7 Ways to Handle Your New RA Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis can send your emotions spinning out of control. Here’s how to stay calm and take hold of your condition.

Susan Amoruso
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No doubt about it a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis can turn your life upside down. You may have just a vague idea of what the condition is—and that’s if you know anything about it at all. You may wonder if you’ll still be able to work, care for your home and do the things you love. And you may fear becoming a burden to your family and friends.

As you come to terms with your rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, it’s normal to experience the gamut of emotions: depression, stress, fear, anxiety, denial, anger, guilt, shame and even grief. The trick is to figure out how to prevent your feelings from interfering with proper care. These tips can help:

Get educated. Sure, it’s cliché—but knowledge really is power. A lot of the fear and anxiety over an RA diagnosis comes from not understanding the condition. For example, proper treatment can help prevent and even reverse joint damage and help you enjoy a long remission. Talk with your healthcare professional, read up and equip yourself with the know-how to keep yourself happy and healthy.

Seek out support groups. A Canadian study showed that adequate social support improved coping skills and eased painful symptoms in folks with RA. After all, who could better understand the daily annoyances—having problems squeezing the shampoo bottle or finishing a load of laundry—than people with RA? Ask your healthcare provider to recommend a support group in your area or do a quick Google search to find an online community or RA-specific Facebook page. 

Focus on the positive. Sure, it’s hard to say upbeat right now, but try to think of at least one thing you’re grateful for and identify one favorite activity that you can continue to enjoy. A study in the Journal of Nursing indicated that people with RA who reframed situations in a positive way and continued doing the things they loved reported an increased sense of well-being.

Cast pride aside. Don't be too proud to ask for help—both physical and emotional. Involving your loved ones will help them better understand your condition and may even bring you closer.  Why not ask your partner to accompany you to your next rheumatologist appointment or say to the kids, “I’m really going to need your help around the house now more than ever.”

Find the funny. Adding a few guffaws to your day can benefit your health. Studies show that laughter and humor can fight stress and even promote positive thinking. What are you waiting for? Pop in your all-time favorite comedy!

Guarantee a good night’s sleep. With your mind in overdrive and anxiety levels at an all-time high, falling asleep may be challenging after your rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. But you’re going to need your rest more than ever. Before bed, whip a bowl of oatmeal with sliced banana. It’s the perfect snack to help you snooze, as both of these foods contain the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.

Watch for signs of depression. People with RA are twice as likely to become depressed compared with those without the condition. Researchers have found that exercise can often be just as effective as medication in managing depression.

Next time you’re feeling down, go for a walk—it’s also a great way to reduce inflammation and joint stiffness. And of course speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing any signs of depression, including feeling sad or helpless or having difficulty concentrating, sleeping or eating.

April 2013