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Whether it’s a problem at work, relationship troubles, or just dealing with traffic, we all experience stress in our lives. But ongoing stress can take a toll on your health. It can also make any health condition that you have feel worse, including arthritis.

When your body is under stress, it releases chemicals that can trigger inflammation and pain. So you might be more likely to have arthritis flare-ups when you’re feeling stress.

What’s more, stress can increase your perception of pain. "Stress can leave you feeling less able to handle your pain and more easily overwhelmed by it," says Sharon Kolasinski, MD, a rheumatologist and professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

And, having a chronic illness, such as arthritis, can add to your stress level. "Chronic pain is a stressor in itself," says Kolasinski. "But it can be even more stressful when the pain limits your mobility or activities."

Although you might not be able to avoid stress completely, you don’t have to let it rule your life. There are many ways to help manage stress. The key is finding the ones that work best for you. This article offers seven stress management suggestions and ideas on how to get started.

1. Exercise to Reduce OA Pain

Exercise is a great stress reducer. It releases chemicals in your brain that help you feel good and releases built-up tension. Exercise is also a great way to help reduce arthritis pain. "When you don’t exercise, it can actually increase pain and stiffness and lead to less mobility," says Kolasinski. "Starting an exercise program isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort."

One of the easiest ways to get started is to find an activity that you enjoy.

"It’s really important to find something that works for you," says Alveta Haynes of Boston. Despite having arthritis for many years and a total knee replacement in 2007, Haynes has always been active. "I’ve found the best way to feel good and keep my stress level low is to keep moving," she says. Haynes plays tennis regularly and loves to walk in the park near her home, but finds other activities to enjoy in the winter, when walking outdoors isn’t an option. "Don’t be afraid to try something new when you can’t do your regular exercise," she says. "There are lots of options out there -- just be sure you do something."

Another way to get exercise is to join a program for people with arthritis. "The Arthritis Foundation offers several types of group exercise and walking programs designed especially for those with arthritis," says Judith Levine, chief public health officer for the Arthritis Foundation’s New England Region. These programs are gentle and have been proven safe and effective. "Another advantage to these programs is that they often turn into informal support groups," says Levine. "For many people, it’s nice to be in a group with others who know what you’re going though." You can find an arthritis exercise group in your area by visiting the "Programs for Better Living" section of the Arthritis Foundation’s web site.

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