Photo Credit: OcusFocus / iStockphoto.com
Stress and Arthritis
Think back to life around the time when your arthritis symptoms began. What was going on? How did you feel? Were there any major life changes going on? How was your stress?
Now, think back to a recent time when you had a lot of stress. How were your arthritis symptoms? Did you notice any changes? Were they for the better or the worse?
After you answered these questions, you probably began to uncover the relationship between stress and arthritis. Many people report the onset of their symptoms come immediately after a major life event or after an intensely stressful time. They also report that once the symptoms are established, they increase their levels of perceived stress. Things that would normally be easier to manage become major barriers or obstacles to overcome because of arthritis pain.
The relationship between stress and arthritis is clear, and it is bidirectional. This means that stress can spark or worsen arthritis while arthritis can trigger or worsen stress. Experts in the field are constantly looking for ways to explain the link.
Currently, they have two ideas regarding the biological explanation for the link, which each has to do with the body’s response to stress. The targets are called cytokines and cortisol. Cytokines are a category of proteins released by cells. Some cytokines are related to inflammation associated with arthritis. Cortisol is a hormone that is released during periods of stress that inhibits the body’s ability to repair cell damage.
In this case, the question remains: What can I do to improve my arthritis so that my stress is lower, and how do I lower my stress to improve my arthritis? The answer is a long one that is broken into two parts. Part one is to take care of your arthritis. Part two is to take care of your stress. Focusing on one or the other can result in you being overwhelmed and burned out, though. Because your time, efforts, and resources are limited, it is advantageous to seek out solutions that efficiently manage both steps simultaneously. Here’s how:
The Big Three
With your physical health, there is nothing more important than the combination of sleep, diet, and exercise. When stress or arthritis are present, modifying one or all of these factors can lead to tremendously beneficial results. Having the right amount of sleep for you; an improved diet based on lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables; and increased, low-impact physical activity will make a positive difference in your mental health and physical health.
You may think that increased physical activity will increase your arthritis pain, but reconsider this faulty notion. Consult your physician to find the recommended form of exercise for your level of pain. Swimming, walking, yoga or elliptical trainers could give you the profits of exercise without the pain. Overall, exercise is shown to reduce joint pain with consistent use. Studies also show exercise to be associated with the release of stress-reducing chemicals into the brain.
There are many low-impact knee arthritis exercises which can help improve range in motion and flexibility, options include water aerobics, yoga, and more.
Eating well helps you to feel well both mentally and physically. For your physical health, be sure to evade known foods that result in inflammation or increase discomfort. Ask your doctor to list foods you should avoid while you maintain a food journal to track poor food choices specific to your body. When you eat for energy rather than enjoyment, your body and mind reward you with a heightened ability to manage daily stress.
With sleep, the evidence is everywhere. Sleeping helps your body and your mind reset and recuperate after a long day. Be aware, though. More sleep is not necessarily better. Investigate your sleep patterns to determine if your trends need to be shortened or extended. Experiment with different lengths of sleep gradually to ease your body through the process.
If stress is a concern in your life, relaxation techniques are a viable solution. Techniques come in many variations with near-endless options for customization. For your stress and arthritis, there is a version perfect for you. An added layer of benefit is that most relaxation techniques work to strengthen the body as well as the mind.
Begin with a simple deep breathing technique. Diaphragmatic breathing means that you are using your diaphragm to inhale in a deeper way that increases the volume of air in your lungs. Increased air available floods your blood much-needed oxygen to feed your organs. When oxygen is sufficient, your heart can slow, which calms your entire being. If deep breathing has been a struggle, begin with the exhale. Push out all of the air from your lungs, pause, and then suck in as much air as your can to fill low in your lungs. Leave your shoulders still, and push out your stomach.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is another relaxation technique that yields a two-fold value. By tensing and relaxing your muscles, you can stretch and move your joints in a way that relieves pain. To complete PMR, tense muscles in a part of your body by squeezing your hands into fists or squinting you eyes and forehead. Target the sources of your physical stress. After holding and feeling the tension, relax the muscles and feel the tension melt away. Experiment with different methods of tension in different locations to explore all the PMR has to offer.
Every day, people have added stress and discomfort in their life due to lack of acceptance of their current state. Yes. You can manage arthritis symptoms, and you can reduce your stress, but there is little chance that either will be completely eradicated. Because of this, you need to find acceptance.
Bringing acceptance into your life does not mean that you are giving up or ending your battle with arthritis or stress. It does mean that you understand the influence that these issues present to your life. Acceptance helps to change your expectations of yourself and your world to be more practical and realistic. Some days you are going to be in pain. Some days your stress will be high. Denying these facts only amplify the unwanted effects.
Arthritis and stress are painful in a literal and figurative way. Do not expend your energies inefficiently by trying to improve each individual. Working on the tips above will simultaneously lessen your physical pain and mental anguish while improving your overall well-being. By changing your life, the only risk is feeling better. Start feeling better today.