Stress can increase inflammation and intensify joint pain. Here’s how to ease anxiety and better control your rheumatoid arthritis.
Some amount of stress in life is simply unavoidable, especially when battling a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). But if every little thing—a long line at the supermarket checkout, an unexpected road detour—sends your anxiety skyrocketing, it can take a toll on your health: Not only will stress do a number on your mood, but it can also intensify the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Research shows that stress can trigger the release of cytokines, proteins known to cause inflammation in the body.
While you can’t fully eliminate all of life’s little stressors, you can learn to control your response to them. Why not experiment with these tension-taming techniques today?
Talk to yourself
A mantra a day keeps the doctor away, or so the saying should go, according to researchers who found a link between stress management and the repetition of positive phrases. Take a deep breath and say, “I can do it,” or whatever word or phrase you find soothing.
Grab a yogurt
Probiotics, friendly bacteria found in supplements and in fermented foods, such as yogurt, do more than aid digestion. They also ease anxiety by lowering the stress hormone corticosterone, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Although these findings are preliminary, adding yogurt to your diet can’t hurt—it can even help you meet your calcium quota. To get the most bang for your buck, look for a “live culture” seal on the label. And be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.
One of the best ways to tame tension is to literally work it out. Whether you swim or go for a long walk, exercise will help you burn off that nervous energy and boost those feel-good endorphins. And sticking to a regular exercise regimen can actually minimize RA symptoms, improving function and flexibility and decreasing joint pain.
Take a mental break
Mindfulness meditation, an essential part of Buddhist tradition, teaches you how to focus on the present moment. It has been shown to minimize stress and fatigue in people with RA, according to a study in the journal Arthritis Care and Research. The best part is that you can try it right now: Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Focus on the sound and rhythm of your breath as you inhale and exhale—push away any outside thoughts (doctor appointments, insurance claims, grocery shopping, etc.).
Scientists aren’t sure why, but yawning can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that creates positive feelings and reduces stress. Add some exaggerated stretching and you’ll immediately feel calmer. Lucky for you, yawning is contagious: Just looking at a picture of someone yawning or reading about yawning can trigger it. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if you were yawning right now!
Hug it out
A simple hug can do wonders for your mood. In a study presented in Psychosomatic Medicine, couples sat close to each other, talked for 10 minutes and then shared a long hug. The result? They had a rise in oxytocin, the feel-good hormone known to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
Say yes to sex
In addition to being a good diversion from our worries, sex has been shown to positively affect our ability to manage stress. One study showed that participants who had recently had intercourse tended to have either less of a rise in blood pressure or a lower baseline blood pressure, or both. Not in the mood for lovemaking? A simple smooch is also proved to bust stress: Married or cohabiting couples who kiss frequently show lower levels of stress and depression.
Hit the snooze button
More than 85% of respondents in a National Sleep Foundation survey said poor sleep affects their mood, 72% said it affects their family life and responsibilities and 68% said it impedes their social life. Lack of sleep can also worsen symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including pain, fatigue and depression, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Find the funny
Pop in a humorous flick, or check out some comedians on YouTube. Even the mere anticipation of a humorous event can help reduce your body’s stress hormones, according to researchers at Loma Linda University in California.