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Manage Mental Health and RA While Social Distancing

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on December 23, 2020

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you have a high risk of anxiety and depression. Social distancing and the need to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic may make it worse.

But with the right tools, like emotional support, medication, and therapy, you can manage your mental health and keep problems at bay.

Emotional Symptoms to Look For

It’s normal to feel sad or stressed out from time to time when you’re social distancing or quarantining. Isolation can lead to anxiety and depression for everyone. But if it gets worse or doesn’t go away, it’s best to get professional help. Your doctor may recommend therapy, medication, or both.

Talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms, which may be signs of depression or anxiety:

  • Anger
  • Anxious feelings
  • Body aches or pains
  • Change in appetite
  • A hard time concentrating or sleeping
  • A hard time with daily tasks or routine responsibilities
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Crankiness
  • Nervousness
  • Sadness

It’s important to talk to your doctor. Waiting for anxiety and depression to go away on their own can make you feel even worse. It can also lead to increased pain, a higher risk of heart problems, sexual dysfunction, and problems with work, friends, and family.

Self-Care for Mental Health With RA

You can also take steps to manage your mental health at home.

  • Be social. Even if you’re physically isolated from others, don’t isolate yourself socially. Engaging with others is good for your well-being and may give your immune system a boost. Connect with friends and family by email, text, phone, or video chat. Schedule a Zoom or FaceTime call to keep in touch and share work-from-home tips and stories with co-workers.
  • Exercise. Go for a walk or jog outside, on an uncrowded nature trail or path, to lift your mood. Exercise releases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals. It also lowers your levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are stress hormones.
  • Manage stress. Try online classes, workshops, and apps to handle stress better. Yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness may help you relax and lower stress and anxiety. It may also ease pain and stiffness. Calm your mind with relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Sleep well. A good night’s sleep can help you face the day better. Try not to have caffeine or alcohol before bed. Go to sleep at the same time every night. Keep your bedroom cool and dark to put yourself in the mood for sleep.

 

Get Emotional Support From Home

It’s as important as ever to feel supported, especially if you’re physically isolated.

Reach out to others who support you in a compassionate way. Talk to a friend, family member, or someone you trust about how you’re feeling.

You can also reach out beyond your personal network and try an online support group. It’s a good way to connect with others while you stay at home. If you join an RA group, members will understand what it’s like to have an ongoing health condition. They may be able to share advice for how to practice effective self-care.

To find a group, try the Arthritis Foundation or the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network.

How to Start Social-Distanced Therapy

A mental health professional can help you manage anxiety and depression, even from a distance. Many therapists now offer teletherapy to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19. You talk to your therapist through a video conferencing app, website, or phone instead of in person at their office.

If you have a therapist, ask if you can use teletherapy, what the cost is, and if your insurance covers it. If you don’t have a therapist, ask for recommendations. You can try:

  • Friends or loved ones
  • A spiritual leader, minister, or someone in your faith community
  • Your employer’s employee assistance program
  • Your rheumatologist or primary care provider
  • Your insurance company

Call your insurance company before you get started. Ask if teletherapy is covered and if so, what your out-of-pocket cost is. Ask which providers are part of your plan and if you need pre-authorization.

If your insurance company or mental health provider doesn’t cover teletherapy, ask if they have plans to offer it in the future. Things change quickly in today’s environment.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Arthritis Foundation: “Coronavirus and Arthritis: What You Need to Know,” “Emotional Self-Care During Tough Times.”

International OCD Foundation: “Teletherapy in the Time of COVID-19.”

Mayo Clinic: “COVID-19 and your mental health,” “Is depression a factor in RA?”

Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network: “Life with RA: What Will My Quality of Life Be Like?”

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