Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression

As you know, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms are not just limited to your body. In fact, RA can also affect your mental health. Research shows that people with RA twice as likely to become depressed. One of the culprits is due to RA pain and the other to due to having to give up the things you enjoy such as a hobby, playing a sport and spending time with loved ones. 

It is also important to note that depression can make RA worse. As a result of being depressed, RA patients are not able to manage their disease. Stress is also a contribution factor to flare-ups and when your mental health is tired, your body will also feel those affects. Additionally, RA patients are less likely to share signs of depression with their doctors. 

What most of us don’t realize is our emotional health is just as important as our physical health. Your rheumatologist or treating doctor may be able to treat your depression or refer you to a mental health doctor. Before you notify your treating physician that you may be depressed, it is important to know the signs of depression. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, share this information your rheumatologist or treating doctor immediately. 

• Feelings of sadness

• A lack of energy

• Fluctuations in your weight

• Loss of interest in activities that once made you happy

• Thoughts of death or suicide 

Rheumatoid arthritis is often associated with a greater risk for depression according to research funded by the Arthritis Foundation. Many studies have found that RA patients who are depressed have worse outcomes compared to those with RA that are not depressed. If your doctor is not talking to you about depression, take the initiative to start talking about it.  If you are not communicating this information to your doctor, it could have a negative impact on your health and your quality of life.

Can rheumatoid arthritis affect the eyes?

Rheumatoid arthritis is primarily a joint disease. However, RA occasionally affects other parts of the including the eyes. Eye conditions associated with RA include:

(1) Dry eyes – you can use preservative free artificial eye drops to ease the discomfort of dry eyes. It is also possible that this could be a symptom of Sjogren’s, an autoimmune disease associated with RA. If you suspect this may be the case, follow up with your doctor.

(2) Uveitis – inflammation of the interior part of the eye. Symptoms of uveitis include redness and pain, light sensitivity and blurred vision.

(3) Episcleritis – inflammation of the white part of the eye. Symptoms include sudden eye discomfort and/or redness.

(4) Glaucoma – inflammation of the eye’s drainage system leads to glaucoma, a condition that can result in blindness. Signs and symptoms include gradual vision loss, eye pain or blurred vision.

(5) Cataracts – clouding of the lens of the eye as a result of inflammation within the eye and long term use of corticosteroid medications often prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms include blurred, cloudy or dim vision.

If have RA and experience eye pain, vision changes or other eye problems, consult an ophthalmologist for evaluation. Also, let your rheumatologist know. Early treatment can prevent vision consequences.

Developing a Positive Attitude

You have heard the saying, “attitude is everything.” When you suffer from chronic pain, your attitude plays a big part in how you feel and so it is important to develop a positive attitude in order to cope effectively. Like many of you, chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia is a daily part of my life and I know that maintaining a positive attitude is something that is easier said than done. People who live with pain have their good days and their bad ones. When the bad days come, it is hard to be in a good mood let along have a positive attitude. Living with pain is bad enough but when you add a negative attitudes, things go from bad to worse pretty quickly.

So how do you develop a positive attitude from life is all about living with pain, doctor visits, weight gain and a whole lot of chaos? We have all had to cancel plans because we are having a bad pain day and even when do decide to attend to plans, our attitude gets in the way. I think the hardest thing for me during my RA/fibro journey has been the weight gain because I stress so much about it that it keeps me from enjoying life. Between medications and being inactive due to pain, I feel like I have no control. For others, it could be not being able to work, anxiety over money, and/or medical bills that create a feeling of lack of control but the fact is that the only thing any of us have control of is our attitudes.

Despite having my moments where the burden of chronic illness and pain are a dominating factor, I have learned to maintain a positive attitude overall. Here are some of the things that have worked for me in maintaining a positive attitude.

1. I count my blessings. I do this every day, with or without pain. I think about all the things in my life that are good, about my loved ones and about all things that make me happy.

2. I remind myself that the pain will pass. When a flare occurs, things do get worse but they eventually get better. Even when things don’t seem to get better quickly, I continue to hope that that will because hope is good medicine for the soul.

3. I find ways to distract myself. The human brain can easily mask pain through other activity. For example, you could read a book, watch TV, go for a walk or have a phone conversation with a friend to distract yourself from the pain.

4. I connect with others. I am so glad that there are support sites like the ones I advocate for so that no one has to suffer alone. You can also connect with others outside of support groups such as friends and family. If you need help, ask for it but do yourself a favor and do not go through a painful flare alone.

5. I decide to be positive. I tell myself that my attitude is the one thing I have control of. Further, my attitude doesn’t just affect me. It affects my children, my friends, my family, and coworkers. Even if I cannot be positive for myself, I know I need to be positive for others in my life.

6. I choose to see past my pain. I think it is so important to try to see past your pain whether through spiritual means, such as meditation or religious, such as prayer.

From personal experience, I know that developing a positive attitude is like winning half the battle of living with chronic pain.  The fact is that none of us can change our situations.  However, if we strive to give ourselves a way to live better, we can see positive change.

How Relaxation Can Help Fibro Symptoms

As a fibromyalgia sufferer, you know how stressful of a condition it is. Pain and discomfort interfere with your daily activities and has a major effect on your quality of life. You’re forced to adjust your life to accommodate your symptoms and you are tired all the time.

All these things can negatively impact your professional and personal life, which in turn causes stress and anxiety for you. It becomes a vicious cycle because stress and anxiety make your fibromyalgia symptoms worse. When your body is mentally and physically stressed, this results in more physical discomfort.

It is important to learn to deal with and cope with daily stress and anxiety in proactive ways, and that involves finding ways to relax your emotions. There are things you can do to relieve daily stress and to prevent it from worsening your symptoms. Here are some examples:

  • Take a walk. You can do this alone, with a friend or with your dog. A walk outside will help to relieve stress and anxiety and the fresh air will make you feel clearer and allow to escape from whatever specific issue has brought about your stress and anxiety. Clearing your thoughts whether alone or with a friend can allow you to look at your situation in a different way.
  • Put on some music and sing and dance. This will allow you a temporary way to forget about your worries. Happy music and movement creates happy thoughts and the physical activity is good for me.
  • Listen to music that relaxes you. This will dispel your stress and anxiety because your heartbeat will conform to the relaxing music so try something slow tempo.
  • Smile and laugh out loud. Psychology research shows that even if someone is in a bad mood, smiling and laughing gives way to a more positive attitude. Even a forced smile can turn into a natural one, a better mood and less stress.
  • Enjoy a warm beverage like tea or coffee. Warm liquids always soothe the mind. Stay away from alcohol and caffeine because they make stress worse.
  • Volunteer. As we all know, helping others makes us feel better about ourselves. Besides, your own problems may seem small compared to those of others.
  • Make “No” a part of your vocabulary. Allowing yourself to become overcommitted is stressful in itself and you don’t need any more stress and anxiety in your life. It is also important to make time for yourself.
  • Get moving. Exercise, yoga or any other aerobic activity allows you to control your breathing and relax your mind and your muscles. Endorphins from aerobic activity will allow you to feel more energized thereby reducing your stress levels.
  • Talking to a friend or even to God, if you are religious. A friend might help you to resolve some of the anxieties you are feeling or offer some experience. Talking and/or praying to God will help to get some pressing issues off your mind that you would not otherwise share with anyone in your life.

As a fibromyalgia sufferer, it is important to manage the daily stress that comes with the condition. It is important for you to take control now rather than later because uncontrolled stress influences every aspect of your well-being and adds a negative toll to your health.

What things do you do to help yourself deal with daily stress and anxiety?