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Strong Mind, Strong Body: Mental Health and Arthritis

Did you know that people with arthritis are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression?

In fact, many individuals who have inflammatory types of arthritis say they endured extreme stress in the year leading up to their diagnosis. Fear of the unknown associated with arthritis can also impact mental health. Will I be able to keep working? Will the pain ever go away? Can I have children? Can I continue to be physically active? Will anyone understand?

Addressing the mental health aspect of arthritis is just as important as dealing with the physical symptoms. With help from two members of Arthritis Research Canada’s Patient Advisory Board, we’ve put together a list of tips for maintaining mental health after an arthritis diagnosis.

Building Support

Natasha Trehan was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at age 13. She struggled to find a support system and felt extremely lonely. Since then, she has built a community of young people living with arthritis through her podcast, Take a Pain Check. Here’s what Natasha does to take care of her mental health while living with an autoimmune disease:

  • Talk to someone about how you feel – family, friends, a therapist or a support group. Doing so will help you feel validated.
  • Ensure you keep doing what you like and take breaks as needed.
  • Include escapism in your life via passions to help distract you from the pain and negative emotions that a disease like arthritis can cause.
  • Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Your mental health will remain strong if you are in a healthy, comfortable environment.

Searching for Answers

Chris Pudlak was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 2016. At the time, he was 36 years old and a father to three young children.

“My doctor told me this disease isn’t something you die from; it’s something you die with. It’s a permanent condition,” Pudlak said. “That information and diagnosis was quite depressing.”

Rather than dwell on the negative, Pudlak took his health into his own hands and tried everything to get his disease under control. He has since written a book about his journey, Achieving Wellness Through Arthritis: How My Journey with Ankylosing Spondylitis Can Offer a Path to Wellness.

Here are his tips for maintaining mental health after finding out you have to live with a chronic disease for life:

  • Keep a positive attitude. I can recommend two excellent books to help with positivity. The first is, You are the Placebo, Making your mind Matter, by Dr. Joe Dispenza. This book reminded me that attitude is everything. The second is When the Body Says No, by Gabor Mate. This is full of examples about how negative stress has a direct correlation to health issues.
  • Take things one day at a time. Remember that individual, daily battles will add up and bring you closer to health.
  • Manage stress through relaxation, breathing, meditation, time with the dog in a quiet environment, or hiking on a trail.
  • Remember to laugh and find humour in daily life. I can sometimes be humourless, and reminding myself to smile, laugh, and appreciate all the good in my life was a big help in changing my attitude. Laughter is medicine.
  • Establish life goals and a strategy to make them happen, including recovering activities or hobbies you may have lost due to arthritis.
  • Connecting with others. Share your experiences and challenges, both for support, and to support others.
  • Maintain your physical health. If you suffer from arthritis, a daily exercise routine is a must. Make it a habit. Once established, habits are easier to stick to on those mornings when you have trouble motivating yourself. Wake up in the morning and stretch, do Pilates, ride your bike, swim, or whatever works for you.

Several of our scientists have done research in the area of mental health and arthritis.

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