About Arthritis and Stress

There is no avoiding stress completely. It is a part of everyday life. It is the way the mind and body react to tension and pressure. Too much stress can increase pain, can make a person prone to illnesses, and can make it more difficult for people with arthritis to cope with the added burdens imposed by their disease.

What is stress?

Stress is a term used to describe the body and mind's reaction to everyday tensions and pressures. Too much stress can increase pain and can make a person more prone to illnesses such as heart disease or mental problems.

Managing stress begins with learning the signs and symptoms of stress:

  • Tiredness/exhaustion
  • Muscle tension
  • Anxiety
  • Indigestion
  • Nervousness/trembling
  • Sleeplessness
  • Cold sweaty hands
  • Loss of or increased appetite
  • Grinding teeth/clenching jaws
General body complaints such as:
  • Weakness 
  • Dizziness 
  • Headache 
  • Stomach ache 
  • Pain in the back or muscles
It's possible that some of these symptoms may be caused by problems other than stress such as the flu. Ask your doctor about symptoms that last for more than a week. If your doctor decides that stress is the problem you can work together to understand and relieve it.

Stress and arthritis

Too much stress can also make it harder for people with arthritis to face the extra problems imposed by their disease. These problems may include medical expenses, changes in lifestyle, side effects from drugs and concern about the future. 

By learning to cope with stress in a positive way you can reduce your pain feel healthier and deal better with the extra demands of your disease. It is for these reasons that stress management is an important part of taking care of your arthritis. Learning stress management or how to cope with stress in a positive way is a skill. Like any skill it needs to be practiced.

People with arthritis must confront the same kinds of stress as everyone else. Additionally, living with chronic arthritis creates another medley of stressful problems. Chronic arthritis adds to the stress of pain, fatigue, depression, dependence, altered finances, employment, social life, self-esteem and self-image.

During stressful times, the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream and physical changes occur. The physical changes give the body added strength and energy and prepare the body to deal with the stressful event.

When stress is dealt with positively the body restores itself and repairs any damage caused by the stress. However, when stress builds up without any release, it affects the body negatively.

A vicious cycle occurs in the relationship of arthritis and stress. The difficulties which arise from living with chronic arthritis create stress. The stress causes muscle tension and increased pain along with worsening arthritic symptoms. The worsening symptoms lead back to more stress.

The University of Washington, Department of Orthopedics, lists three components of a successful stress management program:

  1. Learn how to reduce stress 
  2. Learn how to accept what you cannot change
  3. Learn how to overcome the harmful effects of stress

Reducing stress
  • Identify the causes of stress in your life.
  • Share your thoughts and feelings.
  • Try not to get depressed.
  • Simplify your life as much as possible.
  • Manage your time, and conserve your energy.
  • Set short-term and life goals for yourself.
  • Do not turn to drugs and alcohol.
  • Utilize arthritis support and education services.
  • Become as mentally and physically fit as possible.
  • Develop a sense of humor and have some fun.
  • Get help to cope with hard-to-solve problems.
  • Realize that you can change only yourself, not others. 
  • Allow yourself to be imperfect.
Overcoming the harmful effects
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Learn to overcome barriers to relaxation
Corticosteroid Use and Stress
Many arthritis patients are prescribed a corticosteroid, such as prednisone, as part of their treatment plan. Without some precautionary measures, stress can be dangerous to someone taking corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids are closely related to cortisol, which is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol helps regulate salt and water balance and carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism.

When the body experiences stress the pituitary gland releases a hormone which signals the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. The extra cortisol allows the body to cope with the stress. When the stress is over, adrenal hormone production reverts to normal.

Prolonged use of corticosteroids results in diminished production of cortisol by the body. With insufficient cortisol production, the body could be left inadequately protected against stress and open to additional problems such as fever or low blood pressure.

Physicians often prescribe an increased dose of corticosteroid to compensate for this when there is a known or expected stressful event.

The MIND heals with play
The BODY heals with laughter
The SOUL heals with joy
~ Proverb ~