particularly when the pain is chronic.
But pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong. By talking to your family and friends about your RA pain and how sad it makes you feel, you’re allowing them to help you take steps to address it.
Talk to Your Doctor
It’s vital to talk to your doctor or rheumatologist about RA pain and depression. The dosage of your RA medications or pain relievers may need to be adjusted. Or maybe it’s time to try new medications. Low doses of certain antidepressants can relieve pain and help make you drowsy enough to sleep better at night, too.
Your rheumatologist can refer you to a doctor who specializes in pain relief. They use a variety of methods to address pain, from biofeedback and meditation to stronger, more effective pain-relieving drugs.
You also can get a referral to doctor who specializes in mental health. Talk and cognitive therapy can go a long way toward relieving depression. Antidepressant drugs can be helpful as well.
- Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms. (2011, October 1). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 2, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043
- Dickens, C. and Creed, F. (2001). The Burden of Depression in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Rheumatology, 40(12), 1327-1330. Retrieved December 2, 2013, from http://rheumatology.oxfordjournals.org/content/40/12/1327.full
- Morone, N.E., Lynch, C.S., Greco, C.M., Tindle, H.A., & Weiner, D.K. (2008, September). “I felt like a new person.” The effects of mindfulness meditation on older adults with chronic pain: qualitative narrative analysis of diary entries. J Pain., 9(9), 841-848. Retrieved December 2, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2569828/
- Neuberger, G.B., Aaronson, L.S., Gajewski, B., Embretson, S.E., Cagle, P.E., Loudon, J.K., and Miller, P.A. (2007, August 15). Predictors of exercise and effects of exercise on symptoms, function, aerobic fitness, and disease outcomes of rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Care & Research, 57(6), 943-952. Retrieved December 2, 2013, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/art.22903/full
- Nutrition and Rheumatoid Arthritis. (2011, October 14). Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Retrieved December 3, 2013, from http://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/rheumatoid-arthrtis-nutrition/
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/orthopaedic_disorders/rheumatoid_arthritis_85,P01133/
- Sleep Tips: 7 Steps to Better Sleep. (2011, July 2). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sleep/HQ01387/NSECTIONGROUP=2
- What Is Depression? (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml