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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3. Feeling depressed?
Kat Elton, 43, of Durango, CO, has had RA most of her life. And with it have come some periods of depression.

Rally all the resources. An occupational therapist, health coach and author of A Resilient Life (her memoir on how to thrive with RA), Elton copes by drawing on friendships. “I have one friend who just listens. When I reach out to her, I realize that I’m not alone—we all have challenges.” She’s also stepped into a psychologist’s office. “A trained professional can listen and provide support, and advise about how to handle feelings; if you bottle them up, that just feeds into hopelessness and depression.” Another must: “Exercise—it always makes me feel better.”

4. Feeling guilty for letting others down?
Lobdell feels guilty when she misses work because of her RA.

Take a preemptive attack.
Luckily, her guilt is eased by a simple arrangement she’s made with her colleagues: “I cover for other people when they have to be out,” says Lobdell. And if the guilt is still getting to her after she’s been out sick, she simply apologizes to her co-workers, “and then I have to let it go.”

5. Jealous of the rest?
An avid tennis player and rock climber before she developed fibromyalgia, Dr. Jones admits she once had moments of envy: “I was jealous of my friends who got to continue being involved with sports.”

Find a fun new way. So Dr. Jones involved herself with a program called Health Rhythms. “It uses drumming, meditation and dancing as a way to help people deal with emotional issues,” she says. “So, I’ve found something much more meaningful that still allows me to be physically active.”

Patricia Katz, PhD, professor of medicine and health policy, division of rheumatology, University of California, San Francisco, agrees that finding a replacement is a great idea: “If you can’t take a long walk with friends, meet them for coffee afterwards. Or go for half the walk.”

A bad mood—or depression?
If negative feelings last more than two weeks, and they’re interfering with your daily life, you may be suffering from clinical depression. Other signs include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of interest in activities that you usually enjoy

If you suffer from any of these problems, seek help right away. “Draw your doctor’s attention to your low mood,” says rheumatologist Mary Margaretten, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, who studies depression and rheumatoid arthritis. “She may refer you to a therapist or psychiatrist who can suggest treatment like antidepressants.”


April 2013