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Coping With Psoriatic Arthritis

By Joanne Barker
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Zelman, MD

Treatment options have come a long way toward helping control the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. Yet many people are living with the joint damage they suffered before newer treatment and prevention methods came along. And even now -- since psoriatic arthritis can be difficult to diagnose -- it can do lasting harm before treatment begins.

The good news: Combining your medical treatment with simple but significant lifestyle changes can help with the emotional and physical challenges of living with psoriatic arthritis and improve your outlook from day to day.

Psoriatic Arthritis: Coping With Your Emotions

Karen, who asked that her full name not be used, is 60 years old and has been living with psoriatic arthritis for 20 years. She wakes up each day hoping her psoriatic arthritis has gone away. And each day, she has to confront the fact that it's still with her. She once had an active, outdoorsy life. Now she is limited by pain and exhaustion. She has to cope with anger and guilt. "I know it's not realistic, but I think I should be able to control this," she says.

When it comes to emotions, coping strategies are as diverse as the people using them. Unfortunately, some methods can do more harm than good. For instance, many people turn to food or alcohol while turning away from friends and family.

Healthier, more lasting ways to deal with the emotional effects of psoriatic arthritis include:

  • Finding professional help for depression. Depression is often at the root of harmful coping behaviors. In one study, 32% of people with psoriasis were diagnosed with depression, compared to about 7% of the general population. If you have a feeling of sadness or emptiness that you can't shake, talk with a health care provider. Depression is a serious condition that can be treated.
  • Connecting with others. "Knowing that you are not alone is crucial," says therapist Madelyn Petrow-Cohen. "Whether with a good friend or in a group, it's very important to have a chance to voice your emotions."

Dealing With the Stress of Psoriatic Arthritis

"People tell me that stress causes this; like I could just do away with the stress in my life," Karen says. Arthritis pain and stress have a way of building on each other. "Just dealing with this disease is stressful," she says.

"Patients are overwhelmed with the disease, and the time it takes to manage it," says Christopher Ritchlin, MD, a rheumatologist and professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center. You may not be able to rid your life of stress, but you can take steps to keep it under control, including:

  • Plan ahead. In her daily schedule, Karen makes time for herself, for relaxation. "I go to work early so I can get home and spend time outdoors while it's still light," she says.
  • Step back. Petrow-Cohen suggests listening to a relaxation CD, taking a walk, or working on a puzzle to shift your focus away from stressors.
  • Meditate. "Meditation and mindfulness can train you to watch your thoughts without becoming attached to them," Petrow-Cohen says.
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