The Emotional Side of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Feeling frustrated, anxious, depressed or guilty? Here’s how to cope with the many emotions of rheumatoid arthritis. 

Dorothy Foltz-Gray
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When you have a rheumatologic disorder, life can be a little unpredictable. One day you’re feeling great; the next, not so hot. And, well, that can get to even the most upbeat person. If your mood has taken a hit lately, you’re not alone: A study in Arthritis Care & Research found that of 1,800 people with arthritis, one-third were depressed or anxious. And 84% of those with depression were also anxious.

“A high percentage of people with arthritis are in distress and are not getting the care they need,” says study author Louise Murphy, PhD, an
epidemiologist with the Arthritis Program at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Atlanta. “Only half of those with depression or anxiety had sought help.”

Yet, she notes there are paths to managing the feelings that come with arthritis. Read on for ways to do just that.

1. Frustrated by the little things?
Lanier S. Lobdell, 57, a customer service employee for the local transit service in Eugene, OR, has had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) since she was 35. Although her RA is well controlled by a biologic medication, she has trying moments. “I get frustrated trying to open things like jars or when someone hands me change and I drop it because my wrists are fused. I get crabby.”

Laugh it off. “I use humor to get through pretty much everything,” says Lobdell. “My RA isn’t going away, so my attitude has to change.” For instance, when swollen joints cause her fingers to bend, she tells herself, Well, I can wave really well around corners.

2. Feeling anxious?
Jessie Jones, PhD, age 63, found herself overwhelmed with anxiety in the first years after she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1998. “Because of fibro fog”—difficulty with concentration and memory that can accompany the condition—“I couldn’t focus on completing tasks, and then I would get very anxious,” says Dr. Jones, director of the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University at Fullerton.

Take charge of the “controllables.” Dr. Jones realized there were a few situations that were adding to her anxiety—and there was something she could do about each one of them. “I decided not to work at night anymore,” she says. “And I started saying no to some requests.” She also minimized anxiety-provoking situations; for instance, she no longer works with a colleague she found stressful.

April 2013