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7 Ways to Ease RA Depression

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Zelman, MD

It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed when facing a long-term illness. With rheumatoid arthritis, the chances of being depressed are about double those of people who don’t have RA.

More and more studies link depression and RA pain. The good news is that you can do a number of things to boost your mood and emotional wellness. 

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Things to Know About RA and Depression

People with rheumatoid arthritis have high levels of certain immune system proteins that trigger inflammation, studies have shown. These proteins may also play a role in the onset of depression, but scientists aren't sure how. 

Another link between the conditions is this: People who are no longer able to do everyday tasks that are important to them, "whether it's working or dropping the kids off at school, are more likely to have depression," says Mary Margaretten, MD. She's an assistant professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of California, San Francisco.

RA can make you feel low, and that can make your symptoms worse.

Depression can: 

  • Make it harder to live with your disease
  • Cause more pain
  • Create challenges at work
  • Slow down your body
  • Lower your quality of life

Ways to Ease Depression

Rheumatologists share these tips to manage RA-related depression. 

1. Seize the day. "Get out of bed, get yourself put together, and get dressed," says W. Hayes Wilson, MD. He's chief of rheumatology at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. "If you let yourself get pinned to your bed and you can't get anything done, you will feel worse."

2. Get moving. Exercise strengthens muscles and helps protect your joints. It also recharges the mind and spirit.

Walking is great exercise for people with RA. "It's important to move," Wilson says. "You don't have to walk far, but walking together in a group really helps fight depression."

Ask a friend to be your walking buddy, or check out the Arthritis Foundation's Walk With Ease program. 

3. Talk more, text less. Have a friendly face-to-face conversation with someone.

"Today we have a lot of electronics that stop people from having personal communication," Wilson says. "Get out and be with someone."

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