For people living with psoriatic arthritis, not only is stress disturbing, it worsens their symptoms.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, more than eight million Americans have psoriasis and up to 30 percent of them may develop psoriatic arthritis (PsA). Simply living with psoriatic arthritis is stressful — it affects every part of your being. There is no denying that emotional stress can trigger flares; likewise, flares can cause increased stress.
Physical discomfort resulting from psychosocial stress is just one of the common reasons why individuals seek medical care. But for people with psoriatic arthritis, not only is stress uncomfortable, it worsens their symptoms.
When stress and PsA pain and inflammation intensify over time, they can create even further problems, including:
- Changes in appetite because of medication
- Difficulty concentrating from the side effects of medication, leading to poor performance
- Difficulty sleeping, leading to chronic fatigue
- Inability to exercise, leading to poor aerobic and physical fitness
- Increased irritability from lack of sleep or medication side-effects
- Withdrawal from favorite activities because of low energy
The fact is stress is simply the trigger. Your response to stress influences your pain as well as other aspects of your physical and emotional health. Your stress reaction is strongly influenced by your mental state and coping skills. However, there are ways to counter emotional stress, even with psoriatic arthritis, and move forward to health and healing.
1. See a Therapist
Little is known about how people with psoriatic arthritis cope with their multisymptom condition, but data confirms that psychological problems are underrecognized and undertreated. Florida-based psychologist John Berg, PhD, recommends seeking professional help if you are finding stress difficult to manage by yourself. “A qualified therapist can help you identify the behaviors and thought patterns that are making the anxiety worse and work with you to change them.”
Therapy is a significant time commitment (often an hour weekly for several months) but can make a real difference. You may also want to consult a psychiatrist about medication to help manage anxiety and depression.
2. Seek Social Support
There are new findings that social support is important for people with chronic illnesses like psoriatic arthritis. A review of studies published in January 2019 in the journal Current Psychology concluded that providing support may be related to positive consequences among arthritis patients.
Social support can be a strong group of family members and close friends or a support system — doctors, nurses, other healthcare professionals — that provides help in coping with a chronic illness. In some cases, this social strength has been associated with a greater adherence to medical regimens and health services.
You know how stress supercharges you, causing stomach distress and aches and pains or sending your heart rate soaring. In the same way, social support may have a complex effect on well-being — but it is calming, positive, and protective.
With increased social support, you learn to buffer life’s interruptions with effective coping skills instead of letting the moment’s stressor overwhelm you.
3. Exercise Daily
Exercise is a proven way to de-stress and is recommended by the National Psoriasis Foundation for patients with PsA. Exercise helps improve the flexibility of psoriatic arthritis joints and keeps them from becoming stiff and immovable.
It also helps improve the strength of the muscles that support your painful joints. When your joints have strong muscles supporting them, they are likely to have less inflammation, less pain, and less stiffness. And the stronger you are, the less likely you are to fall, which can be devastating for someone with painful PsA.
Additionally, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, exercise boosts the production of endorphins, chemicals in the body that improve mood and energy. Regular exercise can improve sleep and lessen your anxiety.
The type of exercise you choose depends on the location of the psoriatic arthritis. For example, swimming in warm water is excellent for arthritis in the hips and knees, as it strengthens the muscles around the joints while placing little stress on the joints. Water exercises may help reduce pain all over your body and keep you flexible. Both yoga and tai chi are proven to ease stress and increase relaxation in the body.
4. Learn to Say No
It’s no news that failing to set personal limits or say no to too many demands will put you in overload and add to your already high stress level with a chronic condition. While the desire to volunteer and help others is commendable, being all things to all people can hinder your healing with PsA and make you feel resentful, tired, and depressed.
Try to reach any decision that will involve a physical and mental commitment before you are put on the spot. Then take a firm stand. If the commitment will keep you from getting the rest, diet, exercise, and relaxation you need to live well with PsA, then say no. Only make those commitments you can keep without unnecessary stress.