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How Stress Affects Rheumatoid Arthritis

Stress can make your RA worse, so you’ll want to take action to keep that from happening.

Researchers still don't fully understand the connection between stress and rheumatoid arthritis. The cause may involve chemicals related to the stress response and inflammation.

Use these four proven methods to curb stress ASAP.

1. Make Exercise a Priority

When your joints ache, you might not feel like going for a brisk walk or swimming laps. Try your best to do something, anyway.

Being active is especially good for people with RA. It eases pain, improves mood, lowers stress, and helps keep joints mobile.

Go for cardio (aerobic exercise). Pick activities that are easy on your joints, like swimming, walking, or gardening.

Also do strength training. You can use light weights, machines at the gym, resistance bands, or your own body weight (think push-ups and lunges).

Don’t forget flexibility. Tai chi and gentle types of yoga are good for that. They can also be relaxing.

If you’re not active now, ask your doctor what’s OK for you to do. Pace yourself, too. You may need to take it easier when you have a flare.

If your symptoms get in the way of exercise, work with a physical therapist -- one who specializes in treating people with RA. You'll learn ways to build strength, feel better, and zap stress.

2. Calm Your Mind

Studies show that meditation can help improve mood, reduce distress, and ease pain. Meditation can be as simple as focusing your attention on your breathing. Your mind will wander to other topics. That’s OK. Just turn your attention back to your breath, or whatever else you choose to focus on.

You could also try guided imagery. To do this, you picture in your mind places or situations you find relaxing. Try to use all your senses, and imagine seeing it, smelling it, feeling it.

3. Make Some Lifestyle Changes

Work around problems. When RA symptoms flare up, everyday tasks can be harder to do. Look for solutions. If typing hurts your hands, try voice recognition software for your computer. In the kitchen, you might find that new utensils with bigger grips make cooking easier. These little changes can take some of the stress off you.

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