7 Tips To Help With The Depression Of Arthritis
Have you experienced depression since your arthritis diagnosis? If so, you’re far from alone. Studies have shown that depression and anxiety can lower your pain tolerance, whilst at the same time chronic pain can exacerbate feelings of low mood and stress, creating a vicious cycle. Living with chronic pain and feeling like you’re being held back from some of the things you used to do is not an easy thing to deal with and difficult feelings around this are an entirely understandable reaction.
You don’t have to suffer in silence. Arthritis is not an easy condition to live with, but by learning how to manage your mental health you can not only feel better mentally but also reduce your physical suffering. We spoke to Heather Baumohl-Johnson, Arthritis Action’s Director of Services & Operations, to find out more.
1. Know the difference between emotions and feelings
Emotions are our automatic, often subconscious response to external or internal events. Emotions are really important, because they often communicate something to us. Anger, for example, can let us know that one of our boundaries has been violated, whilst sadness can help us reach out for human connection or acknowledge something in our lives that we want to change.
Everyone experiences emotions, and some emotions can feel ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others. It’s important not to fear your emotions: they are a vital and totally normal part of being human. Instead, try to see what your emotions are communicating with you and spend some time feeling them so they can be released rather than suppressed and built up.
Feelings are the subjective experience of emotions, so they are the ‘script’ we give our emotions. These scripts determine how we feel and respond to our emotions. For example, one person may feel terrified of public speaking because they have a script which tells them they can’t do it, whilst someone else may feel exhilarated because they are confident in their abilities.
Our experience of our emotions can be greatly altered by the feelings we associate with them and the stories we tell ourselves. By spending some time self-reflecting and/or working with a professional, we can learn to change our script and change the way we feel.
2. Know the signs of depression
Everyone feels sad from time to time, but when these feelings become constant, take over your life and stop you feeling able to cope with and manage your emotions, this may be a sign of depression. Symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Lack of interest in hobbies and activities that you usually enjoy
- Withdrawing socially
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and low self esteem
- Fatigue, finding your sleeping more or less than usual, and finding it hard to get out of bed and do regular activities
- Weight loss or gain
Thoughts of suicide or self harm
“Living with a long-term condition like arthritis can be emotionally taxing,” says Heather Baumohl-Johnson. “Coping with ongoing symptoms that impact your daily life and facing frequent pain can be difficult to accept and take a toll on the mental wellbeing of an individual, potentially leading to anger, low mood or stress.”
3. Work on your mindset
Changing your mindset is much easier said than done, but it can completely alter the way you experience life. Things like journaling, meditation, therapy and sitting with emotions can help you change the way you think - which can affect everything in your life, including the way you experience pain.
“It’s important to remember that feeling low or angry from time to time is completely normal when you live with arthritis. Managing your pain puts you in a position of power,” says Heather.
One way to change your mindset around pain is to keep a journal of the small wins and times that you have been able to complete a task. If you make a habit of writing down what works for you and what doesn’t, you’ll start seeing patterns in when you experience more or less pain so you can start taking charge. You’ll also be able to see that your pain, like everything else, fluctuates.
When you’re in a lot of pain it can feel like it’s going to last forever, so by making note of the different ways you feel throughout the day or week you can see that this pain will pass. It’s a good idea to focus on what you can control rather than on what you can’t.
4. Up your endorphins
“You can try to increase your ‘feel good factor’ endorphins, which are natural hormones produced by the body,” says Heather. “Increasing your levels will help to lift your mood. Simple exercise, even things such as walking up and down the stairs a few more times each day, is one easy way to increase your endorphin levels.”
Exercise not only helps you feel good, but it can also increase your confidence by helping you see yourself improve over time, as well as improving sleep and reducing stress. Exercise classes or other group activities can also be a great source of socialisation and community building.
5. Get enough (but not too much) sleep
Many people feel tired when they’re depressed. Regular activities like washing, cooking and doing everyday tasks can feel overwhelming. As a result, it can be tempting to spend more time sleeping in bed. Whilst getting enough sleep is really important for your mental health, staying in bed all day can make you feel worse.
Sometimes rest is necessary and it’s what our bodies need, but if it’s been longer than a few days it’s worth trying to get up and do what feels manageable. Don’t be too hard on yourself or force yourself to do things, but do try something like having a shower or going outside to see how it feels.
6. Try to vary your day and get out there
It’s amazing what changing your environment can do. Just going for a short walk or speaking to a friend can help improve your mood, at least in the short term.
“Try to get out of the house as often as possible and experience new situations,” says Heather. “Feelings of isolation can be very common when you live with arthritis, but it doesn’t have to be this way. A social group or exercise class will help you meet new people. If you cannot get out of your house very much, then arrange phone calls with friends to have a chat. Internet messaging boards can put you in touch with like-minded people and give you something to focus on.”
7. Reach out for help
One in four people will experience mental health difficulties each year in the UK. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and struggle from time to time, and it’s important that you know where to reach out for help if necessary. If you’re struggling with depression, resources like Arthritis Action’s Mental Health Directory can help you find resources in your local area.
Therapy can be really helpful for many people to learn how to get to the root of their difficulties and manage their emotions. There are a lot of different options and approaches depending on your specific needs. If you’re interested in therapy, consider talking to your GP or finding a private therapist. The Samaritans are also a great organisation if you need to talk to someone urgently.
How do you manage the depression of arthritis? Please share your insights to our community on Facebook.