- Reviewed by Pat F. Bass, III, MD, MPH
6 Ways to Relieve RA Anxiety
Anxiety is common among people with rheumatoid arthritis, said Patience White, MD, a rheumatologist and vice president of public policy and advocacy for the Arthritis Foundation. People become anxious because of their pain and because they sometimes aren’t able to do the things they used to do. It’s important to relieve this anxiety, however, because it will make you even more aware of your RA misery, Dr. White said. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to calm down and relax — and also help ease your pain.
Anxiety and RA Relief: Get a Massage
Therapeutic massage can relieve rheumatoid arthritis pain and relieve anxiety. For example, moderate massage reduced pain, increased strength, and improved range of motion in a group of 42 people with rheumatoid arthritis in their shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands, according to a May 2013 study from the University of Miami published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. A massage therapist will work the muscles and joints of your body, helping them become more loose, limber, and flexible.
Anxiety and RA Relief: Exercise
“Use it or lose it” may be an annoying catch phrase but it’s true, especially when you’re managing rheumatoid arthritis. A 2009 research review in The Cochrane Library found that aerobic exercise and strength training both are helpful in relieving pain and reducing anxiety in RA patients, whether done in a traditional setting or in a water-based program. The Arthritis Foundation actively encourages patients to exercise as a way to relieve RA-related stress and anxiety. “We have DVDs that show how to do exercises, and we have programs of ways to be physically active without inflaming your arthritis,” White said.
Anxiety and RA Relief: Meditate
Meditation and relaxation techniques are a wonderful way to combat anxiety when you have rheumatoid arthritis, according to a 2011 research review in Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America. Studies have shown that meditation can provide a buffer against anxiety and stress, improving your positive outlook on life. White recommended mindful meditation, guided imagery, and other relaxation techniques. “All those mind/body things help with pain,” she said.
Anxiety and RA Relief: Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture has been shown to relieve pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Nearly everyone in a small group of British RA patients reported positive effects from acupuncture in a 2009 study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine. They experienced reduced swelling, less pain and increased energy, and reported feeling less stress and more peacefulness. One participant described the dramatic change as going from crawling to skipping.
Anxiety and RA Relief: Get Better Sleep
Rest is essential for handling anxiety from RA and other forms of chronic pain. A lack of sleep has been shown to prompt inflammation and make people more aware of their pain, according to a review of literature in the 2013 Encyclopedia of Sleep. On the other hand, people with rheumatoid arthritis who get adequate sleep feel less pain and feel happier and more positive. Try to get a good night’s sleep, and nap when you feel you need it. “Sleep definitely affects people’s ability to cope with their pain and their mood,” White said.
Anxiety and RA Relief: Try a Hot Bath
A good soak in a hot bath can relieve rheumatoid arthritis pain, according to a 2012 review in the Journal of Hand Therapy. The hot water will increase blood flow, relax tense muscles, and loosen tight joints. Just slip in, lay back and relax, and your anxiety will flow away with your RA aches and pains. Add scented bath salts for additional relaxation, if you like.