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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression

Women are more prone to RA and depression, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with both of them. Here’s how to get relief.
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8 Ways to Deal with Depression continued...

Meditation. In a 2007 study, researchers at the University of Maryland looked at how a type of meditation called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) affected 63 people with RA during a six-month period. They found that it reduced psychological distress by about one-third. Other studies also have shown the benefits of meditation for conditions marked by chronic pain. And meditation seems to help people with RA deal with stress, an advantage because stress may cause RA to flare.

Activity. Exercise may be one of the last things you feel like doing, but it’s one of the most important. “Get some type of physical activity each day, even if it’s just getting outside to get the mail,” says Lin. Substitute new activities for ones you may not be able to do with RA -- like swimming instead of running. Exercise not only helps keep your joints flexible and your heart healthy; it releases endorphins -- the brain’s “feel good” chemicals -- that may ease depression.

Antidepressants. Relieving anxiety, fatigue, depression, or insomnia with mood-stabilizing medications can also ease pain. Some antidepressants also have painkilling properties. Your doctor can help you figure out if taking an antidepressant is right for you. 

Sleep. If pain disturbs your sleep, try taking a painkiller right before you go to bed. Some antidepressants also may help reduce sleep problems.

Pleasure. Do something that makes you feel good. Lin advocates scheduling a pleasant or social activity -- reading, music, a long shower, a visit with a friend -- into each day’s activities. It helps keep you from falling into a cycle of pain, isolation, and less activity.

Manage. Depression can make everything seem overwhelming, so break things down into doable chunks. If your house is a mess, start with one small area to clean. Take a short walk instead of pushing yourself to go far. If you feel you can’t deal with both depression and RA, take it one step at a time. 

“Once you start that positive, invigorating cycle upward, it’s synergistic,” says Lin. “You may need to push yourself a little, but you’ll feel so much better after.”

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Reviewed on March 12, 2014

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