Depression is considered a “comorbidity” of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). That means it often occurs with RA. It can be hard to maintain a sunny outlook on life when you’re living with a painful autoimmune disease that attacks your joints.
Depression can make it that much harder to cope with RA. It can even make RA symptoms worse. Fortunately, RA and depression are both treatable.
Learn how you can develop healthy habits to manage the symptoms of RA and depression — and make an appointment with your doctor to talk about treatment options.
Modern treatments for RA are very effective. Alone or in combination, medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other treatments can help relieve inflammation, stiffness, pain, and disability. With the right treatment, you may achieve remission, or the near or total absence of RA symptoms.
It’s also important to practice healthy lifestyle habits by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, and maintaining supportive relationships.
For the sake of your physical and mental health, it’s essential to get enough sleep. RA pain and depression can make it hard to rest. For a better night’s sleep, consider taking these steps:
- go to bed and get up at the same hour every day, even on weekends
- sleep in a cool, dark, and quiet room
- avoid eating or drinking, particularly caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, after 7 p.m.
- avoid watching TV, using your computer, or using other electronics in bed or too close to bedtime
- take a warm bath or shower before bed
- use simple relaxation techniques, such as counting your breaths or meditating, before bed
Eating nutritious, wholesome foods is key to good health. A well-balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, support your immune system, and boost your mood.
Include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins in your diet. Lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and legumes help build and maintain strong muscles. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that your body needs to function at its best.
Limit your consumption of saturated fat, processed sugars, and sodium. Save deep-fried foods, sweets, and sugar-laden beverages for the occasional treat.
RA can leave you feeling sick and fatigued. When you’re coping with these symptoms, you can’t be blamed for wanting to stay at home. But isolation can negatively impact your health and mood.
Human beings need to feel like they’re part of a community, 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 may help revitalize you. Meeting up with friends and loved ones can lift your spirits.
When your RA is flaring up or you’re feeling blue, it can take serious willpower to exercise. But it’s worth the effort.
Researchers in the journal Arthritis Care and Research report that aerobic exercise can improve quality of life and body function among people with RA. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise can also ease symptoms of depression.
Stretching, swimming, and walking are gentle on tender joints. They can help strengthen your muscles, build stamina, improve balance, and increase feelings of self-worth and confidence. Even light exercise causes the release of endorphins in your brain, relieving pain and lifting your mood.
No one should have to endure the pain caused by RA or depression alone. You may be able to handle it better with support from your family and friends.
Whether it’s physical or mental, pain can be difficult to talk about. You might think that being stoic and silent is better than talking or “complaining” about it, particularly if your pain is chronic. But pain is your body’s signal that something is wrong. By talking to your family and friends about your pain, you’re allowing them to help you take steps to address it.
If you’re struggling to manage your RA pain or suspect you might have depression, talk to your doctor. They can help develop and adjust your treatment plan to provide relief.
They may adjust your RA medications or dosage. They may also refer you to a specialist who can use a variety of methods to address your pain, from biofeedback and meditation to various pain-relieving drugs.
If you’re experiencing depression, your doctor may give you a referral to someone who specializes in mental health. Talk and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can go a long way toward relieving depression. Antidepressant drugs can also help.