Are you worried about the treatment for your arthritis that hasn’t yet started? Are you anxious about the potential side effects of taking your prescribed medications? Feeling stressed is a part of life, but what happens when your medical diagnosis leaves you feeling stressed to the point it begins to interfere with your quality of life? You may be experiencing a treatable condition called anxiety.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues and are highly treatable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost one-quarter of adults diagnosed with a form of arthritis report having anxiety as a result of their diagnosis. However, fewer than half of those patients with anxiety were receiving medical treatment, and only one-third had spoken with a mental health professional about it. When anxiety becomes constant or overwhelming and worries or fears interfere with your relationships and daily life, you’ve likely crossed the line from normal anxiety into the territory of an anxiety disorder.
What is Anxiety?
The body’s response to stress can be physical and may include a heightened state of mental alertness, a fast heartbeat, increased blood pressure, rapid breathing, and sweating. This so-called “fight or flight” response is a natural and protective function our body uses to deal with threats. Anxiety disorder is when you feel these same symptoms, but they are intense, excessive, or persistent and occur at times when there is no identified threat or problem.
The first step to confronting anxiety is to understand why you feel anxious and then put together a plan to help you treat the symptoms of anxiety. Focus on one problem and one solution at a time. It can help to talk to your physician about your concerns.
How Can my Doctor Help?
To help reduce your anxiety, your physician can…
- Listen. Share your concerns and fears associated with treatment.
- Educate. Your physician will help you understand the pros and cons of the medications and the complications that may occur if the arthritis is left untreated. It also important that you read through the medical information provided with each prescription and raise any questions you have with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Set Treatment Goals. Goals are always for a patient to not have a side effect and their pain and stiffness resolve allowing them to return to their normal routine and activities they struggled with because of their arthritis.
- Address One Problem at a Time. Focusing on one problem at a time makes the diagnosis and treatment less overwhelming.
- Provide Print Copies. After the office visit, take a printed list of each medication with the potential side effects.
- Instruct Your Pharmacist. Your physician may also direct your pharmacist to spend some time also going over the prescribed medications.
- Offer Referrals. Your physician may offer for you to talk to another patient with the same disease and medication options.
- Follow-up. Your physician may contact you by phone or in-person within a couple of weeks to check in.
- Provide Reassurance. Know that it is normal to worry a little.
The bottom line is that leading a healthy lifestyle will help alleviate your anxiety and improve your quality of life. These habits can also help alleviate some of your worries:
- Practice Self-care. This includes time for yourself, such as meditation, exercise, therapeutic massage, reading, and pursuing hobbies and social activities outside your normal daily routine.
- Set a Daily Intention. Tell yourself what your purpose or intention is for the day. Writing things down that you are thankful for helps you focus on all of the positive things in your life.
- Breathe. Take several deep breaths throughout the day.
- Eat Healthy. Choose healthy food options. Consult with a nutritionist and your general practitioner.
- Talk. Talk to your doctor about your anxiety. Call a good friend or family member you trust just for a chat. Consider seeing a therapist.
- Sleep. Arthritic patients who get adequate sleep feel less pain, feel happier, and are more positive.
- Exercise. It is known to lessen anxiety and pain due to arthritis by naturally boosting the happiness hormone serotonin. Yoga, walking, swimming, tai chi, or riding a stationary bike are all great options.
- Practice Mindfulness. Studies have shown that meditation can provide a buffer against anxiety and stress, improving your outlook on life. Close your eyes, let your mind wander for a minute, gently open your eyes, take a deep breath, and try it again. Repeat while thinking of something or someone you really love, and then try it again. Hopefully, the second time around, you are in a mindful state.
Paying attention to your emotional and mental state is an important aspect of your overall well-being. Having any form of arthritis may also negatively impact your mental health. In this case, a patient needs not only to treat only the arthritis, but also to consider their mental health.
Senada Arabelovic, DO, is a rheumatologist, an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology at Tufts Medical Center, Chair Elect, Women in Medicine and Science (WiMS), Tufts Medical Center Physician Organization, Director of 4th Year Tufts Medical Students Rheumatology Elective, Associate Program Director Tufts Rheumatology Fellowship and Co-director of the Transition Clinic for Young Adults with Autoimmune Diseases. Dr. Arabelovic is also a member of the American College of Rheumatology’s Communications and Marketing Committee.