How to Deal With Rheumatoid Arthritis and Anxiety
Anxiety can be a powerful and negative emotion or state of being that you experience when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It may manifest itself in a variety of ways, due to the fact that your RA both makes you more vulnerable in terms of health complications and the fact that in general, the diagnosis of a disease (or the uncertainty it brings) can make one anxious.
This can be especially troubling if you are adjusting to life with RA, the possibility of disability and the uncertainty of the future. However, there are many things you can do to keep your anxiety at a manageable level.
Personally, I struggled with anxiety even before I was in constant pain. Although general anxiety and panic attacks don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with RA, a diagnosis or chronic pain main trigger it for those who are more prone to anxiety in general.
If you find you are suddenly beginning to have panic attacks or are having frequent racing thoughts, it is important to discuss this with your doctor, as he or she may be able to prescribe medication to help bring you to a calmer state.
Many people I have spoken to worry that anti-anxiety medication will make it so they can no longer feel, but this is simply not the case. Instead, the anti-anxiety medication will help you relax and cut down on panic attacks.
If your panic attacks are especially bad, you may also be prescribed something to help stop them while they are happening, which is extremely useful for getting “over the hump” of the most difficult parts.
However, medication isn’t warranted in all anxiety situations and it won’t cure anxiety, simply help it become more manageable.
How to Cope With Rheumatoid Arthritis and Anxiety
There is a variety of other things people with RA can do to help lessen anxiety. Here are just a few ways I manage my rheumatoid arthritis and anxiety when it attacks:
1. Cutting Out Caffeine
Caffeine can alter your mood and cause things like racing thoughts because it is a stimulant. For people who feel they need coffee to function, this may be a pretty huge setback, but it may be necessary in order to keep anxiety under control.
Although quitting caffeine isn’t going to eliminate the uncomfortable feelings associated with the disorder, it may help you feel better and keep things a little bit better control.
2. Get Plenty of Sleep
This is especially important for RA sufferers, as I notice my arthritis tends to be worse without a proper night’s sleep. Additionally, a lack of sleep can heighten anxiety, making it that much more difficult to get through the day.
Try to gauge how much sleep you need at night time by experimenting with different time periods and figuring out where you feel your best. This may be more sleep than most people need since your immune system is a bit lowered, so ensure you get a full night’s rest every night.
Anxiety can make sleeping more difficult, so you can try non-medication alternatives like hot tea or using guided meditation (many are found on YouTube or for free on podcasts) to help you relax before bed. Try to unwind by reading or watching a film about an hour before you go to sleep.
If you find your anxiety is too out of control before bed, speak to your doctor about something to help you sleep better. Be very careful with over the counter sleep aids, however, especially melatonin, as they can interact with medication taken to help RA.