Locations:
Search IconSearch

Why Arthritis Can Stress You Out — and Cause Anxiety

3 tips to coping to help limit pain

Why Arthritis Can Stress You Out — and Cause Anxiety

If you have arthritis, you already know about swollen joints and painful movement. But what may surprise you is that arthritis can get to your head and cause mental distress too — leading to stress and anxiety for a third of people in the U.S who have this condition.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Finding ways to cope with stress can go a long way toward limiting your pain and improving your quality of life. Let’s look at how that can work.

The stress-arthritis cycle

It’s often unsettling for patients to hear the initial diagnosis, says rheumatologist Alla Model, MD. “There is worry about the prognosis and the future,” she says.

As arthritis symptoms progress, you may grow frustrated. You may struggle to put on socks, chop vegetables or do other things that were once routine. Worry can rob you of sleep, cause indigestion, and you may notice other side effects that boost your stress levels.

“Being uncomfortable and in pain makes people more emotional and increases stress,” Dr. Model says. And because stress can lower your threshold for pain, the stress just makes the physical pain worse.

3 tips to handling stress

1. Stay as active as you can

Exercise and physical activity such as walking and swimming help:

  • Reduce the stiffness that comes with arthritis
  • Control weight, which reduces stress on joints
  • Release the “feel-good” endorphin hormones, which can both improve your mood and block pain.

Dr. Model offers the example of one of her patients: Diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, she was active in a hiking club, often spending three to five hours at a time out on the trail. “She got braces, learned how to cope and it hasn’t stopped her — she’s doing great,” Dr. Model says.

She also recommends yoga, Pilates and hot-water therapy to foster relaxation and help cope with the stress of arthritis.

Some people are more motivated to follow an exercise program at home, while others may need the support of a class instructor, personal trainer or physical therapist. “Whatever it takes to get them moving,” she says.

2. Keep pain in check

Talk to your doctor about drugs to help reduce the pain. There is no medicine to cure arthritis, but nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help control your pain. And, as mentioned above, keeping your pain in check can help reduce stress levels and vice versa.

What type, how much and how often you should take an NSAID will vary depending on what type of arthritis you have (there are more than 100 types) and your symptoms.

For instance, your doctor may prescribe higher doses of NSAIDs if you have rheumatoid arthritis, while lower doses are often enough for osteoarthritis that affects only one joint.

3. Eat right to fight inflammation

Eating healthy, especially foods shown to improve arthritis symptoms, can help reduce stress and pain.

Advertisement

Three types of anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet are:

  • Wild salmon, olive oil and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Broccoli, cauliflower and other fresh or frozen cruciferous vegetables
  • Cherries, blueberries and strawberries

Limit foods containing omega-6 fatty acids, which boost rather than reduce inflammation. Omega-6 fats are common in red meat and vegetable oils such as corn and sunflower oil.

As patients learn how to cope with arthritis, they often report a reduction in stress, Dr. Model says. “If they believe in a healthy lifestyle, are mentally strong and able to stay active every day, they will do so much better,” she says.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

People sitting in circle at group therapy
July 18, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Chronic Hives and Mental Health: Self-Care Tips

Combat stress and anxiety — common chronic hives triggers — by focusing on sleep, staying active and leaning on others for support

Person crying with heart-shaped hole in their chest
July 9, 2024/Mental Health
How To Overcome an Existential Crisis

Connecting with loved ones, keeping a gratitude journal and reframing the situation may help the dread dissipate

Female holding hair up at neck, eyes closed, fanning herself with piece of paper
July 9, 2024/Women's Health
Hot Flashes, Anxiety and Menopause: What’s the Connection?

You may be more prone to hot flashes if you have anxiety, but hot flashes can also rev up anxiety

Silohuette of person, with light aimed at their eye and brain
June 20, 2024/Mental Health
Feeling Stuck? Brainspotting May Help

This alternative brain-body therapy focuses on unlocking pent-up feelings, memories and tension that may be stuck in your brain and body

Healthcare provider checking patient's knee
June 19, 2024/Chronic Pain
Arthritis Exercise: What To Try and What To Avoid

Exercising can actually improve arthritis symptoms — and low-impact exercises are best

Person standing in kitchen holding glass of water in one hand and medication in the other
May 31, 2024/Heart Health
How To Get Rid of Chest Pain at Home

If your provider has ruled out a serious cause, you can treat chest pain at home with antacids, inhalers or anti-inflammatory medications

Person blowing nose, surrounded by medicines and home remedies
May 30, 2024/Primary Care
Why Do I Keep Getting Sick?

Stress and unhealthy habits can lead to more colds, but taking some precautions may help you stay well

Person typing on keyboard in front of computer screen
May 29, 2024/Orthopaedics
Typing 101: How To Avoid Wrist Pain

Over-the-counter pain medications, typing pads and wrist braces can help when you’re in a wrist pinch

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad